When Gifts Get in the Way

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Does reliance on spiritual
gifting assessments for volunteers hinder or help God’s call? Two
experts weigh in.

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Spiritual gifting assessments have long been the go-to tool when
it comes to effectively placing volunteers in ministry. It’s easy:
People take a survey about their interests and experience, and they
get a report of roles and areas of service they’re suited
for.

But is the ease and practicality of the spiritual assessment
undermining a greater purpose? Does our reliance on spiritual
assessments let leaders take the easy way out by placing volunteers
in roles that won’t challenge them or force them out of their
comfort zones? Do we limit volunteers’ growth potential when we put
them in the “obvious” positions? Most importantly, are we
inadvertently placing gifting above calling?

Children’s Ministry Magazine decided to investigate the positive
and negative impacts of spiritual assessments. We spoke with two
experts on volunteer placement: Richard Heyduck, a Fuller Seminary
Ph.D., pastor in Pittsburg, Texas, and 20-year veteran in ministry;
and Karen Kogler, director of volunteer equipping at St. Peter
Lutheran Church in Arlington Heights, Illinois, volunteer expert
with 35 years in ministry, and founder of theequipper.org, a volunteer
leader online resource. Read on for their insights.

Turning a Deaf Ear

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Many see spiritual assessments as a huge blessing to ministries
around the world. They figure what better way to determine
ministry areas where potential volunteers might fit, excel, and
feel at home?
But is it possible that relying on spiritual
assessments lets people — volunteers and leaders alike — tune out
God’s call? What leader hasn’t heard a volunteer say, “That sounds
interesting, but it’s just not my area of gifting”?

This is an age-old problem. Remember Moses? He repeatedly argued
and wheedled with God about what God wanted him to do. He said
things you probably recognize: “Who am I to do this?”…”I’m just not
a good public speaker”…”Seriously, God, please, please
pick someone else.” But it’s true — and Moses is biblical proof of
this — that being pushed outside our areas of gifting can be a
good thing, even a God thing.

“Relying on spiritual assessments may have kept things too
conservative in style (let’s do what we’ve always done) and kept
the focus of teaching on content rather than the growth in
Christian maturity that comes from relying on God in the context of
responding to call,” asserts Heyduck.

A Tool With Limits

Spiritual assessments offer many excellent insights, and as a tool
they help facilitate an inflow of volunteers, especially in larger
churches. They also bring to light obvious mismatches — you’re not
going to place someone in a preschool classroom if her assessment
says she can’t stand kids under 5.

Despite the many benefits of spiritual assessments, the reality is
that they’re by nature limited. Just as with personality tests used
in job interviews, people tend to try to answer “correctly” or
“answer to the test” because they perceive that leaders are looking
for specific qualities.

Additionally, assessments are static; we file them and pull them
out every year or so or when someone needs to be repositioned. But
people change and mature. Someone who’s comfortable and established
in a position may respond to an assessment entirely differently
than when he or she first entered the role.

So the question remains: Is discerning people’s spiritual gifts
and then placing them in ministry positions that utilize those
gifts the best way? Experts say it depends.

Kogler offers this insight: “In children’s ministries, as in other
ministry areas, the spiritual gift emphasis can, at first, have a
negative effect. Those who were serving out of guilt or from
pressure feel free to drop out because they’re not gifted in the
area. And they should.

“Individually,” she continues, “we’re always working with God’s
Spirit at strengthening our weaknesses of character (becoming more
loving, more thoughtful, more generous) and of behavior (becoming
more quick to help others, more giving of our time, less selfish).
But the image of the body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12 is one in which God designed
each part for its specific purpose. We’re different on purpose. As
the body of Christ, we have work to do-caring for babies,
organizing events, extending hospitality, repairing buildings. To
do our work well, we work in our areas of giftedness. To do
otherwise is to ask the duck to run the 50-yard dash and the
cheetah to participate in the swimming races.”

That said, both experts agree that assessments are only a part of
the total picture when it comes to determining a person’s overall
suitability, strengths, and weaknesses-and they shouldn’t be the
sole determiner in placing volunteers.

     

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