One Size Fits All?
The promotion that "one size fits all" is rarely true.
It doesn't work with gloves, shoes, shirts or pants. Even caps, wristwatches, belts, and other accessories usually need some kind of adjustment for a proper fit.
The same is true with pastoral ministry.
This is really 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; burdensome rather than liberating.
Like wearing clothes that don't fit.
King David experienced this.
You know the story.
Saul was King of Israel and the nation was being threatened by a Philistine warrior named Goliath. Long story short, a shepherd boy, David, volunteers to take on the taunting giant. It is assumed that he will wear the traditional battle garb of armor, shield, and sword.
Saul agrees to give David his armor, but when David tries it on, the uniform doesn’t fit. David knows that he is expected to wear it, but realizes that what is most important is not what he wears but that he defeats the enemy.
The only way to contribute his best to the cause is to be authentically himself. God has not called David to be Saul but to be David and use the gifts that fit him.
If David tries to be Saul, the Israelites will succumb to defeat and slavery. Yet if he functions according to his own unique design as a shepherd, the Israelites will experience victory and freedom.
The same lesson is true for all of us. Much like an ancient warrior, there is a standard uniform that pastors are expected to wear. But some of us have discovered that the traditional armor doesn’t fit.
Here is a profound statement that 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 Tim Keller, Matt Chandler or any other famous pastor. Also, you are not expected to meet everyone's cultural expectations of what they expect you to be as "pastor."
This cannot be overstated.
You are called to be the best version of yourself, not a wanna be version of someone else.
My desire in this post is to help you "find your fit" so that you can leverage your unique pastoral gifts for the benefit of Christ's church. However, the flip side of recognizing and leveraging your gifts is an admission that you also possess limitations.
Essential to this process of understanding your gifts and limitations is self-awareness, which begins with asking honest questions.
Asking Honest Questions
To discover these gifts and limitations, I have asked some penetrating, honest, hard personal questions that have helped me gain greater self-awareness.
- 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 only I can do to contribute to 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?
- What “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 by asking honest questions, the next step is to discover that "divine design," or unique "wiring."
My Divine Design
A huge aspect of becoming self-aware is knowing (and embracing) how I have been distinctively “wired” by God as a human being. For me, this process has included taking a collection of personality and temperament evaluation tools such as the MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator), the DiSC, the Enneagram, and RightPath.
These tests are not intended to create a box into which a person must conform or to provide an excuse for sinful behavior but are designed to 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 tends to see the big picture or focus on details, whether he or she responds to data primarily intellectually (thinks first) or emotionally (feels first), and whether someone tends to be spontaneous or scheduled when it comes to how they view time.
On the MBTI, I am an INTJ. The Enneagram says I’m a 5. According to the DiSC, I register as an off-the-chart “C.” RightPath describes me as a “Strategic Thinker.” A composite of these tools reveals that I am a highly scheduled, introverted, 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’s me to a “T.”
Here is the rub. While the INTJ description perfectly fits my love of learning, teaching, writing, producing helpful discipleship materials, and the need for long stretches of time alone to think and process ideas, the “introverted thinker” type is not what most folks think of as 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 even register on my DiSC report.
Over the years, a lack of extroversion combined with a deficiency in the “S” characteristic has been the source of my greatest challenges. On several occasions, people have told me that they didn’t feel loved by me and that I come across as detached and unapproachable, even condescending and arrogant at times.
For those reading this who knew me before I was given a cursed ministerial robe, you may be wondering, “What happened?” I would not be characterized as unloving and condescending by my old friends. Sometimes I wonder what I’d be like if I had gone to law school after all or just been a history professor.
Every vocation has its challenges. I think those with the hardest paths are coaches, headmasters, and politicians. They will never please everyone and will be constantly under scrutiny. In my opinion, living under the oppressive weight of approval ratings is one way to pursue a living hell.
Then it strikes me. Being a pastor is a lot like that. Maybe I am reacting externally to an internal aversion to being critiqued by a thousand voices, each of whom have differing expectations of what makes a good pastor or who they think I ought to be.
