I was in band in junior high. It was okay most days, but the best days were the ones when we had a substitute teacher. On those days I would trade my trumpet with a drummer or oboist along with my seat. Most people in the band did the same. We'd give each other quick one-minute lessons and prepare to launch into our musical numbers on an instrument we had hardly touched, let alone practiced. I can't imagine how awful those substitutes must have thought we were. We were lucky to get half the notes right.
That was funny in junior high band (well, at least it was for us), but in many of our churches we resemble a band with everyone playing the wrong instrument. We plug people into roles without any deep exploration of their personalities or gifts, and then expect to make beautiful music together. When we function in this way, we're much less effective than we could be, and we end up burning people out because they're out of position.
One concept that has helped me to think about how we engage people and help them find the roles that fit them best is unique conformity.
Everyone is unique. People have different features, personalities, abilities, passions, jobs, relationships, strengths, weaknesses, and preferences. This variety reflects God's creativity. When we ignore this fact, we're leading people and our churches to be less effective than we could be.
In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul explains that God endowed humanity with diversity on purpose. Just as a body isn't made up of all hands, so the body of Christ is not meant to be uniform. In this passage, Paul says it's essential for every person to embrace and apply their uniqueness. It doesn't work well to have a toe trying to act like an arm, or a knee working to be a mouth.
Taking each person's unique makeup seriously is important, but we must hold this alongside the call to become more like Jesus. Conforming to Christ is essential for everyone who wants to live as a disciple of Jesus. We're meant to be like him. So we don't focus only on the things that make us unique, but also how this is informed and shaped by Jesus and his way. This is the meaning of unique conformity. (Learn more with this Bible study.)
As we engage people and seek to move them into roles that make sense for them, we work from a paradigm of unique conformity. We want to help people embrace how God has made them, continually conform that uniqueness to Jesus, and then live out of their unique conformity into service to the church and the world. There are three aspects of a person we focus on in helping them discern the best ways for them to serve: personality, strengths, and spiritual gifts.
Most of us have taken a personality inventory—or 12—in our lives. These tools give us insight into how we are made and how we function. But as church leaders, how often have we applied these insights to the roles we encourage people to take? Personality traits are fundamental to the people we are. When we ignore a person's personality, we're setting them up for failure or burnout. Pushing an introvert into service as a greeter or an extrovert into accounting are sure ways to keep them from flourishing in service.
As you work with people in your church or small group, have you ever asked them about their personality? Beyond that, do you have a personality inventory as a part of the process you use to move people into service? If you want people serving in ways that fit with how God has made them, this is a step you need to take. It won't cost you a lot of extra time, but it will make a huge difference in how effectively you're able to work with people.