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The Powerful, Life Transforming Lessons Jesus Taught His Disciples

By Mark Altrogge -January 27, 2022

lessons jesus taught

Ever wonder why God takes you through valleys and storms of life?

Through the ups and downs and twists and turns with your children? Why do you have the miserable boss or annoying co-workers you have? Why does “Needy Harry” seek you out every Sunday? Why has God stuck you in the town of “Boresville, USA”? Is God trying to teach you something?

Jesus is continually “doing something” in our lives. And he isn’t simply trying to teach us “lessons.” He has plans for our lives. Plans to transform us into his own likeness. And Jesus fulfills those plans. Perfectly. Completely. And nothing can stop him from fulfilling his purposes for us. When I first called upon the Lord I was desperate for him to deliver me from my slavery to sin. I wanted to have some peace and joy in my life. I didn’t know that to believe in Jesus meant I was signing up to become a disciple. I was more like the crowds of people who just wanted Jesus to heal them. I didn’t I needed to enlist to become a life-long follower of Jesus.

I think that sometimes we forget that we are disciples of Jesus.

At least I do. But we never graduate from being disciples in this life. Even after we have followed him for 35 or 65 years. Even if we are teaching and discipling others. Each one of us will always be a disciple of Jesus.

A disciple is a student. An imitator. A learner. A lifetime learner.

So what does Jesus want to teach you and me? How does he intend to mold us into his likeness?

Here are powerful life-transforming lessons Jesus taught and is still teaching me.

1. Jesus teaches his disciples to trust him.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. PROVERBS 3:5

Why do we get anxious when finances are tight? Why do we get fearful about our children? Why do we worry about the future? Ultimately it’s because we forget to trust the Lord. To trust that he will provide for us. To trust that he cares about our children infinitely more than we do. To trust that he will hear our prayers. To believe he will fulfill his promises.

Jesus told his disciples to trust God to provide for them.

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. MATTHEW 6:25-33

What are tempted to be anxious about right now? What do you need to trust the Lord for? Ask him to help you trust him. Ask him to give you his peace about whatever you’re going through.

Our Lord will continue to teach us to trust him for the rest of our lives. So we shouldn’t be surprised when we encounter the next situation we need to trust him in.

2. Jesus teaches his disciples to delight in him.

Remember when Satan took Jesus up on a mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor and tried to get him to delight in them? If he tempted Jesus like this he will certainly tempt us to delight in this world and its “glories” as well.

There is a beautiful neighborhood near mine that I often walk through. Huge beautiful homes – mansions. Perfectly landscaped lawns. At times I have been tempted to be envious of those folks. Which is crazy, because God has blessed my wife and I with a comfortable older home on a quiet street with great neighbors. And I would not want to have to maintain those mansions. Yet I can still be tempted to envy.

But God tells us:

Let not your heart envy sinners, but continue in the fear of the LORD all the day. Proverbs 23:17

Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. PSALM 37:4

All the delights, wonders, beauties and joys in the universe are but dust compared to the infinite splendor, glory and joy in Jesus. The first second of looking upon his glorious face in heaven will make us forget every pleasure we knew in this life.

Adam and Eve got in trouble when Satan got them to look at the “desirable“fruit God had forbidden them to eat.

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. GENESIS 3:6

Jesus teaches his disciples to delight in him and not the delights of this world.

3. Jesus teaches his disciples to be humble.

The afflictions God takes us through reveal how weak we are. How much we need him. Jesus is the ultimate example of humility. Though he was God he humbled himself and took on human weakness.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. PHILIPPIANS 2:3-8

Jesus humbled himself. And he tells his disciples to humble themselves

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. 1 PETER 5:6-7

Humble people realize they need the Lord. Humble people don’t think they have it all together. Humble people don’t think they can solve their own problems. Humble people don’t think they can provide for themselves. Humble disciples cast all their anxieties and cares upon God, knowing how much he cares for them. When we cast our cares on the Lord, we are saying, “Lord, I am weak. I am needy. I can’t do this on my own. I need you.”