I have resented Saul’s armor.
The result is that I have clothed myself with a different armor–the armor of self-protection. And people feel it.
The Voice of Grace
As hard as I have tried to consciously overcome an aloof, detached aura, it follows me around like Pigpen’s dirt cloud in the Charlie Brown TV specials. In spite of his best efforts to rid himself of the dust for more than the briefest of periods, he cannot stay clean.
I can relate to Pigpen.
Charlie Brown is the only character in the Peanuts comic strip to unquestionably accept Pigpen for who he is, even defending “Pig-Pen’s” uncleanliness in A Charlie Brown Christmas, 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 that was trod upon by Solomon or Nebuchadnezzar or Genghis Khan!”
Oh, how I cherish Charlie Brown’s unconditional embrace of his friend’s unintentionally repelling characteristic. Charlie is a voice of grace in Pigpen’s life.
It is a voice we all need to hear.
By the way, this is not a voice that justifies objective sin as a wiring issue. I am not talking about flaws in the flesh. Rather, the voice of grace speaks words of acceptance over our distinctive personality traits, telling us that it is not inherently bad or wrong to be introverted or extroverted, to see the big picture or the details, to primarily be a thinker or a feeler, or to be highly scheduled or a spontaneous free spirit.
Personality differences are not right vs. wrong. They are just different, like salt and pepper, onion and garlic, basil and oregano.
It is really hard to shake the negative perception of the INTJ, though.
For example, when movie characters are labeled with the MBTI, the INTJ is always the most despicable villain. Whether the evil Emperor in Star Wars (who is even worse than Darth Vader!) or Voldemort in Harry Potter, the character everybody hates is always labeled as an INTJ.
Maybe this explains my newfound 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. What if he loves that design? If he does, I should, too. And you should embrace your own divine design of gifts and blend of personality spices!
What if we each have something to contribute that requires that we embrace our divine design, recognizing that like Popeye, “I yam who I yam.” And who I “yam” is someone who has been given specific, Spirit endowed gifts wrapped in a unique personality.
I don’t know about you, but I want to embrace those gifts and leverage them for the good of Jesus’ church.
Yet I also know that along with gifts and strengths are limitations.
Accepting My Limitations
Accepting my limitations begins with the confident assertion first uttered by John the Baptizer, who proclaimed: “I am not the Christ.”
Only Jesus modeled human perfection. Only Jesus can fill the shoes of Savior-King.
As I follow him, the first question for me to ask is not “What would Jesus do” but “What did Jesus, as my Redeemer, do for me.” Then, and only then, I can ask, “What would Jesus, as my King, have me do.”
While I am not called to do everything Jesus did, I am called to be faithful to my own unique calling as I steward my gifts and personality and as I recognize my limitations.
One limitation is my lack of extroversion. This does not mean that I am anti-social nor that I do not love or even like people. It means that my energy levels increase when I am alone and are depleted when engaging with people, especially in small talk or when processing things emotionally.
I wish I could change this, but I simply can’t. I’ve been shamed about this and been made to view it as a deficiency in my person and an area that needs to be changed if I am going to be more like Jesus.
Thankfully, I have come to realize that is not the voice of the Holy Spirit but of the enemy. For me, trying to be extroverted would be like David wearing Saul’s armor.
As a primarily thinking individual, my natural mental processor is intellectual and rational rather than emotional. This leads to a second limitation, which is a restricted mental band-width for processing emotion. This does not mean that I don’t feel, as every human experiences emotion. It means that processing ideas increases my mental energy while processing feelings drains my mental energy.
Again, this does not mean that I do not process emotion, but that when I do, it takes a lot out of me.
Here is how my specific wiring affects my ministry as a pastor.
If I attend a social gathering where I am required to exert a great deal of mental energy engaging "as a pastor" with people, I will find my emotional battery quickly in the red depletion zone. It is time for a recharge.
