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Providing is an integral part of cultivation

When I want a plant to grow, I must provide the essentials: soil, water, light. Even within these three, my role is different. I bring water daily or weekly, the soil I give just once, and the provision of light from the plant's position. Part of playing the role of provider is discerning the nature and frequency of the provision.

Being the provider doesn’t mean I’m the creator or even the sustainer. I can also bring too much and over-provide, killing the plant. Have you ever over-watered a succulent?

When cultivating leaders, what should we provide? Let’s look at the five essential provisions needed to help leaders grow and include some personal examples.

  1. Resources
  2. Training
  3. A listening ear
  4. Instruction
  5. Opportunity

As I walk through these five provisions, I'll share my experience leading in a Christian ministry. Though it's a unique and specific context, I believe the principles apply to leadership in general.

What do I provide to Cultivate Leaders?


While working with a student ministry at Texas A&M University, I remember meeting an eager freshman who had a heart for others in his dorm to know Jesus. He asked if I had any Bibles which he could give away as an opportunity to befriend and bless those on his floor. I didn’t want to overwhelm him, so I gave him about 20. He called me back in 2 days, asking for more. I saw him grow in initiative and faith through the opportunity to give out those Bibles.

Helping leaders grow often is just connecting them to resources. Sometimes those resources are readily available, and other times we’ll need to do extra work, like advocating to help others get access to what they need.


A student in our ministry desired to communicate his faith with those around him but didn’t feel confident. After attending a brief training, he went home for the weekend and discussed what he believed with his whole family and some of his high school classmates. A little clarity and practice in the “how-to” had a considerable impact on his influence.

When you don’t follow up on instruction or a challenge, it communicates that the instruction wasn’t that important.

When we see a gap in knowledge or practice, providing training is vital. Training is a more systematic version of instruction. You can deliver training densely in a short period like a weekend or spread over my many months or even years.

You’re not going to be an expert in everything. When you don’t have the expertise someone needs, your provision is to connect them to others.

A Listening Ear

It’s easy to start by doing, but most often, listening is where you must begin. When I first began campus ministry, my team leader was regularly available to verbally process what I was thinking and doing. Sometimes he would offer advice or instruction, but usually, he didn’t need to. His availability to just process was enough.

If you’re a leader, you probably feel busy and slowing down enough to listen may seem costly. Being available to those you lead is a powerful way to love them and cultivate growth in them. Not sure where to begin? A practical step is starting a weekly one-on-one by asking, “What would be most helpful to discuss today?” Manager Tools has some great additional resources when it comes to facilitating one-on-ones.


Instruction is like training in the moment. We commonly think of instruction in the form of advice, but it can also come as a challenge or a question.

Take care to give instruction carefully, humbly, and prayerfully and then follow up. When you don’t follow up on instruction or a challenge, it communicates that the instruction wasn’t that important.

I challenged one of our volunteers to consider one area to grow in his personal life and ministry. I followed up about a week later; he considered it and wrote out half of his plan. We talked through what he had already done, and then next time, after he finished it, we walked through the rest together. If I had not followed up, the plan might have stayed in its half-finished state without any impact.


Someone's environment has a significant influence on their growth. You usually can’t change a person's situation permanently, but even a temporary opportunity can have a lasting effect.

Before moving internationally, we saw mobilization as a critical role for us. One year we had many students interested in going on a trip, but I could not personally lead a team at that time. So I challenged a student to lead the team in whom I saw a lot of potential. He had been on a similar trip in the past and had the potential to lead.

It’s easy to start by doing, but most often, listening is where you must begin.

I tried to narrow the challenge's focus by taking all the operations responsibilities of the trip and allowing him to focus on leading the team. A few years later, he returned to the same place and led a team for a year. The trip was the environment he needed to cultivate the vision, experience, opportunity, and skills necessary for leading.

How do we provide these five essentials?

It is more art than science. On the one hand, we want to take the initiative in our role of providing. On the other hand, we must respond to the needs of those we're providing for. This role of provision is lived out in the tension between these two.

When I have a planned meeting with someone I lead, I will prepare content ahead of time and come with a listening posture to see if we need to pivot and focus on a different topic.

As a leader, you must consider a person’s needs and current maturity. Give them enough to stretch them, but not so much to crush them. In my example in the opportunities section, I gave a big challenge (leading a team in a cross-cultural setting for two weeks). Still, I chose not to burden the student with all the logistic operational responsibilities of such a trip.

As a leader, you are cultivating leaders. So ask, “is what I’m giving transferable?” What I mean is, "Can they turn around and give this kind of provision to someone else?" If not, consider if there is another more transferable option to provide. It's not always clear. There might be a great resource or opportunity that isn’t fully transferable, but perhaps the lessons learned are transferable. Part of your role in cultivating is to help others learn to identify and reproduce their growth.

Grace is needed. You won’t always get it right, but remember, you're not the ultimate provider; you're just a conduit of provision. Over time as people mature, what you provide and the frequency of your provision will change.

A 5-day journey to living from your priorities

It’s easy to spend our day reacting to what comes at us. What if you could be proactive, intentionally making decisions based on your priorities? It is possible!

Our five-day short course guides you through the process of identifying your life priorities and scaling them day to everyday decisions. You’ll learn how to establish a rhythm to build good habits and grow a team that will be with you in the journey.

When should I provide?

The simple answer is when it’s needed. Many of the people in these stories were ready or prepared for the provisions. Providing often helped take the next step in a life-long journey. As you pray, watch, and listen, you will see opportunities to provide.

Three questions to consider as you evaluate your role for provision:

  1. Do I know what is available to provide?
  2. Have I made it a priority to be watchful for the needs of those I’m leading?
  3. Is there margin in my schedule to respond when provision is needed?

That last one is often the hardest for me. Sometimes there is a regular pattern to when people need provision, like daily, weekly, or monthly. Sometimes it’s re-occurring but still irregular in frequency. Commitment is required as you provide for others.

What’s my role again?

In many ways, this isn’t rocket science. Providing is the most strait-forward of the cultivation roles, and often the one people think of first. The challenge is that leaders commonly use only one kind of provision and treat it as a one-size-fits-all solution. I hope this post has stretched you to consider how you play the role of provider. You can also learn about the leader's roles in protecting, prune, waiting, resting and restarting.

Don't think your provision always needs to be novel. Think about watering a plant; it needs water today just like it needed it yesterday.


Want to know more about how to cultivate leaders? Download the eBook.


This post is part of my cultivating servant leaders guide where I share lessons learned from 20 years of leading and helping other leaders grow. You can explore other guides at everyday.design or download the eBook.