College is one of the greatest times to discover who we are and find our place in this world. As the students in our ministries spend their time with their studies, clubs, and friendships, they certainly make some progress in answering these very important issues, but ironically, Jesus gives us an incredibly effective path that is too often overlooked:

We truly discover who we are when we lose ourselves in serving

The early church did not have assessments quite like we do. Instead, I believe they discovered their gifts by meeting the needs of others with others. Those with whom they served and those they served would see their giftedness and point it out.

Paul describes the role of spiritual leaders, those considered apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers in Ephesians 4. Paul challenged the Ephesian leaders “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:12-13). Serving leads to maturity.

Knowing about the Bible does not change us. Applying the Bible by serving others does. When we fail to create the opportunities for people to serve, we hijack from them the opportunity to grow.

When it comes to investing in others, recruiting others, empowering others, here is the most important principle I have discovered:

People need to serve more than we need their help

As a young leader, I often felt reluctant or even afraid to bother those I was recruiting. My attempts at recruiting others went something like this: “I hate to bother you, but would you possibly consider praying about the possibility of one day helping with our upcoming event?” The results of my efforts were way less than impressive.

When I recruited others apologetically I seemed to be indicating that what I was asking them to do was not something they should even consider. They could sense that I felt guilty for asking them to do something I wasn’t willing to do. I seemed to be approaching the potential recruits as if I was asking them to do me a favor like I desperately needed them to rescue me. Those who turned down my invitation seemed to smell my selfish motivation or my desperation.

Other times, rather than recruiting others, I would just do the task myself. As the trained-by-seminary and called-by-God pastor, I thought that I was the most qualified and the most effective person for that job. Unfortunately, I was undermining my own efforts to help people grow by eliminating the fastest and most effective path towards that growth – serving.

In the New Testament, Paul went to great lengths to write about the importance of serving as a body and using our spiritual gifts. If pastors and church leaders are the only ones who should be serving, then why would Paul write these letters to all of the followers of Christ in particular cities? I had been operating as if Paul had only intended his letters for those who were in leadership and that spiritual gifts were only given to clergy.

All are called to serve

Paul often reminded those reading his letters that all followers of Christ were called and even gifted to serve. Furthermore, when Paul specifically addressed church leaders, he reminded them of the importance of recruiting others to serve with them. Paul challenged Titus to raise up elders from among the Cretans, a group which was considered by one of their own prophets to be “liars, evil brutes, [and] lazy gluttons” (Titus 1:12).

Rather than ask Titus to do all of the work necessary to reach Cretans and disciple Cretans, Paul knew that the very process for reaching and discipling Cretans included creating places for these “lying, evil, and lazy” people to serve. In fact, some of them should so grow in their relationship with God that they would become qualified to serve as elders and “entrusted with God’s work” (Titus 1:7). Quite a contrast! Titus’ goal was to create a community in which evil people became overseers.

Remembering that my greatest moments of personal growth had taken place in the context of serving others, I changed my approach. I began to realize as a campus leader, I was called by God to become obsolete. My job was to raise up leaders who would replace me. Asking people to serve knowing they needed to serve gave me greater confidence and even urgency in my conversations with people. I approached others ready to do them a favor – allow them an opportunity to become the person God created them to be.

In my own life, I had discovered that Jesus spoke with great wisdom when he reminded his followers that when we lose our lives in serving others, we find our lives (Matthew 10:39). As campus leader, I became more committed to helping others experience this miraculous and mystical experience.

Eric Bryant May2013 Dr. Eric Michael Bryant leads a cohort earning a Doctorate of Ministry in Missional Effectiveness through Bethel Seminary. Eric serves with Gateway Church in Austin, a church known for their mottos: “no perfect people allowed” and “come as you are, but don’t stay that way.” Prior to Gateway, Eric served as part of the leadership team at Mosaic in Los Angeles. Eric’s book, Not Like Me: A Field Guide for Influencing a Diverse World, equips people to engage with others no matter what their differences.