That is why Jesus takes his disciples through deserts and valleys. To help us realize how much we need him. To help us become humble, like him.

4. Jesus teaches his disciples to be patient.

Queen pretty much summed up the way most of us are naturally: “I want it all, I want it all, I want it all, and I want it now.” I have told people I never pray for patience because I know God will take me through something that will require it.

Jesus teaches his disciples to be patient. To wait for him to fulfill his purpose in his perfect timing. To trust he will save their children in his timing. The trust he will provide for them in his timing. He tells us:

Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD! PSALM 27:14

Patience is one of the fruits of the Spirit. And like all fruit, patience takes time to grow. Wouldn’t it be great if we were automatically patient? Sorry. Take a deep breath. Jesus will make you patient little by little. Day after day. Keep seeking him, asking him for grace and help and patience and joy. You’ll get there.

5. Jesus teaches his disciples to believe that he works all things together for their good.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. ROMANS 8:28

If we really believed that God works all things for our good we would never grumble or complain about anything.

When we are tempted to grumble or complain, the best question we can ask ourselves is what am I believing about God right now? Do I believe he is good and loving? Do I believe he is using this to make me more like Christ? Do I believe he is in control of all things? Do I believe God is infinitely wise and knows what is best for me?

6. Jesus teaches his disciples to endure to the end.

Even when Jesus walked the earth many of his disciples followed him for a while then fell away. When Jesus taught that believers must “eat his flesh” and “drink his blood” many quit following him:

After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. JOHN 6:66

In the parable of the four soils, Jesus said that some people receive his word with joy initially but then the cares and worries of this life cause them to fall away.

 And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. MARK 4:16-17

I know there are various interpretations of these verses, but what is clear is that not all who initially respond to God’s word with joy persevere when they suffer “on account of the word.”

God tells us we must run the race with endurance. It doesn’t matter how we start the race. What matters is how we finish it.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. HEBREWS 12:1-2

Jesus teaches his disciples to endure to the end. We do this by fixing our eyes upon him, the ultimate example of endurance.

7. Jesus doesn’t simply teach his disciples “life hacks” to make their lives easier, but he calls us to imitate him. He doesn’t call us to do anything he didn’t do.

He is transforming us into his own likeness and image. So keep following him. Keep imitating him. Keep reading his Word, meditating on it, obeying it. Keep reading the gospels to see how Jesus lived. And don’t forget you are a disciple and will always be a disciple of Jesus. And even as you follow him, and do the hard work of a disciple, it is Jesus who changes you and makes you into his likeness.

This article on Lessons Jesus Taught originally appeared here.

VIDEO Mothers Are Special

By Reverend Paul N. Papas II May 4, 2021

Mothers and Grandmothers are some the most important people in our lives. They help share our character and beliefs. Sometimes, because of circumstances, the mother’s role is fulfilled by a Grandmother or a step-mother. Godly mothers with Godly fathers provide the best foundation for children in their formative years and as they grow up.

Mothers have a special position appointed by God.

She teaches, ministers, loves, and nurtures the next generation of citizens.  And she challenges and cajoles her children to do their best and be the best.

But few people take notice.  There will be no news stories proclaiming the virtues of a child being taught what it means to be loved, that an infant was hugged securely, or that the wonders of the classics were introduced to a young mind.  No one seems to care that a house was made into a home, or that a mere table with food was transformed into a place of fun.

It isn’t too late to restore the fine art of motherhood to its time-honored position in our society.  In spite of the current cultural hostility, lack of support from many husbands, and incredible pressure inside and outside the home, a real mom will continue to affirm the importance of motherhood. (1)

There are children who test the patience of even the strongest believers. Sometimes tough love is needed. You might consider this another prodigal son.

