The description “one size fits all” is rarely true.
It doesn’t work with gloves, shoes, shirts, or pants. Even caps, wristwatches, belts, and other accessories need some adjustment for a proper fit.
The same is true with pastoral ministry. This is especially important for young pastors to grasp, as there are pastoral molds into which they will be expected to conform. Sometimes, these molds are more culturally constructed than biblical, more burdensome than liberating. They’re ill-fitting clothes.
King David experienced this. You know the story.
Saul was King of Israel when the nation became threatened by a Philistine warrior named Goliath. Long story short, a shepherd boy named David volunteered to take on the taunting giant.
Saul lent David his armor, the traditional battle garb of armor, shield, and sword. But when David tried it on, the uniform didn’t fit. David knew he was expected to wear it, but realized what he wore was not as important as defeating the enemy.
The only way to contribute his best to the cause was to be himself. God had not called David to be Saul but to be David and use the gifts that fit him. If David tried to be Saul, the Israelites would have succumbed to defeat and slavery. But functioning according to his unique gifting as a shepherd, the Israelites experienced victory and freedom instead.
The same lesson is true for us. Much like ancient warriors, there's a standard uniform pastors are expected to wear. However, some of us have discovered that the traditional armor doesn’t fit.
Here is a statement I want you to consider and embrace as we move forward: You are not called to wear Saul’s armor.
God does not expect you to be someone else. We cannot overstate this point. You are called to be the best version of yourself, not an imitation version of someone else.
My desire in this post is to help you find your fit so you can leverage your unique pastoral gifts for the benefit of Christ’s church. However, the other side of recognizing and leveraging your gifts is admitting you also possess limitations.
Self-awareness is essential to understanding your gifts and limitations, which begins with asking honest questions.
To discover these gifts and limitations, I have asked some penetrating, honest questions that have helped me gain greater self-awareness. See if they help you.
- What are my unique gifts and strengths? What do I do best? Where have I been the most effective in my contribution to the Kingdom of God? What can I do that no one else can for the well-being and health of the local church?
- What are my unique struggles? Where am I not gifted?
- What do other people say about my gifts and limitations?
- How do personality profiles either confirm or challenge these conclusions about gifting and struggle?
- When I turn seventy-five, what do I not want to regret about how I lived my life and ministry?
- What are the dominant idols in my life? How have they affected me in the past? How is awareness of these idols going to help me in the future?
- Which wounds in my past need to be addressed? How have they taken me captive and prevented me from living authentically?
- What will it look like for me to love well with the gifts God has woven into my life? How can I best steward these gifts?
- How can I structure my life in order to be most effective? How do I want to invest the rest of my life?
With limited time and knowing how I am divinely designed/wired, how do I believe the Lord would have me structure my time, and what would he have me do with my time?
After we have done our prep work, the next step is to discover our divine design.
My Divine Design
A big part of self-awareness is knowing and embracing how God has distinctively wired me. In my experience, this process has included taking a collection of personality and temperament evaluation tools such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, the DiSC, the Enneagram, and RightPath.
These tests are not intended to create a box into which someone must conform, nor to provide an excuse for sinful behavior. Personality types are like colors. In themselves, they are varied, beautiful, and to be appreciated for their uniqueness for how they contribute to a painting. Yet because of the indwelling sin nature in every human, there is a dark side to each type. I shouldn’t lay the blame for my sin on the letters of my Myers-Briggs.
Nevertheless, temperament instruments help explain a variety of personality traits, revealing the why behind an individual’s common behavioral tendencies. For example, the MBTI distinguishes between degrees of extroversion and introversion, whether someone processes data externally or internally, whether they respond primarily rationally or emotionally, and whether they tend to be spontaneous or scheduled concerning time.
On the MBTI, I am an INTJ and register as a 5w4 on the Enneagram. According to the DiSC, I am an off-the-chart C. Right Path describes me as a Strategic Thinker. A composite of these tools reveals I am a highly scheduled, introverted, analytical, contemplative, big-picture thinker who processes ideas more intellectually than emotionally and prefers uninterrupted time to work alone while completing tasks that contribute to helping people grow in grace. That is me to a T.
