All it took was a short conversation after church one Sunday.
Leigh* was volunteering with the high school ministry at her church, and she loved every minute of it. She was passionate about Jesus and her students, but she only thought of it as a fun way to serve. She had never considered going into full-time ministry. That is, until the youth pastor pulled her aside one afternoon. “I see gifts in you,” he shared. “I think God might be calling you to ministry.”
Several years after that conversation, I sat beside Leigh in the student lounge at her seminary, while she recalled the words that changed her life. All it took was a brief encounter, a handful of words, for her entire path to shift.
As a part of my doctoral research, I interviewed women at several seminaries around the country. I wanted to hear their stories of calling so that I could understand how God raises up leaders. Along the way, I heard similar experiences to Leigh’s. Many of the women could trace their callings to one conversation, or even one comment, that set their imaginations on fire. Maybe it was a college professor who spoke a few affirming words after class. Maybe it was a pastor who suggested seminary. Maybe it was a mom, or a grandmother, who sat across the kitchen table and spoke of calling.
No matter how small or passing the encounter, those words had power. Even the smallest encouragement was just the right spark to set a bonfire ablaze.
I suspect a lot of us underestimate the power of our words. Especially if we don’t hold a position of visible leadership. When we don’t speak on a stage, we might miss our influence.
Yet these stories remind us of an eternal truth: each of us is made in the image of God, a God who SPOKE creation into existence. He declared, “Let there be light,” and there was light. “Let the land produce living creatures,” and it was so. God’s words, God’s voice, have the power to create, to bring things into existence.
And we are made in His image.
God’s ability to speak new things into existence? It’s in us too. Our words can create entirely new realities. And, as I learned through my research, one of the most important things we create with our words, are leaders.
“Let there be…leaders.”
By naming the gifts we see in each other, by pointing out potential, we speak leaders into existence. It doesn’t matter who you are, or how eloquent your message. It doesn’t matter if you are a best-selling author or a stay-at-home mom. All of our words have power, because we are all made equally in the image of God.
Friend, I don’t want you to miss what a huge responsibility this is. Because your words hold so much power, wield them with wise intention. When you recognize gifts in a family member or friend, be sure to tell them, but don’t simply gush about how “awesome” or “amazing” they are. This kind of feedback is nice and fine, but it's affirmation without handles. It doesn't name their particular strengths. It doesn't give them direction, or helpful information, about their calling.
Instead, be specific. Name their gifts. Pinpoint what you see in them, or why their message resonates. Vague affirmation is like a brief cool breeze, but focused affirmation will be the wind in their sails for years to come.
Whoever you are and whatever your position, your words have influence. You have influence. Which means the next time you recognize gifts in someone, TELL THEM. Your words could literally change their life.
And to those of you on the other side of this story—who remember a single comment or conversation that affirmed your gifts—I encourage you to take those words seriously. Treasure them in your heart. Let them take root. Words are an important tool of the Kingdom of God. In that moment when you heard those words, God was creating something new.
*Name has been changed