Talent Spotting

How good are we as churches at recognising potential? Do we look at each other and see only faults, or can we see the signs of talents that could grow to become something special?

Jesus saw potential in what might have looked to others like hopeless causes. He not only spotted what people could become, he did something about it, too. You could say that this was a characteristic of much of Jesus’ ministry, but it is perhaps most noticeable in his choice of disciples.

It has been remarked many times that Jesus chooses an unlikely bunch to work with and to entrust with the task of spreading the good news of God’s kingdom. Surely he should have chosen some “religious leaders” who would command the respect of the community and have a good education in the Scriptures? Instead, Jesus chooses fishermen and a tax collector, to name a few.

Somehow, when Jesus gets to know Simon, Andrew and James, he decides that these are the people he wants to work with. He sees their potential to do more than catch fish (not that he disparages this at all, of course); Jesus sees people with talents that could be developed to help bring people into the kingdom (Mark 1:16-20).

When Jesus meets Simon in John 1:42 he says that he will have a new name – “Peter”. This is not just a case of using a different name as his old one was hard to pronounce or anything like that! Jesus renames him as an indication of something he sees in him that will later come to fruition.

Barnabas is another example from the New Testament of someone who sees potential in others. Most notably, he believes in Paul and opens up opportunities for him to use his talents – Acts 9:26-28, 11:19-26  (see also my article on Barnabas – “Encourage – then everyone wins”).

Whilst it may be right to emphasise growth in character, becoming more Christ-like in personal “holiness”, we shouldn’t be so keen to drive the bad out of ourselves that we fail to notice the good that can be developed and the talents that can be used for God’s kingdom. We may not have the immense abilities of insight that Jesus had, but with prayer and an effort on our part to notice, we can learn to see not only the good in one another, but the potential as well.

Have you noticed talent or potential in someone recently? Have you told them so? Are we too preoccupied with getting our own talents spotted and used to notice others’? What might happen to our churches and the work for the kingdom if we spent more time encouraging one another, opening doors and developing people?

© Joe Lenton, October 2012

Encourage – then everyone wins

It has struck me how many times British medallists at this year’s games have said how much difference a home Olympics and a home crowd has made to them. In short, they felt they needed something from the British people to take them further, faster, beyond what they had managed before.

On a smaller scale, we too can feel indebted to others for things that we have achieved. Without those people we wouldn’t be who we are or where we are today. What, then, is it that has made the difference?

The short answer, it seems, is encouragement. Without encouragement we can lose motivation, feel our resources draining faster and find it harder to persevere through difficulty. With encouragement, we can keep going, find fresh energy and enthusiasm to reach higher goals.

Each of us can play a key role in someone else’s life. We might be the only person who encourages someone to go on and pursue their gifting – and that person flourishes as a result. Being involved in helping someone else to come to life and achieve great things can even be as exciting as our own achievements, or possibly more so. The more people we encourage, the more wonderful things we can join in with rejoicing about.

How might we go about encouraging people? In the book of Acts, a follower of Jesus named Joseph was so good at encouraging others that the apostles named him “Barnabas” – “son of encouragement”. He became known for his positive role of helping others to achieve their best. So, what did he do?

Barnabas encouraged new believers who were in poverty by giving financially. He sold land so that they might not go hungry. He also took time to get to know people and see the good in them that others overlooked. He looked out for God at work and he saw that in Paul. The apostles were wary of Paul and if it hadn’t been for Barnabas, they would have excluded him. Without Barnabas fighting Paul’s corner, we might never have had most of our New Testament!

Barnabas was not self-sufficient. He knew his limitations and remembered the gifts of others. He was chosen by the apostles to go to Antioch to help encourage new believers in their faith. But, he realised that this was a great opportunity for Paul and not just himself. Paul had gifts to develop that would benefit this community and fill in the gaps in Barnabas’ abilities. So, Barnabas sought Paul out and brought him to Antioch.

Later, Barnabas ends up parting company with Paul because there was another young man he wanted to give a second chance to. Paul did not trust Mark any more because he had made a mistake. Barnabas insisted on giving Mark a second chance. Paul refused and they went their separate ways. But, years later, Paul wrote that Mark had indeed become helpful to him as a co-minister for Christ. Barnabas had been right not to give up on Mark.

These are just some ways in which we too can encourage others – be their advocate, give second chances, look for the good in them, support financially, get to know their gifts, open doors of opportunity, etc.

Maybe you and I could become known as “Barnabas” characters in our churches and communities? You don’t know what might happen if you encourage someone – they might become a great theologian like Paul, they may win a medal, they might come to life rather than stay curled up in their shell.

God has created amazing people to do amazing things – yet each of us needs a smile, a kind word and someone who believes in us to become all that we can be. Will you be the encourager that someone else so badly needs?

© Joe Lenton, August 2012