Strengths – intro

I clearly remember my first day of full time paid employment as a pastor. I sat at the desk, turned on the computer and thought, ‘What now?’ It was a bit like the first day my wife and I brought our baby daughter home from hospital. We unpacked all the new baby gear, placed Elizabeth in her crib and thought, ‘What do we now do?’ Both situations threw me into a position in which I had no experience and which brought new challenges.

Specifically, both roles came with new leadership challenges. For my family, I was now the Father of a family. For my local church, I was now the leader of a congregation.

Though I had done what I could to prepare myself, nothing completely equipped me for either experience. Before becoming a father I had read books about parenthood, baby sat other children, been to prenatal classes and asked others about what it was like. Yet I gleaned little that helped me in those first few days of hectic change.

Likewise, before I was a full time paid pastor of a congregation, I had read books on being a leader, studied subjects at bible college on leadership and even undergone two years as a pastoral intern. But when I actually sat at that desk and faced the challenge of moving from leadership theory to practical application, I was almost paralysing. I knew lots of things I should have done. But doing them just wasn’t me.

There are some strong links between being a father and being the pastor of a church. Both are responsible for the protection and well being of a group of people. Traditionally, and even now in some churches, the pastor is called, ‘Father’, reflecting these common roles.

There was another similarity I experienced, which I had been told about, that I now think shouldn’t be there. In both roles I was for the most part isolated by my leading. It was partly a product of my personality. I’m an introvert, a quiet person who mostly lives in my head. But it wasn’t just about my personality. I was taught that there is one leader and the leader leads alone.

I no longer think that the isolation was good. I now see that in both roles there is a place for team leadership. A child needs a mother and a father. And although every culture has its own rules, the father leads in some areas and the mother leads in other things. Where a child lacks a father it will suffer in some ways. Where a child lacks a mother it will suffer in different ways.

This is similar for a local church. A local church needs a leadership team. Leading a local church requires more than one person can be or do. Just as a child suffers if it doesn’t have a mother or father, a church will suffer if it doesn’t have a leadership team.

What changed my thinking?

I trained through an approved Gallup agent as a strengths coach.

The Gallup Organization is one of the world’s largest research companies. It claims to know more about the attitudes and behaviors of the world’s constituents, employees, and customers than any other organization. The basis of this claim is that it is constantly polling people from 120 countries around the world.

One area they have researched is successful people. They have spent forty years researching what makes people successful. In the end their conclusion was that successful people focused on what they are good at doing.

However, the research didn’t stop there. Gallup wanted to help people identify what they are good at doing. So Gallup created an assessment that helps people identify the areas in which they excel.

The way Gallup does this is by identifying general recurring patterns of thought, behavior or feeling. These recurring patterns are known as talents.

The genius of Gallup’s system is its ability to help people understand their specific and unique person through general talent descriptions. One of the functions of a strengths coach is to facilitate this process.

A strengths coach starts with a person’s general talent descriptions and through dialogue helps the person understand exactly when and how each talent operates. The coach then helps the person to focus on those talents and develop them into strengths. Gallup defines a strength as a specific activity that is done consistently well and brings mental energy.

After my training I started to view my understanding of leadership through talents filter. It helped me understand why much of the leadership training I had received, just wasn’t me.

I understood that many of those who had taught me leadership skills had different talents to me. Many of the pastors I studied in the mega churches appeared to have one set of talents and I had another. Their teaching on leadership assumed I had the same talents as they did. This was the reason I struggled to do the things I knew I should be doing, but either put it off, didn’t want to do it, or simple wasn’t good at it.

As I did what I do best and thought about things, I understood a new way of dealing with my problem. I understood that in order to succeed in leadership I would need to create leadership strengths from my talents and focus on those.

I didn’t have to be THE leader. I needed a team. There was some parts of leadership that were natural to me. There were others that weren’t. I needed to get others in a team who had different talents to me and would develop those talents into leadership strengths.

I realised that the idea of having a leadership team with complimentary giftings isn’t new. However Gallup’s assessment helped me understand exactly what were my potential leadership strengths and what specific leadership strengths I lacked and therefore should include in my leadership team.

There was something else that struck me in my deliberations. In my leadership training, management was not highly rated. It was portrayed as a lesser way of leading.

However in my studies of Gallup’s research I learnt that a person’s direct manager is the number one factor in determining that person’s long term satisfaction in their role. It made me think, ‘Does that relate to church?’ and, ‘If it does, how?’

