DIY Tools for Spiritual Gifts Discernment and Ministry Deployment
By Taylor Burton-Edwards
Print and online resources for identifying spiritual gifts and deploying these in ministry are abundant these days. Not all are of equal quality, but most have some value to individuals or a local congregation.
I have developed a process for use in the congregations I have served using biblical reflection, free online tools, some reflection questions on those results, and small groups for reflection, discernment, and affirmation for ministry. My patchwork approach with freely available tools has helped launch people into ministry who had been on the sidelines or were wondering if simply "being in church" (i.e., worship, Sunday School, and occasional activities or projects) was all there was to Christian discipleship. This process also became empowering in other ways. It helped people see where some of the things they were doing were a mismatch for their gifts and personality and gave them the permission to stop.
There are four basic elements in the process I used: biblical reflection, spiritual gifts and personality inventories, debriefing the inventories, and accountable small-group discernment of next steps. The process varied in timeframe from four to six sessions, depending on the size of the group and how we progressed. This model could also be adapted for a retreat setting. Plan for at least a full evening and the better part of the following day (morning through late afternoon) for all participants to have time to complete the individual work and personal reflection needed between sessions.
Here's the series outline and some key points for each session.
Session 1: Biblical Reflection
Read and reflect together on Romans 12:1-8; Ephesians 4:1-7, 11-16; and I Corinthians 12. If the group size is large enough, divide the group into smaller groups to consider each passage individually and debrief small-group learnings and discussion in the large group. If the group size is fairly small, take more than one week for the biblical reflection so all will have had time to reflect on the texts with a small group. Don't let the group get bogged down in specifics of what gifts mean what or why gifts are listed one place and not another. Instead, guide the groups to discover how the Holy Spirit empowers all Christians for their ministry in the world and has given the body of Christ in each place every gift it needs to fulfill God's mission.
Assignment for Session 2: Online work and reflection questions (see below): Complete an online spiritual gifts inventory, such as Finding Your Spiritual Gifts Self-Assessment from our full Communion partner, The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You may wish to download the print version so you are able to identify the lowest five gifts as well. If your vision for ministry includes a wide variety of opportunities in your community, consider as an alternative using StrengthsFinder 2.0 from the Gallup Organization (available from Amazon.com and many other online and local retailers). This is not a free resource, but is a book that comes with a code that enables access to an online tool that you may find helpful.
After you've completed the inventory or inventories, write the answers to the following questions:
- What are the top five and bottom five gifts from the survey(s)?
- What kinds of activities energize you the most?
- If Jesus were in town doing what he did in Israel in the first century, where are you most drawn to join him -- with the children, in the synagogue, healing, ministering to the poor, leading a small group, turning over the tables of the moneychangers, some other activity?
- To put that question another way, what kinds of support or change for life in your congregation or community do you care enough about to get up off the couch and do something about?
- What skills do you use well on a regular basis on your job or at school?
- In what ministries or groups are you currently participating actively as part of this or another church? in your community? online?
- Reflecting on what you've written above, in what kinds of ministries could you participate or lead?
- Reflect on your lowest five gifts. What are you currently engaged in that draws primarily on these gifts? When and how will you stop doing things you are not well-gifted to do or change your roles so that you are acting out of your strongest gifts?
- Reflect on your highest five gifts. What kinds of ministries seem most compatible with this collection of gifts?
Session 2: Gifts Survey Reflection
Begin by reminding class members what they had shared in their biblical reflection and that all disciples of Jesus have been gifted to fulfill God's mission in the world. Explain that through the surveys, they have now had the opportunity to identify some areas in their own lives where they are gifted and some where they clearly are not. Both are important. The body functions best as each member functions out of her or his best gifts. The body does not function as well when people try to do things for which they have few, if any, gifts.
Ask for three volunteers to come before the class. One of these will share his or her responses to each of the follow-up questions. You and the others may offer affirmation, questions for more clarification, and perspectives on how the experience of the person sharing may be different from what she or he has offered. This process will likely take ten or fifteen minutes for all answers to be shared and some affirming or clarifying discussion to occur. Stay focused and don't rush. This group process will model what each group will do for the rest of this session.
