Your Greatest Strength is….

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We do a number of tests at our counseling center. We have partners in our work who are psychometricians, but we generally have little to do with tests that are built around DSM-V.  We tend to focus on tests that are more valuable in pastoral counseling, and ones that lead more towards conversation than formal diagnosis. Nevertheless, tests are often seen as valuable for self-awareness and making changes for the future. But what changes?

We like to do some simple tests in terms of relationships, conflict management, personality types, and leadership style. Most of these don’t measure linearly a certain pathological quality. Most of these look at categories that have both good and bad aspects to them. So if one looks at personality type tests such as Enneagram or Myers-Briggs, the presumption is that each type has strengths as well as weaknesses, and that the world is ultimately a better place because of the diversity of types found in society.

So what do you do with this information?  Here are three possibilities.

  1.  Work to Your Strengths. When a person takes a vocational aptitude test, or perhaps one in “spiritual giftings” or spiritual temperaments, one is often instructed that the strengths should guide one in what to focus on in terms of job, ministry, and self-growth. It kind of makes sense. If one is good in math and science, then one’s career should probably be one that utilizes and hones this aptitude.
  2. Work on Your Weaknesses. This takes a more holistic view, and can apply to certain types of tests. With NCD (natural church development) the theory is that the weakest area of a church is the limiter to growth. Focusing on strengths will do little. For humans, we may be healthy physically, psychoemotionally, and spiritually, but weak in terms of socialization (for example). To be a healthy human being, we should be healthy in all of these aspects, and so working on socialization is important.

I would like to add a third perspective.


One could argue that this is a bit of a mix of the previous two. It addresses the fact that strengths are important and need to be directly acknowledged and worked on. It addresses the fact that weaknesses are also important in that over-reliance on strengths may ultimately prove harmful.

By what do I mean by the statement “Your greatest strength is your greatest temptation?”  I will start with a personal example. I am an analytic type. Being the administrator of a counseling center, I would like to say, “I minister to papers so that others can minister to people.” This was a similar view that I had when we were organizing medical missions events. While the three Rs (Reading, ‘Riting,’ and Research) may be my strength (Paperwork over People), I allowed that side to dominate my activity. I avoided dealing with people and doing counseling, and focused on activities that involve being in front of a computer (like now).

But I had to grow. Growing wasn’t to focus on my strengths, allowing areas of weakness to languish more and more. At the same time, neither was it ignoring my strengths to focus on my weaknesses. I looked at my strengths as important, but also a temptation to be unbalanced. To embrace balance I value my strengths but be careful not to focus too much on these strengths alone, but invest time and energy in my weaknesses as well.

This perspective has importance of other areas as well.

  • Consider the Love Language test. It seeks to demonstrate what is one’s primary way in which one identifies love in self and others. The five are:  Quality Time, Words of Affirmation, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch. Your primary “love language” tells you how you best identify loving behavior of others and how you generally show love to others. None of these are wrong. In fact, all of them have value… at times. The problem is that in relationships one may find that the two may have very different love languages. So one really needs to become love “bilingual.” This neither rejects one’s strength, nor fully embraces it. Additionally, in a work environment, physical touch or quality time may not always be helpful or practical to encourage employees. One may need to learn to value words of affirmation, for example. One’s strength is neither good, nor bad… but it can be a temptation.
  • Consider Conflict Management. There are different strategies for addressing conflict. Some may typically work better than others, but all work okay in certain situations. Sometimes combating is best while at other times compromising, collaborating, acquiescing, or even avoiding may be the most successful. The issue is not which one is best, but the risk of utilizing one’s preferred method indiscriminantly. It is good to be good at what one is good at (a truism certainly) but being good in one area may tempt one to use it at inappropriate times.
  • Ministry. We teach chaplaincy (CPE) at our counseling center. We teach seminarians how to utilize basic pastoral care skills to provide care for those in the hospital (and other settings). But often trainees fall into temptation and utilize their own strengths inappropriate. We had a trainee from a Charismatic Christian background who would go around praying over the dying and declaring them healed. (This was problematic to deal with when the patient would die— giving false hope and confusion for the family.) Another from an Evangelical background, would start out trying to do pastoral counseling and active listening, and then quickly drop into a canned evangelistic routine. (I can assure you that having a chaplain talking to a sick person who is undergoing diagnostic testing is not being helped if the chaplain suddenly says, “So where do you think you will be if you die tonight?”) We have had nurses take chaplaincy, and they struggle to avoid focusing on medical symptoms and giving medical advice.

Learning one’s strengths can be useful… but only if one learns how to utilize that knowledge.