Now church is not a business. Yet the things I learnt about good management didn’t sound like ‘business’. They sounded like ‘church’. For example, Who is responsible for my (spiritual) development? Have I received encouragement in the last week? Am I doing what I was created to do?

I wondered how people in churches would answer these questions. I wondered what difference it would make. If knowing the answers to these questions makes for a more happy and stable working environment, how would it affect church?

I believe in having a strength based church. A strength based church is one which has each area of the church life run by a strength based team. It starts with a strength based leadership team and works down from there.

When people are working out of their strengths they are energised. When do you feel your best? When are you most excited about doing things? It is when you are working with your natural talents and strengths.

What would it be like if our churches and our ministries were filled with people who were motivated and energised by what they were doing? What if the people working churches were not being drained by trying to do something that they aren’t good at doing? What would it be like if our churches were well managed and well lead?

God wants to see churches and ministries where the people are energized by what they are doing. Then they will truly reach their potentials in God. The only way people can do this is if the those who lead churches understand who they are, develop strengths based on who they are and focus their ministry on those strengths.

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3 thoughts on “Strengths – intro

  1. Church ministers are effective if they have received a genuine calling from God and are empowered by Him. They must have a personal relationship with Jesus and be led by the Holy Spirit; they must diligent in Bible study and hear from God themselves for themselves and believe that it is the inerrant Word of God, and preach and teach it unaltered and without compromise. That is a tall order and God will hold them accountable for what they do or don’t do to care for His precious sheep. God bless you and use you in your service to Him!

  2. Having just transitioned from being the owner of a successful small business (over 13 years) and drifted back into employment your reminder about Gallup strengths is quite fascinating. Running my own business I think I was rather marvellous, and consistently successful. I had weaknesses, but just played to my strengths (making and sharing a healthy income). Now I’m in paid employment, I’m often overwhelmed by how much I can’t do well, and worse still don’t want to do.

    Having done Strengths Finder last Christmas it didn’t reveal much i didn’t know already (running your own show is a brilliant way of discovering what sort of a person you are), but there was an ancillary test in my book, which I did on line. That was hard I scored less than ten out of over a hundred. That was a shock.

    Going back to Church leadership, I have two areas for you to ponder.

    1. All believers form part of “The Church”, and being a pastor of a small part can bring tensions, and risks bringing an allegiance to “part of the body”. Not many get that bit right. It’s all too easy to serve congregation X which may not be The Lord’s plan.

    2. Doesn’t growth in the individual and the church come through service? I’m a great believer in getting out and serving the “Lost” and “Neglected” of this world, rather than those “in the church”.

    If I go on much longer I’ll have written a book…..over and out!

    God Bless you and your family.

  3. Having been a Christian for over 50 years, and participating in numerous churches, at times in upfront ministry and at other times in simple prayerful support, I would like to make a comment on this. First I really enjoyed the introduction. Thank you for the information. As a social worker of 45 years who has worked in most areas of needs I am acquainted with individual, group and community settings. I am an optimist and love action. However I have always, in the end, felt something missing in the way church works. The Old Testament demonstrates God’s people start in obedience and blessing, but then inevitably substitute their own ways for more appealing rituals and worship. The poor, the broken and contrite are forgotten, as the focus changes. In one of the greatest moment of time Christ, risen from the dead, ascended to glory and poured out His gifts for the benefit of His Body. He equipped His people to minister to one another through His Spirit. The simplicity and power is evidenced in Acts. Today the visible church is often busy focusing on place and style of worship, and forgetting that when two or three are gathered together, the Lord Jesus is in their midst encouraging and equipping them. Imagine if the costs and energy that go towards keeping the program going on a normal Sunday morning, went instead to making room for people to share their stories of what and how God has worked in their lives that week, and each with their gift/strengths were used as the mouth and hands of Jesus to build up and shared their input as appropriate, teaching, praying, discerning and helping, what love and energy would result. In turn Christians would be empowered to return to a dying world to share afresh the glory of God. As a social worker in a country community I see many who have fallen away because they were tired and alone, but to whom I have the privilege of also seeing them return to a living faith when they meet outside the organisation and experience in twos and threes a renewed life in Christ. If we can see this way of strengths break through the walls man has raised up as a substitute, I believe we will see new hope and vitality restore church life.

Thanks for reading. What do you think? Do these questions relate to you? How?

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