It is said that a young man became very profligate. He almost broke the hearts of his parents. The mother was actually about to die from the strain. Finally, one day he acted so shamefully that his father said to him, “We have done everything in our power for you. You have disgraced the family and are killing your mother. All that we do for you is in vain. I am sorry, but I must ask you to leave our home and never return.” The young man left.

The months and years went by. Finally the boy became so miserable and homesick it seemed he could not stand it. So he wrote his mother this letter: “Dear Mother: I am ashamed of my fearful conduct in the home. I can hardly stand to think I must never see you again. However, I do not know whether or not Father and you can forgive me. But I will be on train No. 2 that passes your home at 10:00 a.m. [Then he gave the day.] Now if you can forgive me and will take me back, I want you to hang a sheet out on the clothesline. I shall look as the train passes and, if I see the sheet, I will know that you will forgive me, and I will get off at the next station, just below the house, and come home.”

Well, what do you think she did? Not only did she hang out one sheet, but every sheet, towel, pillowcase and everything else white that she had. The clothesline, fence, and rosebushes were covered with sheets, towels, etc. Of course he came home, and, oh, such a welcome!

It was forgiveness in abundance. (2)

We can find our schedule is really full and forget the really important things in life. The following is an example.

A man stopped at a flower shop to order some flowers to be wired to his mother who lived two hundred miles away.

As he got out of his car he noticed a young girl sitting on the curb sobbing.

He asked her what was wrong and she replied, “I wanted to buy a red rose for my mother.

But I only have seventy-five cents, and a rose costs two dollars.”

The man smiled and said, “Come on in with me. I’ll buy you a rose.”

He bought the little girl her rose and ordered his own mother’s flowers.

As they were leaving he offered the girl a ride home.

She said, “Yes, please! You can take me to my mother.”

She directed him to a cemetery, where she placed the rose on a freshly dug grave.

The man returned to the flower shop, canceled the wire order, picked up a bouquet and drove the two hundred miles to his mother’s house. (3)

Mothers are ready for us. The Bible has many things to say about Mothers including the following.

Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.”… (Proverbs 31:25-30)  Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it. (Proverbs 22:6)

For those who were not Blessed with Godly parents or who otherwise endured rough times, do not despair there is healing available.  A rough upbringing can produce fear, anxiety, paranoia, PTSD or worse outcomes. A rough can be used as an excuse or can be overcome, that is a personal choice. Those who suffer, recover, and heal can help others who suffer.

Commemorations to honor mothers and motherhood have been happening for centuries and can be traced back to the Ancient Greeks and Romans who paid homage to their mother goddesses. Today, tributes to mothers occur all around the world at different times of the year, but the American version of Mother’s Day was started in May of 1908 by a woman named Anna Jarvis.

Mom needs a hug today.


(1)  Dr. James Dobson and Gary Bauer’s book, Children At Risk

(2) William Moses Tidwell, “Pointed Illustrations.”


It’s Great That You’re a Christian Parent…But

By Andrew Linder -November 13, 2020

Christian Parent

Christian parent, I want you to know that I’m encouraged by the fact that…

  • You have your children in church… You rock!
  • You’re instilling character and values into your kids… Yes!
  • And that you’re trying to raise your children to become not just good, but godly young people… This matters more than you know!

These things are so very important, and cannot be underestimated.


Is it possible that you are still missing the most critical and basic ingredient? – The one thing that God has called parents to promote and strive to produce in their children above all else? I fear that many Christian families are.

In your home, is there an emphasis on A PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP WITH JESUS? Are your children being regularly moved towards personally knowing Jesus and seeking to become more like Him?

  • Are you encouraging your kids to live out their own faith or simply requiring them to follow yours?
  • Are your children learning to walk in the Spirit and make personal decisions based upon their own relationship with God?
  • Are your children learning to follow Jesus Christ more than just a list of Christian rules?
  • Are they growing in their faith and their ability to practically live it out?

