Lesson 10 Know Thyself
Know yourself. Learn your strengths and weaknesses, so that in your interactions with others you are drawing from your strengths and making appropriate compensation for your weaknesses.
I am a mild-mannered, reserved person. I find it difficult to strike up conversations with strangers, especially when "off my turf." If I am new to a committee, or attending a meeting where I do not already have established ties, I typically am quiet and seemingly aloof. As a discussion begins, I speak little if at all. I use to get anxious about my reservedness, but I've come to be at peace with it and rely on it as a strength. For in time, I will speak, and the very fact that I have been quiet through much of the discussion tends to give my words more attention, if only out of surprise that I am speaking.
I don't have the gift of gab. People can feel awkward around me because of the silence. I can be an extremely boring car passenger. On the other hand, my silence is a tonic to someone needing silence. And the same behavior that seems cold and aloof to one person in one circumstance, is soothing and warm to another person in another situation. Where there is stress in a room, I bring a sense of peace; where there is tension, my personality is a relaxing influence. And so I use that strength to mediate conflict and to pastor people in distress.
But what about situations that call for someone with energy and a strong personality? I compensate. I find such a person to assist me or take my place altogether. I depend a lot on my wife in social situations to make introductions and carry conversations. Where I am weak, I find someone with the appropriate strength or knowledge or experience to compensate. This is what being part of the body of Christ is about. God has given us different gifts, different temperaments, different abilities so that by working together we can minister effectively.
Appreciating the gifts of others is what keeps things in perspective about their value. When I was school principal, I had one teacher who was poor at organizing. He would forget to fill out proper forms and would cause administrative problems for me and the school secretary. She once asked me how I put up with such things. I replied that I remember what I value in him – that he loved his students and went the extra mile for them. I could compensate for his poor organizational skills, but not for what mattered most in a teacher – love for his students.
Value your ministry team members for what they each bring to that ministry. Why get upset because your best greeter gets too involved talking with a guest and forgets his other assignment to set up equipment? Find someone, for whom having to speak to strangers is a heart-thumping exercise, to do set up.
Know your limits. Don't take on a task when you are tired. Don't try to mediate a conflict when you are feeling stressed. You are more likely to make matters worse. Pace yourself; set boundaries. Knowing your limits and setting proper boundaries are essential principles when you are involved in ministry. Just as we do not want a sleepy airline pilot, so we do not want a tired ministry leader whose mood will impact everyone around him.
It is okay to take breaks, to turn a task over to someone else. You do not have to always take the hardest pastoral case or mediate the most difficult conflict. Sometimes you simply need to stop and get a good night's rest. I recall in seminary listening to a missionary boast that he had never taken a day off; I wondered then how his wife sitting next to him felt about it. I am all the more certain now that such a boast is a foolish one.
Know the task given to you, keep focused on it, and do it well. Let others do their work. You do not need to give advice about everything you have an opinion on. If you are a ministry leader and you give an assignment, it is proper to provide guidance; but if you have chosen someone for his particular ability, then give him the freedom to exercise his gift accordingly. Use judgment as to when it is okay for your people to make mistakes and to learn by experience what you may already know is best.
I recruit Bill to set up tables and chairs for a dinner. I advise Bill on the most efficient method of doing the job. But Bill thinks he already knows the best way. My method would have taken 15 minutes; he ends up taking 30 minutes. But we had a full hour to be ready. What was lost by letting Bill do it his way? He learned by experience that he did not have the best system and will be better at the job the next time. I, meanwhile, could still be about doing the work I need to get done. I am not frustrated with him, nor he with me. If I had insisted on my way, he may have been offended or stressed and still have taken longer because his heart was not in the work. If his method really bothered me, it would be wise for me to leave the room. I then am not bothered his routine, and he doesn't have to feel my sullen glare.
Again, know your limits. But also know and lean on where you excel. If you are leading a ministry team, what is the best way for you to motivate your people? If you are extroverted and a dynamic speaker, you will want to speak to your people as a team and pump them up for the task you are about to do together. If you are reserved and soft-spoken, you may be more effective taking your crew members aside individually and gently encourage them. Both leadership styles are effective; the best leader is not one who acts one way or another, but who draws from his true character. One inspirational leader can have his audience yelling out cheers; another can hold the same audience in quiet intensity listening to his calm voice.
Know who you are – your personality, your strengths and weaknesses. Above all, know theologically who you are in Christ. You may think you do, but it is likely you operate from a different heart-felt belief. Do you know that God delights in you? Do you know that he is not angry with you and is not measuring you according to your ministry achievements? Do you know that because you are his child in Christ, he is causing everything to work for your good? The more you are able to grasp these theological realities and operate from such a vantage point, then the wiser you become as you lead your ministry and relate to others.
I should add a word to you who are young. Be careful not to settle too soon on what your limits may be. You lack the knowledge of experience and so you should stretch yourselves, trying out new roles and locations and ministries. The worst that can happen is that you fail. As long as you are willing to acknowledge where you fail and not get hung on being a failure, then you will be fine; and you will grow in wisdom and ability. The fool is the one who keeps trying to force himself into a role that clearly does not fit. It is wisdom to know when to persevere in a difficult experience and when to confess that you are not the chosen one.
Even then, be careful of forming wrong conclusions. Many young men have left the ministry because they failed in their first ministry assignment. They did not understand that failing under one set of circumstances does not mean failure in others. We see this in sports all the time. One man is a successful coach at one school but fails at another. What changed – the coach? No – the circumstances. He was a good fit for one school that presented a particular set of circumstances; but he was the wrong fit under another set of circumstances.
Again, I think it is fine to acknowledge failure; humility is good. But let failure sharpen your understanding of your strengths so that you are made all the more useful for God. Don't let failure identify you. There is nothing wrong with our pride getting hurt; but there is everything wrong with our fruitfulness being wasted because we let failure cloud our understanding rather than sharpen it.
Know yourself. Know your limits; know your strengths; know who you are in Christ; stretch yourself through new experiences, but more importantly learn from those experiences. Accept failure but only to make you stronger and more secure in who you are and what your true gifts are. As you act out of your true self and out of true understanding of your relationship to Christ, then you will act with godly wisdom.
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