Counseling, leading team meetings, hanging out with people after a Sunday service, or any other engagement that demands social interaction drains my emotional battery. Unless I have a season of time to be alone and "recharge," my mental battery quickly will drop into the red depletion zone.
If my heart stays on empty for an extended period of time, burnout will set in. Not good.
At that point, not only am I not able to bless with the church with my primary gifts of teaching and content development (due to the lack of mental energy that has been expended with relational engagement), but I do not have any emotional reserves for my own family.
Rather than engage my wife and kids, I just want to retreat and recharge.
I really wish it were not that way. This wiring is not my desire. I didn't ask for it. Just is what it is.
The reality is that when I am emotionally healthy, I am at my best for the church and my family. When I am emotionally depleted, both suffer.
Knowing myself this way is why I have designed my weekly schedule to include a cycle of social engagement followed by a time of solitude and study. I arrange my work week with this balance in mind. Solitude and study recharges me. Relational engagement depletes me.
Please remember. This cycle does not mean that I am anti-social nor that I do not love or even like people. Have you ever wanted the battery in your phone or laptop to last longer. Me too.
What do you do when the battery gets low? You plug it in... so that you can have a full battery to work with!
It is the same way with me. I love writing with my laptop. I love engaging with people. The problem is that my emotional battery runs out more quickly than most and needs to be recharged.
While I a get recharged with solitude, extroverts are recharged by social engagement.
Yes, I'm jealous.
I actually used to think that introversion (especially as a pastor) was a moral deficiency in me and felt an unholy guilt about it. Thankfully, several wise counselors have helped me see things more clearly about personality, temperament, and wiring -- God's divine design.
Being introverted also requires me to be more intentional about connecting with people. While my wiring may require me to limit my one-on-one appointments and large group social interaction, I can intentionally put myself in a variety of contexts where I will be exposed to and available for people, such as on Sunday mornings after the service or in other church gatherings and community events. I also am able to utilize social media to touch folks and be present pastorally in the online world.
Another limitation for me is keeping track of details. As a big-picture thinker, ministry details and pastoral needs can easily fall through the cracks. This is where an administrative assistant is a non-negotiable for me–a “detailist” who sets me free to live in the world of ideas so that I can create sermons and practical discipleship resources for the good of the church’s ongoing diet of sound doctrine and biblical truth.
Furthermore, because of my natural tendency to lean toward ideas, I need to be vigilant about weaving emotional connections into my teaching. Having participated in The Wellspring Group’s Battle for Men’s Hearts has equipped me with an understanding of the heart that continues to help me understand my self and has fostered my ability to help others take the gospel to the deep places in their own hearts as they process truth in view of their deep desires, emotions, thoughts, and volitional choices.
Overall, as an “introverted thinking” pastor who loves alone time to process idea and create helpful resources, I realize that the church I lead most likely will not be as large as it could be with someone leading who has a different gift mix and personality wiring.
Embracing my design and accepting my limitations has set me free to be okay with that. While I want the church to be healthy and impact our community, I’m not going to obsess over how many folks are present on Sunday mornings (which has not only been an idol for me but for many other pastors who confess that their core identity has been more influenced by "attendance" fluctuations than the imputed righteousness of Jesus). Rather, I will trust that the Lord, in the power of his Spirit, will bless the ordinary means of grace to grow the church as deep and wide as he wants.
All we can really do is plant and water. The Lord must give the growth.
Therefore, my concern is not to “grow the church” but to be authentic to who I am as a human being and faithful in my call as a husband, father, and disciple/pastor, while helping others live authentically, in view of the cross, as well.
What about you? How would you describe your "divine design" as well as limitations? How does this impact your life and ministry? What safeguards can you put in place to be alive, healthy, and a blessing to Christ's church?
In this post, we have dealt with unique gifting and wiring. But are there some pastoral "common denominators" that should be baseline for every pastor's calling?
Yes, there are common denominators. We'll discuss them next time.
If you are a young(er) pastor/leader who is interested in being mentored in the gospel in order to establish a distinctively gospel-centered life and ministry that is tethered to the cross, check out the Timothy Fellowship.