Do you see leadership potential in someone near you? Perhaps that “seeing” is God saying, “Come work with Me to help this person grow into the leader I’ve made him/her to be!”

If your heart is with God’s work among international students, we hope that you will use these tips—and that’s what they are, not a leadership training program—to work with God as He uses IFI to fulfill the vision He’s given us: “God’s love extended globally in partnership with spiritually vibrant international students” Since the goal of IFI is to make disciples and disciple-makers, we hope that everyone who is close to international students or scholars will find this article useful.

If you don’t work directly with international students, you may be thinking, “Why would I want to read this? I’m not working with international students or scholars.” Here are two reasons: 1) You can apply these tips with anyone, but we offer them in the context of international student ministry (ISM), and 2) If God calls you into ISM someday, you can use these tips then, too!

Tip #1: Pray and watch

Begin with prayer.

J. O. Fraser, the 20th-century missionary to the remote Lisu people of China, wrote, “I used to think that prayer should have the first place and teaching the second. I now feel that it would be truer to give prayer the first, second, and third place, and teaching the fourth.” When God calls you to join Him in raising up a leader, prayer is by far the most effective tip we can offer!

What to pray.

Begin by praising one or more of God’s other attributes that you appreciate right now. Tell Him why that attribute is important to you. Thank God for loving you, for the privilege of being you–who and where you are. (No one else gets to!) Thank Him for the work He’s given you, the opportunities to have eternal influence in the lives of others. Thank Him for the students He’s brought to you. Confess your fears, failures, blunders, or doubts or questions about what you’re doing. Also confess your faith that He can and will resolve these issues in His way, in His time. Ask Him to show you His love for your international friend and who He’s made each to be. Ask Him to fill you with His love for them. Ask Him how and where to begin. Ask Him to help you keep Him first in your life. Pray that your key students grow in the knowledge and love of God, attend a Bible discussion regularly, trust group members and leaders to care about them so that they feel confident in sharing their life with the group. This is where true discipleship happens. And pray the prayer that never fails: “May Your will be done, Lord!”

Watch your international friends.

Watch how they relate to their friends, especially their countrymen. You can see this right from your first meeting. Do they lead or follow? Do they talk or listen? Do they prefer to be in groups or gravitate to one-on-one relationships?

Potential Leaders.

It’s easy to think of outgoing, go-getter people as good leadership material, but quiet, friendly, thought-oriented or artistic people can lead too, but differently. Because God–the ultimate leader–made everyone in His image, every person has leadership capabilities! Each will lead in different ways, or in different seasons or areas of life. Jesus reminds us that “all things are possible with God.” (Mark 10:27)

Tip #2: Tell, Ask, Listen, and Love

Prepare in prayer.

Before talking with the person God has called you to, ask God to guide your conversation and help you listen to Him as you meet. When God invites you to join Him in developing someone’s leadership potential, ask Him what and how to do it. Be willing to take just one step at a time. God is never in a hurry. Resist the urge to take control! If you keep asking and watching Him, He will show you what to do next.

Share your thoughts and vision.

Share what you’ve observed in your friend and what God has shown you in prayer and experience–the leadership potential. He’d like to develop in your friend. Describe the areas in which you think God may want your friend to lead. Tell the character qualities you see that display leadership potential and what he/she already has that should be passed onto someone less experienced. Talk about leadership and the different ways that different people lead. As well-respected leadership trainer John Maxwell observes, “Leadership is not about title, positions or flowcharts. It about one life influencing another.” “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.” Describe ways you see your friend influencing others and showing them the way.

Ask the student’s reactions.

Ask your friend what he/she thinks about your ideas and observations. Ask whether your friend senses God calling him/her to leadership and what desires has He has given them. Ask what God has revealed regarding where and how they might lead, particularly in the area of helping others grow in the knowledge and love of Christ. Your friend’s thoughts are important.

Wait for God’s timing.

Some students may be eager: “Really? You agree that God wants me to help someone else grow? I want to!” Quieter students may hesitate and question promptings from God and you. To keep this God’s work and now yours, don’t push! An essential experience for every emerging leader is know he or she has been called by God. Without that assurance, your friend may do things to please you, not God, and someday, when you’re out of the picture, the work will falter and fail. It’s okay to remind them that it’s God who raises up leaders and that this is God’s idea. Agree to pray together until your friend clearly senses God’s call. Trust that it will come at the right time! Encourage, invite, ask, but don’t push. And remind your friend that learning to lead isn’t just for him/her; it’s for God’s Kingdom.

You and your friend might benefit from using the NIV Maxwell Leadership Bible when you study scripture together. If your friend is quiet rather than eager, suggest that he/she read Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain. It’s an eye-opening exploration of the ways that quiet people shape and safeguard their society. Perhaps you could read it together.

Love generously.

By now, your friend trusts that you have his/her best interests at heart. That trust permits you to exchange personal, spirit-oriented questions and get honest answers. Trust also opens students’ heart to God’s love, expressed first through you. People who know they’re loved are free to be themselves, to learn, to grow. To love effectively, learn your friend’s love language. Dr. Gary Chapman’s book, The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts, is an excellent resource for learning to recognize and speak another’s love language.

Prepare for your times together.

One solid proof of love is being prepared with good plans for spending time together. Explore several discipleship programs beforehand and choose one or two that you think will suit your friend’s experience, interests and personality. You can find some good programs at:

The simplest approach, however, may be to help your friend identify someone to disciple and help your friend use Discovery Bible Study (DBS) to help his/her disciple grow in loving and obeying Christ. You can find lots of help with DBS here.

