Pause for thought: What would best use my gifts; how might I serve?
I write on a particularly sunny January morning, having noticed bright yellow blossoms of winter jasmine. But what might I go for this year? What would best use my gifts; how might I serve? Are there ways in which I might rebalance my time, my efforts, my priorities? You may be simply trying to survive but, even then, you may recognise endless possibilities, challenges and choices.
A few moments ago, was inspired by a student essay on the Five Marks of Mission (Anglican Consultative Council, 1984):
- ‘To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
- To teach, baptise and nurture new believers.
- To respond to human need by loving service
- To transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation
- To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth’
What struck me was not so much the Mark’s comprehensiveness but which of them we prioritise, as individual Christians, as churches, and indeed as denominations. And not only which we prioritise but which we perhaps omit and how we rationalise our choices.
One approach is characterised by Strengthsfinder, which encourages us to identify our top five strengths, to cultivate these, and avoid paying undue attention to our weaknesses. Based on positive psychology, the approach promises much and indeed the publicity suggests it’s lifechanging. Of course our inner theologian may alert us to Pelagianism or remind us of Fox’s (1983) Original Blessing.
At the other end of the spectrum is an approach followed by Schwartz (1998) from the Natural Church Development movement who argues that we (or at least our churches) are only as good as their worst weakness. Schwartz encourages church communities to address this weakness as the best means towards growth. We’d be mistaken if we thought this was from an Augustinian perspective. It’s not. In essence, the two approaches are remarkably similar.
So, should we major on our strengths or address our weaknesses? I suggest we’ll find either insufficient. Returning to the Five Marks of Mission, someone who identifies themselves as having the gift of evangelist may want to sharpen that gift as indeed may the person with a gift of reconciliation. By all means, let’s go for whichever makes us fly, which gives us ‘flow’ (Csikszentmihalyi, 2013). But let’s also be alert to whichever of the Marks, we would sooner wasn’t on the list!
Too much enthusiasm for our strengths risks leaving us like a ball-hogging football player who displays arrogance and little regard for their team. We might identify as the most outstanding ecowarrior yet pursue violent paths towards our goal. Or we could be the finest preacher but disregard the poor.
A more fine-tuned approach offered by the SHAPE Spiritual Gifts Assessment tool (author unknown) that is readily available online. The acronym stands for ‘Spiritual gifts, Heart (or passion), Abilities, Personality Style, and Experience. Its greatest weakness may be that it looks only at the individual rather than their context. However, used wisely, it can help us rebalance our time, our efforts, and priorities.
Of course, none of these tools or approaches can be a substitute for listening to God (though may be a means by which we do precisely that). You needn’t be an evangelical to appreciate Gumbel’s (1995) advice on God’s guidance. And the Ignatian Retreat in Daily Life is highly commendable. However, just as you can’t steer a stationery boat, perhaps the best advice is to get started on anything half-decent. If you don’t like it, try something else. Eventually, you’ll find your fit. Enjoy the adventure!
Revd Dr Julian Raffay