The Chaplain Who Did Not Show Up

Chaplain Tom started work at Hampton General Hospital. He was excited. He had trained, it seemed like, his whole life for this day. From College, to Seminary, to CPE, he has dreamed of this. HGH was a small hospital, and he was the only chaplain, but he was excited nonetheless.

He visited as many patients as he could fit in… taking detailed notes… he did not want to appear to be not doing his job on the first day. He continued the pace throughout the week. In the Integrated Care Team (ICT) meeting, he sought to give appropriate inputs on patients who he had visited and evaluated. It was a good week.

Tuesday of the next week, he was asked to see the Hospital Director. Chaplain Tom was excited but a bit nervous. He went into director’s office and sat down when invited.

“You don’t have to come in tomorrow,” stated the Director, putting aside all pleasantries.

“But… umm… what do you mean by that, sir?” queried Chaplain Tom.

“Well, we don’t really need you.” Tom was shocked to hear this. Nothing gave him a prior inkling that the Director did not value chaplains.

“Why sir. Did I do something wrong?” The Director responded.

“Well, I have been looking at your comments in the patient records, listened to you at the ICT, and got some feedback from the nursing staff. You give patients good medical advice. You give them counsel as far as some of their social concerns. You marked down your thoughts regarding psychological assessment.”

“Well yes, but…” started Tom, but the Director cut him off. “Do you know why you were hired? You were hired to be a chaplain. You were hired because we need someone to assess their emotional and spiritual concerns. Their feelings about death, issues of belief and faith. We need to know what sort of support system they have internally and externally based on their beliefs and their community. I need you to assess what is going on inside them using skills that the rest of our hospital staff have not been adequately trained to identify.. I don’t really need you to do a psychological assessment. I have psychiatrists who are better at that than you. It is great that you are counseling patients regarding social concerns. That helps… but I have social workers who are good at that, better than you. It is fine if you want to put down medical notes that you think the nurses or doctors might find relevant— but again, they are better at that than you.”

The director continued. “I don’t mind if you want to do other people’s jobs, as long as you don’t get in the way. But you are doing everyone else’s job except your own. Take the rest of the week off. If you are ready to start doing YOUR job, I will see you next Monday. Otherwise, I really don’t need you”

As a Little Child

One of the more poignant stories to me in the Bible is where children were being brought to Jesus and the disciples were trying to fend them and their parents off. Jesus steps in and not welcomes them but notes that all of us, in some sense, must come to Him as a little child.

English: Jesus Christ with children
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Clearly, this little vignette has great relevance within the context of salvation and discipleship. But I find it can be paralleled across to missions as well.

Recent story:  Within the last 6 weeks, I have been ordained and received my doctor of theology. The first is a recognition of ministerial calling, while the other is a recognition of academic achievement. Don’t get me wrong… I am happy with both, and perhaps even more happy that both happened in the mission field.

BUT… also within the last 6 weeks, I have been challenged by ministry that should be super easy (it seems to me) but is not. One was speaking at a somewhat political event (I enjoy being disconnected from politics even though I believe churches should be integrated with their communities, including partnership/interaction with political entities).

The other involves my work in hospital chaplaincy. I am taking CPE (since I am administrator of a training center for CPE, I felt that I need to understand what the trainees and supervisors are going through more directly). It has been a challenge to me for a few reasons:

1.  While my English serves me well in Baguio, the hospital I serve at is outside of Baguio and most of the patients and their families are very uncomfortable with English, and some are even uncomfortable with Tagalog. This makes me feel kind of stupid and out of place.

2.  Visiting patients involves going up to strangers and trying to make a conversation (not even knowing if they want to see me and if they can even speak my language). This goes against my temperament.

3.  As a chaplain, I focus on feelings (the affective region of the human condition) while I like to deal with facts, fixing, and instructing. This makes me doubt that I am doing anything useful.

4.  A chaplain has an ambiguous role in most hospitals. Some staff doubt their value… a peddlar of superstition. Others, think chaplains are there to “cheer people up.” Yet others here see the role as power praying… a faith healer. This makes me doubt my acceptance.

What is the result? I feel like a child in a crowd of strange adults. Such children doubts that they are supposed to be there, doubts that they are valued, and doubts that they can do anything of value.

YET… there is value in this. I have seen many people, including missionaries, who become masters of their own realm or ministry. They do what they do, but feel that they can’t do other things, so they don’t try. I like to do what I feel competent in doing and things that are consistent with my temperament. I hate to feel lost and confused. I hate to look silly or simple in front of others.

But missionaries are to be willing an

d flexible in ministry. We must risk coming before other people, not as experts and not a bosses… but as little children. Jesus accepts little children, but little children have to risk coming to Jesus and running the gauntlet of disapproving strangers.