The Basics That Build Leaders

“Give Them Some Handles”

Have you ever tried to open a drawer that had its handle broken off? Ever tried to drink coffee from a mug without a handle?

A mission executive spoke to me with great passion. In his staggering job he leads hundreds of missionaries in a dozen nations. He confessed in a whisper, “Waylon, we have some missionaries who don't have the foggiest idea how to penetrate a culture with the Gospel! They don't know how to win converts, disciple them, and plant a growing church.”

This missionary leader went on, “We need simple, reproducible tools from God that will equip our missionaries. Waylon, give them some ‘handles’ they can use for a lifetime!”

The word “basic” is often a turn-off; that is, when you feel you've advanced beyond the first stages. But, I can't get away from that word! What does it take to grow spiritually? The basics! What will it take to reproduce the life of Christ in one person, or a nation? “You just need a few, simple basics!”

Although Christian maturity has few shortcuts, some spiritual habits and disciplines “pack a bigger wallop” than they would seem. Time faithfully invested in them gives unexpected growth dividends.

As I have traveled from Europe to Latin America, and in North American churches, I continue to see the desperate need that Christians have for simple, reproducible “handles.” Here are six transforming “handles” that God uses, the “basics” which I seek to inculcate into the life of each person I mentor.

  1. Being Filled With The Spirit
  2. The Living Word of God
  3. Believing Prayer
  4. Daily Obedience
  5. Witnessing
  6. Attitude: Seeing with His Eyes

For a deeper look into each “handle,” let's take each one in turn.

1. Being Filled With The Spirit

Years ago in California, I was in the home of a young, excited Bill Bright. Those days are treasured in my memory. Student evangelism was going strong on the UCLA and USC campuses. After a few weeks of training, these young men and women would later form the team of what became a worldwide movement — Campus Crusade for Christ. Soon the Spirit would scatter us across the U.S., pioneering a new kind of university evangelism. As a single adult, I would begin the Crusade work in my home state at the University of Texas in Austin.

That day Bill explained the absolute need for us to walk and minister by the Holy Spirit. “Otherwise,” he said with deep conviction, “nothing we do will last.” He quoted Christ: “For without Me, ye can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

Bill was looking for a simple way to explain the Spirit-filled life. When he visited Texas, I introduced him to a pastor who had given me the clearest explanation I'd heard. Bill talked with him and developed, over time, what became a revolutionary booklet on how to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

We are commanded to be continuously “filled with,” i.e., to be controlled by the Holy Spirit (see Ephesians 5:18 ). The Holy Spirit is not a liquid to fill a vessel. He is a Person to control a person, as one consciously yields to Him.

Sin insolates us from God's best and His control. We must specifically confess each sin by name, and turn from it. Then, by faith we claim His control, surrendering all that we know of ourselves to all that we know of Him.

In my devotions I apply Romans 13:14: “But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof.” I yield to the Lord, to identify with Him. Then, by faith I put on, in my mind, the “armor” of Ephesians 6, piece by piece. I pray something like this: “Lord, I take the belt of truth and buckle it around my waist. You are the truth. Guard my tongue and my thoughts to say only the truth. I take your breastplate of righteousness. Let me focus on what is ‘true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, praiseworthy’ ” (Philippians 4:8). And when I sin again, I name the sin, repent, and surrender afresh to the Lord. I then move on by faith in His wonderful forgiveness. I claim the promise of His living water flowing through me ( John 7:38, 39 ).

There is no more convicting question for a Christian to answer than, “Are you filled right now with the Holy Spirit?” Each of the next five areas hinge on the Lordship of Christ, maintained by the control of the Spirit on our lives.

2. The Living Word of God

Few persons know their indebtedness to Dawson Trotman. He was a master soulwinner, with vision and innovation. He was a supreme disciple of Jesus, who founded the Navigators ministry and pioneered mass counseling and follow-up techniques with the Billy Graham Crusades in the 1950's.

His memorable illustrations called “The Hand,” “The Wheel,” “The Big Dipper” and other innovations have deeply marked Masterlife discipleship materials, as well as materials of more than a dozen Christian organizations and their spiritual leaders.

Trotman's “Hand Illustration” divides one's intake of Scripture into five channels:

  1. hearing
  2. reading
  3. studying
  4. memorizing
  5. meditation

The thumb and forefinger stand for meditating on and memorizing Scripture. If you can use only two fingers, these two are most essential. Try zipping and buttoning with the other three fingers. In the process of mentoring someone you must meet him where he is. Then, you seek to get him as far “up” the hand as possible and eventually to the thumb.