When the "model group" is complete, divide the rest of the class into small groups of three or four people. Let each person share responses to the eight follow-up questions, and have the others offer helpful questions or feedback as the model group had done. Ten minutes before the end of the session, call the whole class back to order, and allow individuals who wish to do so share what they learned in the process. It is possible, depending on class size and time allotted, that not all will have completed this process in this session. In that case, plan to continue this group process into the next session so that all have the opportunity to share and learn from one another.
Assignment for Class for Session 3: Take the Jung Personality Type inventory at www.humanmetrics.com/cgi-win/JTypes1.htm. (This is free. It is NOT the Myers-Briggs or Kiersey indicator, both of which are clinically tested and validated. But it is similar). Be sure to bring back the follow-up sheets and any notes you took on your group process from this session for next week.
Assignment for Leader for Session 3: Familiarize yourself with the Myers-Briggs or Jung or Kiersey indicator. A variety of online resources can help with this. See especially MBTIcomplete.com (the FAQ) and personalitypathways.com. One of the most complete print resources for this is Please Understand Me II by David Keirsey. He also provides a comprehensive website at keirsey.com. As a leader, you are not trying to become a psychologist, counselor, consultant, or expert on these typologies. Rather, you are trying to help yourself and your group to understand this model for understanding personality well enough to be able to make some basic useful applications from the survey instrument.
Session 3: Personality Survey Reflection
This session combines a workshop model with small-group interaction. Explain that understanding your spiritual gifts and motivation/passion for ministry helps you understand WHAT ministry opportunities to look for and engage. Understanding your personality type can help you determine HOW and WITH WHOM you may be best suited to fulfill your ministry and can help you understand how and why others on a ministry team with you may act as they do.
Begin the session with a ten- to fifteen-minute overview of the meaning of the letters and the personality types described in the Jung/Myers-Briggs/Keirsey model. Explain that while no one is entirely "stuck" in the four-letter type that the online survey will reveal, that type probably reveals how each person prefers to understand and interact with the world around him or her and most often will interact almost automatically. This isn't about hard-wiring. People can adapt and should! But being aware of how we "automatically" view the world and interact with others helps harness the strengths of personality to the work of ministry. We maximize our effectiveness when we operate out of the best gifts of the Spirit and our personality.
Bring up one of the small groups from the last session to demonstrate a group interview process that helps each person do two things: (1) understand the meaning and implications of his or her personality type and (2) think about how the personality type influences the way she or he may engage the possible ministries identified in the previous session. Allow ten minutes for this conversation. Then spend the remainder of this session, and an additional session as needed, so that all can have the opportunity to share their findings, understand them, and bring further clarity to how they may proceed in new or existing ministry engagements.
Assignment for Session 4: Reflect on the Scriptures and on what you have learned about gifts, personality, and ministry possibilities over the past three sessions. Come to the next session prepared with two or three ministry opportunities (existing or new) that you are considering engaging in the coming year. Include in each of these a description of the ministry, how it uses your best gifts and skills, how it relates to your passion, and how and with whom you may do this work based on your personality type.
Session 4: Putting It All Together and Getting Started
The purpose of this closing session of the series is to move people from understanding to committed and supported action. Each person will have brought a description of two or three possible ministry opportunities for the coming year. Today's session is about narrowing down that list to one ministry, refiniing that ministry plan into concrete next steps for action, and pledging support to one another as the new or improved ministry begins.
Bring another small group forward and walk through a conversation with the group that helps the group help one of the members decide which of the actions in the description to act on, how they will do it, with whom, and what the next steps may be to help make this new ministry effective. Be sure to include in the "next steps," among other things, how the new ministry connects or can connect to existing ministries in the church or community, and how support for the ministry (including awareness, resources, constructive feedback, and ongoing support from other members of the small group) will be developed. For the remainder of the session, let the other small groups (ideally the same ones that have met in previous sessions) complete this process with each member of their groups.
Leave ten minutes at the end of the session for each person to name his or her ministry commitment and how he or she will be supported and held accountable for it by other members of the small group. Conclude with a brief prayer of commissioning in class. Be sure to report results to the pastor so that all may be formally commissioned in worship, using either "An Order for Commitment to Christian Service" (United Methodist Book of Worship, 591-592) or "A Service of Affirmation for Ministry in Daily Life" (Come to the Waters, 120-121).