Tip #3: Help them know themselves

Students who know God and themselves are much more likely to fulfill their God-given potential. To learn how well your friend knows him/herself, ask for a self-description! Then share what you’ve observed.

A Bible discussion group is an excellent place for students to get to know God, others, and themselves, for they see it all in the Bible. Someone has observed that “as you read the Bible, it reads you.” Former U.S. President Woodrow Wilson said, “When you have read the Bible, you will know it is the word of God, because you will have found in it the key to your own heart, your own happiness, and your own duty.” Twentieth-century Christian writer Francena H. Arnold noted, “I know of no investment of time and effort that will pay higher dividends for life than that spent on Bible study.” Expect to see self-discovery as your group studies the Bible!

Go deeper in self-discovery.

An excellent tool for exploring personality types and the way they shape personal interactions and work, one can take the free DISC Assessment. Here’s what “DISC” stands for:

D = Driver: dominant, direct, decisive, demanding
I = Influencer: inspiring, inducing, influencing, impressing
S = Server: submissive, steady, sensitive, shy
C = Conscious thinker: competent, compliant, cautious, correct

This material points out that no personality is better than the others; all have their strengths and weaknesses. The assessment offers many ideas for handling oneself and interacting with others well.

Tip #4: Step back; ask students to step in

Make opportunities to lead.

We can say we want to raise up student leaders but continue to do all the leading ourselves! Be willing to step back to give your protégé opportunities to lead. This can be difficult, especially if you’ve taken the lead for quite a while. Ask God where and how He wants that person to start leading and how you’re to enable it. Just as you want your student to know God’s call in order to be confident, experiencing His call will give you more confidence, too.

In a Bible discussion group, leading may begin with reading the scripture aloud for the group, facilitating the discussion, drawing others into the discussion, or suggesting ideas for doing things together outside of Bible discussion meetings. Perhaps it will be inviting others to the group, coordinating rides for the group, or planning a meal that group members prepare together. Maybe it will be in leading the game time or suggesting other activities the group can do together, such as attending a local festival or exhibit, sports event, market day, or concert, taking a day trip together, or having a picnic at a park instead of meeting in a building on campus or at a home. As you present these opportunities to your friend, be clear about how you see God using this to expand your friend’s experiences and how it can help others grow in knowledge and love of God.

Encourage every person with leadership potential to meet one on one with someone who’s younger in the faith, perhaps even with a serious seeker. One-on-one experiences will be easiest to recreate back home; they that can lead to establishing a Bible discussion group, which can lead to starting a church.


Most internationals come from cultures that respect age and experience. These students will not ask for chances to lead; they will wait, out of respect for you, to invite them to lead. Encourage him/her to do it, for you believe God has suggested it and wants this opportunity for him/her. Offer to be with him during the planning or review his plans together. If she is quiet, not used to leading publicly, yet you believe this is God’s idea, keep encouraging. Offer to check on her progress, if desired. Pray for him/her. Before she/she leads, set a time to meet to discuss how things went.

Evaluate and coach.

Thank the student and pray together before talking about what your friend is doing. Discuss how things went, your protégé’s thoughts and feelings, and what you each observed, eg, the group’s responses (be specific), what you saw the leader do, what he/she appeared to enjoy (or not), how you felt about it, and where each of you saw God in it, being glorified! Then take it all to Him in prayer. Ask God for further confirmation, if your friend is struggling with doubts or difficulties; ask God’s direction and solutions.

If the leadership is ongoing, such as arranging rides for the group or bringing food, check in from time to time with the student who’s leading to get his/her reactions, thoughts, and ideas. Perhaps he/she enjoys it and wants to keep doing it or do more. Maybe the student wants to stop, take a break, do something else, or change the way things are done. Ask your friend’s reasons. Honor his/her ideas. Pray together.

Celebrate success.

Exult in what God is doing in and through this rising leader! Include God in your celebratory coffee or bubble tea time, ice cream treat, dinner, or note of thanks. Praise and thank Him together. Pray about how God will draw on the student’s experiences in leading now to shape his/her and others’ future.

Learn from failure.

Everyone fails. That’s scriptural! Help your friend see failure as another opportunity to learn, grow, and mature. Evaluate how the student failed, what led to failure, what you both can learn from it, and where God is pointing next. Keep reminding your friend that we are NOT what we do! We are God’s beloved children, safe in His family and care, no matter what! Our identity in Christ–not our performance–is our hope for the future.

Carry on.

When the student leaves school for work or another school, ask him/her for prayer requests, and pray. Stay in touch and pray together. Keep reminding your friend that with God, all things are possible. And keep encouraging him/her to use the gifts, talents, what he’s learned, and the interests God gave him to serve God, love and serve others, and enjoy becoming and being who God made him/her to be.

Advanced Leadership Opportunity for International Believers

If an international student you’ve been close to seems to be yearning to grow closer to God and is going to graduate soon, consider suggesting he/she applies for IFI’s ISEED program. This 10-month unique adventure equips emerging Christian international leaders with training in how to make disciples of Jesus and discern and prepare for their life calling, so they can have a greater impact on their sphere of influence (church, family, and country).

The application deadline is April 1st each year, and the program runs from August to May. It is hosted in Columbus, Ohio, and usually takes on 5 or so international students each year. To learn more, you can read some of the current ISEEDers blogs, or go to learn more about the ISEED program.
Whether you are just noticing leadership potential in a student or seeing God work wonders through their lives, we are all working toward IFI’s vision:

“The Kingdom of God extended throughout the nations through current and former international students equipped as disciple-makers.”

Learn More about IFI’s ISEED Program