Recently, our youth pastor made a very convicting statement in a message when he said this…

“If you were to keep your ‘spiritual schedule’ (your Sundays, your small group, your spiritual routines, etc.) but you took out your relationship with Christ… what would change, if anything?”

Christian parent, is the foundation of all you do your relationship with Jesus? Or is that just one of the ‘things’ in the mix? Are we guilty of sometimes doing all of ‘the things’ that Christians do, believing that those things are what make up our relationship with Jesus?

The reality is that our children will notice if our family is walking with Jesus or if we’re just playing Christianity. Because there is a big difference.

If your desire is to help your children develop a personal relationship with Christ, here are 3 important ingredients to remember:

1. Make the Scriptures central to your daily lives

Nothing holds the power of God like the Word of God. Read it together. Discuss it together. Memorize it together. Post it in your home. Pray it over your children.

When your children have important decisions to make, point them to what the Bible says. More than they need your opinions, counsel them directly through the truth of Scripture to guide them into right decisions. Prioritize the Scriptures in your home.

2. Give Christ preeminence in your home

Make much of Jesus in your family. Help your children understand that we are Christ-followers before we are rule-followers. Remind them that everything in our family and in our lives is to point to Jesus.

This is why we pray together. This is why we serve one another. This is why forgive others. This is why we strive to be like Jesus. Because He is our focus. He gets first place. It’s all about Him! Regularly remind your children of this.

3. Teach and exemplify a personal walk with God

Children are the great imitators, so give them something great to imitate.

“The greatest guarantee of children who will have a personal relationship with Jesus is for them to be raised by parents who do.”

Teach your children by example what it looks like to be a student of the Word, to make decisions based upon Scripture, to walk in the Spirit, and to allow your faith to shape every detail of your life. Because faith is more often caught than it is taught.

Nothing you pass on to your children carries more weight than this.

It’s great that you’re a Christian parent, BUT it’s even greater if you’re leading your children into a lifelong, personal relationship with Jesus.

This article originally appeared here.

Churches could transform inner cities. Here’s how

The tragedy of unemployable school graduates

By Paul Swamidass, Op-ed Contributor

Baltimore, Philadelphia, Chicago, Oakland, and many other large cities have two problems in common: inner-city illiteracy and poverty. The two problems together form an interconnected tragedy that has been growing for about 40+ years.

As a nation, we are not yet trying to fix this national tragedy. As a matter fact, it has not yet entered our national consciousness as a BIG and formidable problem.

How severe is this tragedy?  Congressional Republican Candidate from Baltimore Ms. Kim Klacik reports two disturbing metrics about Baltimore city’s schools: 11 out 12 boys cannot read at grade level, and in over a dozen high schools, not one student is proficient in math; this is a tragedy for the children, their parents, the inner-city economy, and the nation. Ms. Klacik deserves our gratitude for exposing these disturbing metrics in her promotional videos as a part of her campaign.

All well-meaning Americans would agree, this tragedy deserves a response that is long overdue.

The above metrics are screaming at us that these inner-city students will be unemployable, when they leave school, with or without a fake high school diploma. Without stable employment possibilities, they will look to alternate sources of income, i.e., crime. Those who take to crime as an alternate source of income will pay a severe price with their lives, while dragging their families along with them. They all deserve better.

It is ironic that illiteracy prevails in these big cities although K-12 education is “free” in the local public schools! Unfortunately, “free” public-school education in inner cities has failed the local children and their parents in Baltimore and many other cities. Sometimes, what is “free” is not automatically effective.

When “free” schools fail, on theory, parents could step in and help their children become literate and get an employable education. However, as it stands, poor inner-city parents are unable to help their children with their schoolwork. The result: at 18, an intolerably high percentage of inner-city children leaving school are illiterate and unemployable. They will face a lifetime of unemployed nightmare.