Here is the rub. While the INTJ description perfectly fits my love of learning, teaching, and writing, and affirms my need for long periods alone to process ideas, the introverted thinker is not how most folks describe a pastor. Additionally, on the DiSC, the letter that most represents the traditional pastoral instinct is S, the sympathetic listener who feels deeply and expresses empathetic warmth. S didn’t register on my DiSC report. That explains a lot.
Over the years, a lack of extroversion combined with a deficiency in the S pastoral chromosome has been the source of my most significant pastoral challenges. On several occasions, people have told me I come across as detached and unapproachable, even condescending and arrogant at times. Yikes! That is the last way I want anyone to experience me.
For those reading this who knew me before my ordination into vocational ministry, you may wonder, “What happened?” My old friends would not characterize me as detached and condescending. I wonder if the ministerial robe I received at ordination and following shock of pastoral ministry expectations affected me at the depth of personality, where I began creating walls of emotional self-protection. Just a thought.
The Voice of Grace
As hard as I have tried to overcome an aloof aura, it follows me around like Pigpen’s dirt cloud in the Charlie Brown TV specials. Despite his best efforts to rid himself of the dust for more than the briefest of periods, he cannot stay clean.
Charlie Brown is the only character in the Peanuts comic strip to defend Pigpen’s uncleanliness. In the classic, A Charlie Brown Christmas, after Pigpen is ridiculed for his appearance, Charlie Brown covers his friend with the kindness of validation, saying, "Don’t think of it as dust. Just think of it as the dirt and dust of far-off lands blowing over here and settling on Pigpen. It staggers the imagination! He may be carrying the soil trod upon by Solomon or Nebuchadnezzar or Genghis Khan!"
Don’t you cherish Charlie Brown’s unconditional embrace of his friend’s unintentionally repelling characteristic? Charlie is a voice of grace in Pigpen’s life. It’s a voice we all need to hear.
The job of this voice is not to justify sin as “a wiring issue.” I am not talking about flaws in the flesh.
In this context, the voice of grace speaks words of acceptance over our distinctive personality traits.
Grace reminds us that it’s not inherently good or bad to be introverted or extroverted, to process outwardly or inwardly, to be a thinker or a feeler, or to be highly scheduled or a spontaneous, free spirit. Personality differences make each image-bearer uniquely flavorful, like salt and pepper, onion and garlic, basil and oregano.
Admittedly, it is hard to shake the negative perception of the INTJ. For example, when movie characters are labeled with the MBTI, the INTJ typically is the most despicable villain, whether the evil Emperor in Star Wars or Voldemort in Harry Potter. The character everybody hates is always labeled as an INTJ. Maybe this explains my soft spot for villains. We need so much grace.
I need a friend like Charlie Brown to convince me that being an INTJ, Enneagram 5, high C, Strategic Thinker is a good and beautiful thing in the eyes of God. After all, what if the Father loves that design? If he does, I should, too. And so should you, whatever your letters are.
Because at the end of the day, we are not covered by armor, pastoral expectations, or even our Myers-Briggs letters.
We're covered with the perfect righteousness of Jesus.
For Reflection and Discussion
- How can the concept of "one size fits all" be misleading in the context of pastoral ministry, and why is it important for pastors, especially young ones, to understand their unique gifts and limitations?
- Whose armor are you tempted to wear?
- Reflecting on the story of David and Goliath, how can understanding one's own strengths and limitations, rather than trying to fit into an expected mold, lead to more effective and authentic ministry?
- How can self-awareness and understanding of personal traits, as revealed through tools like Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, Enneagram, and Right Path, contribute to a pastor's effectiveness in their role?
- How does hearing the voice of grace in Jesus impact pastoral hope, peace, and joy, especially for those who don't fit traditional pastoral expectations?