Helping New Converts Identify Their Ministry Gifts
One of the key concerns in new convert ministry is helping students find their spiritual giftedness and determine how those gifts fill needs in the church’s overall goals. The usual answer is to administer spiritual giftedness questionnaires. Using these tests to help adults become involved in ministry requires perspective, preparation, and placement. Let’s focus on how to put this three-part strategy into place.
Recognize that gifts evolve. People change over time. Consequently, a gift inventory that is revealing at one season of life can be much less so at another. While an adult’s primary aptitudes and interests will be fairly stable over time, their intensity and expression may vary. Also, undetected gifts may be drawn out by new opportunities. Like a thermometer measuring temperature, gift profiles offer a reading of one’s internal state at one particular moment only. In practical terms this means adult leaders need to test for giftedness periodically.
Recognize that this is not hard science. Some personality-type profiles have been used on thousands of subjects. However, the authors of most spiritual giftedness inventories would be the first to admit that specific proof of validity is hard to come by. Secular commentators are even less charitable. This does not mean that tests are useless—only that their utility is based more on common sense and instinct than on research studies. Adult leaders need to understand that these questionnaires are just one indicator of giftedness, not a clinical diagnosis.
Recognize that information can create confusion as easily as clarity. The methods available for investigating spiritual gifts are numerous and varied. (See box on opposite page.) Clearly, there are more explanations than behaviors to be explained. For example, if I thrive on being a leader, am I a classic firstborn, a male, a high “D,” a person with the gift of governance, or the hero in my dysfunctional family system?
Leaders should see giftedness as a multidimensional thing. Like a diamond, each spiritual gift has a variety of facets that may need to be examined from different perspectives to be fully appreciated. This attitude can make multiple testing styles an asset instead of a liability.
Inform your adults. Test results are easily misinterpreted. For example, a sensitive individual receiving a low score on “mercy” may feel a character defect has been exposed for all to see. A less sensitive person who rates high on “leadership” may feel qualified to assume a position of authority for which he is not prepared.
Study any test carefully in advance and then inform your staff that gifts scores do not measure character or provide a basis for comparing ourselves with others. Since every adult answers questions differently, my “35” in teaching means as much for me as your “40” does for you. The key is to compare scores within my own test (e.g., my highest versus my lowest) to derive an overall sense of how I might become involved in ministry most appropriately.
Inoculate your adults. The traits described by these inventories can have a powerful effect, especially since their format lends a scientific feel to the product. In a society where gifted means “better than you,” leaders have to prepare others to treat their scores as foundations for growth, not millstones around their necks. Otherwise, a score quickly becomes an inappropriate label.
Someone who tests as a compliant personality, for instance, may be dissuaded from leadership aspirations. Looking beyond the label, however, this person’s gentle spirit may offer exactly the kind of servant leadership required in a certain ministry. Explain to your staff that gift scores are meant to catalyze spiritual growth. They represent potential to be explored, the promise of rewarding ministry involvement ahead.
Supplement inventories with interviewing. Once test outcomes are available, every willing adult should meet with a ministry placement team to discuss suitability for various positions, review job descriptions, and decide on the next move. Without a strategy for placing persons into ministry, there is almost no point in giving tests in the first place.
Rely on your own spiritual gifts. Inventories and personality profiles are neither magic nor science. They are just useful. The truth is, almost all tests report the subject’s perception of past ministry success and/or personal preferences in various hypothetical situations. Nothing is necessarily wrong with this approach. It is all test designers have to go on.
While often helpful, this information is simply no substitute for the insights the Holy Spirit can give to us. Without assistance from a psychological profile, Paul spotted the gifts in young Timothy. Adult leaders should ask the Holy Spirit for that same kind of divine eyesight, the ability to see the God-given aptitudes and temperaments in others.
Create environments where adults can develop. Once basic preferences and giftedness are identified, your adults need entry-level opportunities that will involve them in ministry without overwhelming them. Apprenticeship and mentoring relationships are two excellent environments conducive to developing skills and gifts. They also provide firebreaks in the event that a person is misplaced or proves incompatible with the ministry’s goals or leadership. Your ministry placement team should help candidates find entry-level positions by working together over a period of time. As their confidence and ability grow, they can be advanced into greater responsibility. For even the most talented individual, there is no substitute for working out what God has placed in them.
World-renowned jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis is often asked by young students, “How were you discovered?” His reply is simple: “Man, when I discovered the practice room.” Simply knowing that gifts are present means little unless adults have access to practice rooms where these abilities can be exercised and developed. Used correctly, tests can open the door.
Earl Creps is director of the D.Min. program, Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, Springfield, Missouri.
The above article, “Helping New Converts Identify Their Ministry Gifts” was written by Earl Creps. The article was excerpted from www.discipleship.ag.org web site. July 2016.
The material is copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”