On the average, after 12 years of schooling, an illiterate from the above schools will spend about 40-50 years of his/her adult life without stable employment, and without the ability to support a family. As mentioned above, the alternate form of employment readily accessible to an illiterate is crime, which is tragic for the individual and his/her family. This tragedy resembles the one the Good Samaritan witnessed in Jesus’ parable, and responded promptly and very generously.

Who will be the Good Samaritan here?

If the inner-city churches want to respond to this challenge at their doorsteps, they can offer free tutoring to local public-school children struggling with schoolwork. However, churches may employ many potential excuses to avoid this challenge, including:

1.  Public school education is the responsibility of the state.

2.  We pay taxes for this very purpose. It is not our problem.

3.  Why not demand that schools and parents do a better job? 

Inner-city schools have been progressively failing for more than 40+ years, and there are absolutely no signs to indicate things would improve now or in the future. Further, no one seems to care enough to fix this tragic problem today. For example, at the first presidential debate of 2020, there was not a single question to the two candidates as to how they would fix this problem of inner-city illiteracy and resulting human tragedy.

Today, tutoring by churches is a God-given opportunity to reach out to our inner-city students and parents in their community, regardless of their faith. Like the Good Samaritan in Jesus’ parable, churches can choose to help inner-city children and their parents, who are just as helpless today as the injured and dying man in Jesus’ parable.

If inner-city churches assume the responsibility for tutoring failing school children in their communities, inner cities could turn into a mission field. There is a great potential here for churches to collaborate across the nation to tackle the inner-city tutoring mission by sharing knowledge, experience and resources; wealthier churches in the suburbs could also play a supportive role in this “Good Samaritan” project.

Learning from the Good Samaritan

When he left home, the Good Samaritan in the parable neither anticipated his encounter with the injured man, nor prepared himself to help him. But, upon seeing the helpless, dying, injured man, the Samaritan assumed full responsibility for helping him, not half-heartedly, but with all the resources at his disposal. He did not use excuses such as the following to ignore the man in need of help:

1.  He is a Jew, why not let another Jew take care of him?

2.  I am running late for my appointment.

3.  Jews have not been kind to me in the past.

4.  I did not come prepared to help this man, etc., etc.

In the parable, the good Samaritan overcame his excuses, if there were any. Churches too can overcome their excuses and rise up to take on the challenge of tutoring inner-city students to become literate and employable.

One church’s response

Pastor Charles Johnson of EGC Ministries in Philadelphia, with a small church school, started a free after-school tutoring program for the surrounding community about two years ago. It began with a sign posted outside saying, “OUR HOUSE: Free Tutoring Program.” It attracted students and parents from the community. The tutoring sessions, Monday through Thursday, include free snacks and brief lessons from the Bible to all students regardless of their religious background. Parents request tutoring in writing and are made aware of accompanying Bible education, without any apology. Even Muslim parents have used this tutoring program for their children.

OUR HOUSE is a free tutoring site in Philadelphia. | Courtesy of Paul Swamidass

This fall, with the above experience behind him, the pastor is promoting the idea of church-based tutoring among several churches in Philadelphia across denominations. The goal is to form a loose coalition of mutually supportive churches in the city to offer tutoring to public-school children at multiple church locations using volunteer teachers or teachers receiving an honorarium. Participating churches will attempt to share knowledge, experience, and resources to help new partner churches joining this tutoring effort. For example, Pastor Johnson has the experience of running a church school for many years, and his knowledge and experience could serve as a resource for all churches embarking on the tutoring mission.

A picture of an Our House student who graduated from school at Auburn, AL. | Courtesy of Paul Swamidass

The working model for Pastor Johnson is a five-year old, successful, free, after-school tutoring program offered by OUR HOUSE, a ministry that is conveniently located in two homes across the street from project housing in Auburn, AL. OUR HOUSE ministry at Auburn caters to about 100 children from the nearby project housing four days a week with snacks and free tutoring. They offer a study hall, computers, and caring and friendly tutors. The goal of the program is to enable students to excel in schoolwork, week after week, while “gaining confidence in their abilities to excel at school.”