The mentor, naturally, must model what he teaches. As quickly as I can, I suggest memorizing key verses, (click here to see “How to Memorize Scripture — So You'll Never Forget ”) and then thinking on their application through the five steps of meditation. Memory has such powerful fruit. It has protective potential to meet Satan's attacks (seeMatthew 4:1-10 ). With just a single verse in your mind, you can chew on it (a step of meditating on Scripture) at any time, any place. God brings grace for life-change with our obedience to His Words.

Dr. Howard Hendricks, teacher and author, once explained to me how he helps new converts. “First thing I do, crack out of the box, is get the new believer into Bible study.” Amen! We can begin with a simple question-answer study, then lead the mentoree into inductive studies with portions of chapters and then books. I also sprinkle in Bible studies on a single word, and biographical studies. The mentoree's excitement of discovery, the wonder of knowing Christ in a new way, brings amazing growth.

3. Believing Prayer

“Our Lord did not rebuke His disciples for making mistakes, but for not having faith. Two things that astonished Him were ‘little faith’ and ‘great faith.’” 1 The most bonding thing, the most intimate experience between two people, is prayer. Believing prayer stretches and impacts mentoring as nothing else. I like to share “The Hand of Prayer,” a visual tool. Moving from the little finger up are: 

  • praise
  • thanksgiving
  • intercession (the long finger)
  • petition
  • confession (the thumb)

I teach each of these over time, using a prayer list that corresponds to these categories. Help your protégé to get answers to specific prayer, and you will see him grow.

At the airport in Guyana, Central America, we encountered a customs nightmare. I was with a team of men from our church in Tampa. We had brought tools to do construction for the mission, and chocolates for the kids. We took a definite risk! Posted signs warned of taxes that awaited us. People ahead of us in line were griping at the fines. And we had a “hardware store” of electric tools!

Quickly I asked the group to stand aside from the customs line. As we stood in a circle, the Lord led me to pray that He would blind the eyes of the officials, so that we would not have to pay any tax. Jim Hartley was the first of our group in line. As the customs officer looked in Jim's briefcase, his hand passed over the chocolates and lawnmower blade, sliding them aside. “Are you all together? You may go through.” Not one other bag was checked! Years later Jim shared in church that the thing that impacted him most in Guyana was not building chapels, but was that answered prayer.

Make a prayer list of the specific needs of the person you're mentoring, and find out how God is answering your requests. Prayer will build a friendship for eternity.

A godly leadership base is critical for lasting church growth. As I've traveled extensively overseas and in the United States, I continue to discover that most Christians have little idea how to specifically help a believer become a growing, spiritual leader. If you will begin mentoring others in these six key areas, God will transform you and your church!


4. Daily Obedience

All of the talent, human beauty, and Bible knowledge together cannot compensate for a rebellious heart toward God. “Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft” (1 Samuel 15:23). As you model daily obedience to the Lord, the person you're mentoring will be challenged to also let Christ be “boss” of his life.

Our life in Christ is not a daily run, although the Apostle Paul uses this analogy, too. More often Paul uses the word “walk” to describe the Christian life. It may seem plain and ordinary, but being “in step” with Jesus brings supernatural and eternal dividends.

Walking — that's the best way to describe the plodding gate of obedience. “Yes Lord. Yes, Lord. Yes. . . .” However, the moment we disobey, saying “No,” we stop walking and fall down spiritually. Unless we confess the sin, we never get up and walk with Jesus again!

Also, unless our repentance and confession is very quick, we pay the consequences of sin. Though God's memory is perfect, His patience is sometimes like the Energizer Bunny (“it keeps going, and going, and. . . .”) However, when He spanks us, He knows right where to do it: where it hurts!

Learning to walk in victory involves learning to listen to the Holy Spirit, when His voice echoes Scripture in our hearts that has been implanted there. We must “. . . be ye doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves” (James 1:22). To “do the Word” we must know the Word.

With some 575 direct commands in the New Testament, who can know or remember them all at once? I asked the question, “Isn't there an easier guide, Lord, to help me learn to walk with you?” And He gave me an insight. Link your specific opportunities to follow Jesus with one main verse: Luke 9:23. Take up your daily cross. Yes! The cross is choosing God's will for my life today. I take up the instrument of death to myself and, led by His Spirit, follow Jesus through the day. Each time that I deliberately choose the Father's will for my life, He imparts His life in that area of my death. Choosing Jesus runs interference from temptations that Satan would try to tackle me like linebackers going after the running back.

