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When Gifts Get in the Way

Jennifer Hooks

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

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

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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