Our House at Auburn uses volunteers from local churches and the community, as well as students from Auburn University.  Many of the participating university students, under the supervision of Our House staff, earn academic credit for their service learning, practicum and internships completed at Our House. Pastor Charles Johnson visited OUR HOUSE in Auburn, AL, before starting one of his own to transform one child at a time in Philadelphia. Conclusion: Yes, it can be done; it has been done.

“Arise, O Church arise!” exhorts a modern hymn by Getty and Townend.

Paul Swamidass is Professor Emeritus at Auburn University’s Harbert College of Business. He is author of over 100 academic publications and several books including Engineering Entrepreneurship from Idea to Business Plan (Cambridge University Press, 2016). His essays on the implications of Biblical Leadership for contemporary leaders appear on the websites of Christian Leadership AllianceLead Like Jesus, and Faith Driven Entrepreneur.Pl let me know if you have any questions.

Tell Me What You See



When I was a senior in high school, my church’s youth group was asked to lead an evening service for the annual Youth Sunday celebration. The adult in charge of our group recruited volunteers to be ushers, song leaders, and Scripture readers. But when he came to the role of preacher, everyone looked to me, even though we belonged to a small church that didn’t allow women pastors. I’d been mentored as a leader in the group and had been growing in my knowledge of the Word. Not one to shrink back from a challenge, I accepted the role and began preparing my lesson.

The evening went as well as we had hoped. But before I could make it into the fellowship hall for punch and cookies, one of the elders—not by title but simply by age and experience—approached me. I’ll never forget seeing Alva Cash walk my way. I’d been warned that some members of the church might not be happy with me teaching, and I fully expected Mr. Cash to tell me that girls weren’t supposed to be in the pulpit. Instead, he shook my hand and said, “Young lady, you did a fine job.”

I fully expected Mr. Cash to tell me that girls weren’t supposed to be in the pulpit. Instead, he said, “Young lady, you did a fine job.”

Maybe I do have the gift of teaching, I thought, remembering how a Sunday school teacher had spoken that encouragement over me years earlier. Shortly after committing my life to Christ and being baptized at 13, I’d begun attending a congregation with my mom and brother and found myself in the high school class taught by Harry Durbin, a deacon in the church and the father of kids I went to school with. I don’t remember exactly how Harry led the discussions or what curriculum we used, but a few months after I started attending, he pulled me aside after class one Sunday.

“You know, I think you might have the gift of teaching,” he told me.

As a new Christian, I was confused. When did I receive the gift? How did he know I had it when I myself didn’t know? And how could I be a teacher if I was just a kid? True, I’d always wanted to be a teacher when I grew up, but I’d also wanted to be a meteorologist and an archaeologist and—more recently—a journalist. Did I have those gifts, too? Harry explained that spiritual gifts were particular skills and talents given by the Spirit for the church. He told me that after observing me in class, he saw evidence of this gift God had given me. I didn’t fully understand, but I did hold on to the encouragement. Like Paul’s investment in Timothy, Harry helped me “fan into flame the gift of God” (2 Timothy 1:6 NIV).

After I graduated high school and enrolled in a Christian college, I learned more about the gifts of the Spirit, how they are sometimes referred to as grace gifts (Rom. 12:6) and how they have equal value though some are more visible (1 Cor. 12:14-26). I found that most people don’t have a Harry in their life to help them figure out what their gifts are. Instead, they believe they have none, or they take spiritual gifts inventories and personality tests to try to determine the Spirit’s gifting. I wondered myself whether teaching was really a spiritual gift or just something I enjoyed, maybe a natural-born talent. Over and over, I’d take the quizzes just to be sure I wasn’t missing something. But while the tools I was using often did confirm my gift, I became convinced when, time after time, someone from a church I was attending—often a pastor or Bible study leader—would confirm it, too.

