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.
There are quite a few personality inventories out there, and most of them work well. If you need more input into which will serve you best you, may want to talk to a counselor you know to get more perspective on how each one works. Here are some personality inventories worth considering:
- Myers-Briggs Type Indicator
- Keirsey Temperament Sorter
- DISC Profile
- The Birkman Method
- Enneagram Test
In addition to understanding a person's personality, it's helpful to work with them to figure out their strengths. While personality has to do with how a person is made, strengths have to do with what they are good at. When someone serves out of their strengths, they're most effective and fulfilled. Of course there is a correlation between someone's personality and their strengths, but they're not the same thing.
For instance, I love music. I have thought many times about learning to play guitar, and I have daydreams about being part of a worship team. The biggest problem with this is that I lack rhythm. I've never had it. Now, I could work really hard and probably become an average guitar player, but knowing myself I will never be really good at it. Speaking, on the other hand, has always come pretty naturally. I've worked at it over the years and improved, but I always did well in speech class and debate team, and now feel relatively comfortable with the speaking part of preaching and teaching. At this point in my life, speaking is a strength and playing the guitar is not. I can benefit our community more by speaking than trying to be part of the worship team. Plus, I'm more fulfilled in the process.
This isn't to say that people should never take on a new skill or work on their weaknesses, but for the sake of each person, our churches, and the world, it's often best to encourage people into their strengths. Here are two ways we help people identify and live into their strengths.
- Use StrengthsFinder 2.0. This is an inventory, much like those that help identify personality traits, that helps clarify areas of strength.
- Ask those who know a person well to identify their strengths. We sometimes ask three different people to list the top five strengths they see in a person. Then we compile those lists and pay special attention to the things that all three people identify.
Finally, we must not ignore spiritual gifts. This can move us into some deep theological discussions (How many gifts are there? How are gifts given? Are they given forever or for a specific task?), but for today we're going to stay on a more practical level.
Personality, strengths, and spiritual gifts are often deeply tied to each other, but the Bible makes it clear that the Holy Spirit gives gifts to people that have to do specifically with a person's ministry in the context of the body of Christ. 1 Corinthians 12:7 says, "Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good."
There are a number of things that can play into the discernment of spiritual gifts:
- Prayer. God is the one who gives these gifts through the Spirit, so a great place to start in discerning what gifts a person has is in prayer.
- Calling. Does the person you're working with feel a call from God into a specific kind of service? If he or she truly is called, then we can trust God to give the needed gifts to pursue that calling.
- Inventories. We should not rely on spiritual gifts inventories as the only authority in discerning spiritual gifts, but they can be one helpful piece in figuring it out.
Putting It Together
To be effective in moving people into roles where they'll be effective and fulfilled, it's important to weave together how they are made (personality), what they are good at (strengths), and how God is directing and equipping them (spiritual gifts). This will not just happen. It takes intentionality. I encourage you to develop a process that works for your church that weaves these three things together. It doesn't have to be a huge program, but intentionally placing people will be more effective and fruitful for your church than simply plugging holes in programs.
Our church has certainly benefited from this new emphasis. Recently we came to the realization that we needed to bring some renewed focus to how we engage and serve our community. We wanted a small group to take on the task of exploring this, and I knew we'd need a good leader in order for it to be successful. At the same time, I'd been spending some time with a man at our church who was on the worship team. After considering his personality, strengths, and spiritual gifts, I knew he would be a great fit. He is passionate about service, a gifted facilitator, and he excels at leading teams and accomplishing tasks. Additionally, others pointed to these same strengths and viewed him as a leader. Even though he hadn't used these strengths with groups in the church, I knew they would transfer into this new role. Armed with this knowledge, I approached him about leading this group, and he accepted. This group is off to a great start and already coming up with insights and plans that are going to enhance the way we engage our community. I know that this is in large part due to how well this man fits into his role.
When we're thoughtful about getting people into the right roles and responsibilities, the body of Christ is healthier and better able to function. This allows us to effectively carry out the mission God has given us.
—Trevor Lee is the Lead Pastor of Trailhead Church in Littleton, Colorado; copyright 2014 by Christianity Today.