Oct 19, 2015


Demonstrate Before You Delegate

Chase Abner writes about how empowering students to do ministry works best when they’ve seen it first hand.

The Salt Company staff has this mantra: “We don’t do anything that students can do.”

It’s a nice little way of reminding ourselves that we need to give our energy to the things that we are uniquely able to do because of our staff roles. It’s helpful because our staffers share a compulsion to spend as much time as possible in the trenches on Iowa State’s campus forming relationships with non-Christian students and helping them to understand the truth about Jesus. While we do some of that work, we know that our students are actually better positioned for that sort of ministry. Students live with students, eat with students, work with students, and go to class with students. Relationships are the single greatest asset they hold for fulfilling the Great Commission on campus. They come by those so much more easily and naturally than our staff members can.

However, we realized that while we commission our students to do personal evangelism on campus, few of them have actually seen it done well. Many of them had only the evangelistic tool they’ve ever witnessed – inviting people into a church event to hear a professional Christian share the Gospel. So while we were doing a noble thing in empowering the students to lead others to Christ, we hadn’t provided them with an example to follow.

The power of demonstration

As good evangelicals, most of us can quote 2 Timothy 3:16-17, but lately, I’ve found so much inspiration and help from what Paul says to Timothy earlier in that chapter. While contrasting Timothy and those who seek to corrupt the church, Paul says in verse 10, “But you have followed my teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, and endurance,” (2 Timothy 3:10, HCSB). He affirms Timothy for following his teaching, but the list doesn’t stop there. Timothy also followed Paul’s conduct (and a list of qualities that had to be witnessed).

In other words, Paul had demonstrated the faith for Timothy. He didn’t just hand him concepts and ideas, he lived them out for Timothy. Paul gave Timothy a map AND showed him the steps to walk. It was the perfect combination. Timothy learned truth and what it looked like in practical terms.

So where did Paul learn this? I believe it was from the Apostles who had spent time with Jesus. He is our archetypical disciple-maker. It’s funny how we quote Jesus in classrooms, while the things he said were usually in the context of meals, parties, and everywhere along the way. He was the perfect embodiment of his teachings.

Building demonstration into your ministry approach

If we truly wanted our students to grow as personal evangelists, we needed to find a way to show them what that looked like. If we were going to expect our students to be faithful with the task, we needed them to observe it first. Here’s how that played out for us.

This fall, our staff and student leaders had an audacious goal of having a personal gospel conversation with every freshman that gave us their contact info. We had a system in place that divided those contacts up by living area on campus so that student leaders closest in proximity to those freshmen would take lead in setting up those conversations. Our staff members were also divided up across those living areas. Our staff members worked tirelessly to set up appointments that fit the schedules of our student leaders and the freshmen contacts. We wanted every single student leader to have the opportunity of watching a staff member share the gospel with a student they were meeting for the very first time.

Ideally, every student leader would get the opportunity to observe this several times over, but we have 280 student leaders and only about 20 staff. However, next year, almost every one of our sophomore leaders will have received a gospel presentation during the first month of their first semester on campus. It will be their expectation that this is just what we do as a ministry!

I’m dreaming of a day about four years in the future when all of our student leaders will have received the gospel or led a freshmen to Christ during their first weeks at Iowa State!

Our goal isn’t to eventual have built a culture wherein our staff doesn’t do personal evangelism to students. We will always have a high value on that. In fact, we were all very energized by the opportunities we had to shepherd freshmen during those conversations. But we are very excited about the chance to multiply laborers across the Iowa State campus and to the ends of the earth.

I encourage you to take a hard look at your ministry and ask yourself these questions to determine what you’re delegating without demonstrating.

  • In what responsibilities do your students fail most often?
    • Most likely, they fail in part because they’ve never personally observed success in that area.
  • For what tasks is it hardest to recruit students to volunteer?
    • Again, their avoidance is probably more about their insecurity than it is unwillingness.
  • In which areas have you seen the highest staff turnover?
    • If you’ve had inconsistent leadership in an area of your ministry, your students may have a muddy example to follow.

Tell us what you think. How have you seen this principle at work in your ministry?



about the author

Chase Abner

Chase is the Lead Church Planting Catalyst in Iowa with the North American Mission Board and music geek.