Over the years, I’ve changed churches a few times as I’ve moved to different cities for work or family reasons. And in each case, the question would arise: So how will I let them know what I can do? Some spiritual gifts are easier to “transfer” in such situations. Those who feel gifted to work with children are usually quickly plugged into a new role, as are those who feel gifted in what is sometimes called “helps” or behind-the-scenes work. They can easily find opportunities for setting up chairs or bringing food to those who are sick. So I’d get involved in all the ways I could: stuffing envelopes, changing diapers, and making meals.

While I valued those jobs and knew they needed to be done, I felt I was operating outside of my spiritual giftedness. The problem is that though churches need godly teachers as much as they need people to help in the nursery, they’re not often quick to appoint someone new, or at least unknown to the leaders, for roles like these. And it makes sense. Teaching comes with more responsibility (James 3:1) and authority (1 Timothy 2:12). The Bible sets the qualifications high for teachers, taking into account not only gifting but also spiritual maturity and impeccable character. I couldn’t just volunteer to be in a role that held such weight. It would be like volunteering to be the manager of a company on my first day at work.

Once, I took a job in a new city and began attending a new church. I really liked the pastor and all the people I’d met, and I was ready to dive in after attending for four or five weeks. I had such fond memories of being in youth group myself and had loved working with middle school students when I was in college, so I arranged to meet with the youth pastor and offered to help with the church’s teenagers. He told me they didn’t really have any openings and suggested I get involved in the women’s ministry or singles group. I thought it was odd that they didn’t need more volunteers, but I took him at his word.

Later, after I’d been at the church for a while, the youth pastor approached me. “You know, we could really use your help in the youth ministry,” he said. I was thrilled to be asked, and before long, I was even team teaching a Sunday school series for the teen girls as he taught the boys. When I asked him what had changed, he said the church took teaching very seriously, and until they’d had a chance to get to know me and discern whether or not I had the gift of teaching, they weren’t going to just dump me into the role. It was a perspective I came to value.


Over the past couple of years, my husband and I began attending a church about 35 minutes from our home. This time, I knew better than to try to jump into a position in a place where I was mostly unknown. Instead, I just started participating in Bible studies, serving where I could, and getting to know people. Once again, a leader pulled me aside.

“Have you ever thought about teaching?”

“Funny you should ask.”

Not only have church leaders identified my gifts and encouraged me to use them, but they’ve also helped me develop and grow. One pastor led an “incubator” group for men who felt called to the ministry. It was called “Faithful Men,” yet because that same pastor also identified and wanted to help me develop my gift of teaching, he let me be the only female member. It wasn’t because he thought I’d go on to be a pastor; he just saw that there weren’t other opportunities for me at that time.

I wonder whether I would have understood or used my spiritual gifts as much over the years if I hadn’t had the continued encouragement of the church—if godly men and women hadn’t encouraged me to “fan into flame the gift of God.” What if Harry Durbin or Alva Cash hadn’t taken notice of this new believer all those years ago? What if that youth pastor had kept his “no” a “no” and not bothered to discern whether the Spirit really had gifted me? What if the leader of “Faithful Men” hadn’t taken the risk to invite a woman into the group? And what if that Bible study leader hadn’t pulled me aside just last year to tell me she saw God at work in me? Maybe more importantly, what gifts in others are going unused and maybe even unidentified because I’m not doing the same for them?

I’m thankful for the older believers and church leaders who’ve mentored me, taught me how to study the Bible and memorize Scripture, prayed for me, allowed me to write Bible study curriculum, or invited me to speak in front of the congregation. Though I’ve read and studied on my own to improve my skills as a teacher, my gift—given for the common good of the church—has been developed by the church. As it should be.


Illustrations by Michael Kirkham

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