Ministry follows obedience like a shadow. The will of God is never all that it seems on the surface. When the Apostle Paul was jailed, he was “walking” in obedience to Christ. Be sure that no contemporary of Paul ever looked beyond that prison sentence, to dream that from it Scripture would be written. From that isolation period were born Ephesians, Philippians and other books of eternal gold. Pilgrim's Progress, the second most read book in 200 years, was written by Baptist pastor John Bunyan while he served time in jail. He was jailed because He was obedient to God in baptizing and preaching, outside of the State Church.

Biography in Scripture and the book of Proverbs are practical resources for teaching the rewards for obedience, and the tragic consequences of sin. Why not do a biographical Bible study with the one you're mentoring? Studying the life of Asa or Saul, David or Caleb, will reap giant rewards in shaping hearts to obedience. To know Christ is to love Him, resulting in our obedience. Obedience enables us to “abide in Him” and fruit is the result (see John 15:1-16 ).

5. Witnessing

Jesus shared his public and private witnessing experiences with the disciples. We are rich as we look over a disciple's shoulder — reading about the woman at the well, the rich young ruler, and Nicodemus. Not witnessing together is the missing link in most sterile, church mentor-relationships. Other than prayer together, no ministry is as life changing, more leadership birthing and bonding, than sharing the gospel together.

This work is the Spirit's delight! He gives us the boldness, brings the circumstances together, leads in the verses and words we use, convicts the lost and moves them to salvation. I have quoted John 10:4 many times as two of us stepped onto a dark house porch to visit a lost family. “He goes on ahead of them, and the sheep follow him for they know his voice.” We need not fear. Jesus is on the porch ahead of us!

Many seek to mentor around a table doing Bible study. It is never enough. There is no substitute for going and reaping together. And the joy one experiences is contagious! Ask for a commitment to witness and visit together for a number of weeks. It may take time to reap and gather results. Restart your engines together, and you'll never be the same.

6. Attitude: Seeing With His Eyes

Learning to mentor means to learn to listen. The mouth exposes the heart every time. We can be so full of what the mentoree needs to know, that we never scratch where he itches. “Your attitude should be the same as Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5 NIV ). Attitude is everything with God. Why you do what you do is more important than that you do it.

Parents seem to hit at the surface. They respond much more to what kids do, than find out what kids are feeling and thinking behind their actions. That takes time to listen.

So it is in mentoring. God wants the attitude right — the action is secondary. Who has confronted you about your griping, yapping, and whining? Mentors must. That kind of heart attitude reveals from your mouth a lack of practical faith. Is your Lord alive now, with you in this situation?

Paul knew the reality of a Roman dictatorship. However, with the promises of God he lived in a faith dimension, seeing reality through the eyes of Christ. A person climbing stairs to look out the window sees with a new perspective — above, beyond, what anyone standing below can see.

The Bible is filled with verses that lift our attitude. Paul contrasts God's viewpoint with the world's: “As sorrowful” (a fact of life in pressure) “yet always rejoicing” (seeing the circumstance with the eyes of Jesus). He continues: “as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing and yet possessing all things” (2 Corinthians 6:10). The fruit of the Spirit is nine attitudes, if you will:

  • love
  • joy
  • peace
  • longsuffering
  • gentleness
  • goodness
  • faith
  • meekness
  • self-control

What a delightful book title on attitude: Happiness Is a Choice.

Why did Paul and David both say in Scripture, “I will,” “I can do”? They were seeing with God's eyes an impossibility made possible — the Divine viewpoint. Was Jesus a problem-prone whiner or a power-focused person? Why do God's leaders see possibilities? Because they are looking with the eyes of Christ. On their knees they've found the victory believing, "claiming," a verse with God's viewpoint.

As I share attitude changes with a mentoree I make myself open for them to confront me with my own whining. Whatever the level of pain or pressure, the Holy Spirit will link us with Scripture to have the attitude of Christ.

God uses more than these six basics, of course, in our lives. But they are giant steps that change lives when we release them to a hungry heart.

Sharpen your focus on these six basics. Ask the Lord to teach you these simple yet profound areas once again. You'll see the ministry of the Spirit working deeply in hearts — hearts that have working “handles” on growing in Christ and being the victorious leader He means for them to be!

1 Oswald Chambers, Love of God, (Grand Rapids: Chosen Press, 1988), p. 150.