Frozen paths turned to muddy furrows; birds began to sing; children ran outside without their winter coats; and storm windows were taken down. These are but a few of the memories I have of spring in New England. Each year spring was like a jailer's key turning in the lock that entrapped me in winter's prison. The bright sun replaced the overcast skies. The emerging leaves covered the bare limbs of trees that appeared as skeletons throughout the winter months. It was time to put up the sled and to get my bicycle out once again. I was free to go places, to discover new things, and to bask in the warmth that had alluded me over the last few months. Spring had arrived and I felt alive again.
Spring is a time to grow, to develop, and to foster hope. It is an ideal time for adult teachers to look around themselves and identify the potential growth in those they work with. The apostle Paul tells us that teachers (along with pastors, evangelists, prophets, and apostles) were given to the church "to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up" (Ephesians 4:12, NIV).
Webster defines potential as "something that can develop or become actual." We generally think of children and young people when we consider potential, but it is not limited to that segment of the church.
Some people make hasty decisions about a person's potential and impose expectations that can never be met. The story of Paul's miscalculation regarding the value of John Mark demonstrates the mistakes that can be made if we judge a person's potential too quickly and without enough information (Acts 15:36-41). Paul was ready to dismiss John Mark because he was not able to complete his initial ministry task. Paul interpreted this as weakness and refused to let him have another chance. Fortunately, Barnabas who had spent much more time with John Mark, saw his potential and stood firm in his commitment to develop that potential. Nearly 10 years later, we see the result of Barnabas' belief in John Mark (2 Timothy 4:11).
How can we become Barnabases and avoid the mistake Paul made in his evaluation of John Mark?
A mistake some people make is to limit a person's potential to his or her natural talents and gifts. As important as spiritual gifts inventories and aptitude tests are to the identification of gifts, they are limited in their ability to accurately predict what God wants to do in a person's life.
Please don't misinterpret my comments. In many cases a person's potential will match the man-made tests designed to determine the gifts and talents God has given to the person. But it cannot be the only basis of determining a person's potential usefulness to the kingdom of God.
Never be guilty of writing people off simply because they don't seem to have the gifts and talents that you think they should have to accomplish a task. If God has called them, He will equip them. With this in mind, it is important that we encourage all people to be completely open to God's desire and calling for their lives.
Another limiting factor in the identification of potential in people is a narrow view of ministry and spiritual giftedness. We tend to look for the type of potential in a person that will lead to traditional "church jobs" such as preaching, teaching, and praying. We must retrain ourselves to recognize that Christians have potential in a wide variety of areas that serve to enhance and expand the kingdom of God both inside and outside the walls of the local church (Exodus 35:30-35).
What can we do as teachers to foster spiritual growth in our students? Speak words of encouragement into the lives of your students and small group members. Help them to begin to believe in themselves and in the gifts that God has given them. Your students look up to you as their leader and will respect what you have to say. Follow the example of Jesus and look beyond who they are today and envision what they can be through the power of Christ.
Identifying potential in a person will come to a fruitless end if that potential is not given opportunity to develop. The first step in the developmental process is to provide proper training to help the person fine tune the gift God has given to him or her. Next we must provide proper opportunities for developing individuals to express their gifts and experience positive results. Finally, there must be a time for ongoing interaction between the teacher and the student so that feedback can occur.
Seeing the first blossoms of spring is exhilarating. Their colors and fragrances are intoxicating. But the real value of the blossom is its potential to become fruit. Make it a personal goal this spring to help those you work with to reach their full potential in the kingdom of God.
Written by Clancy Hayes
Gospel Publishing House. All rights reserved. Used with permission.