Identifying your strengths is a key part of finding a job or moving on in your career at the moment. Knowing your contribution will lead to your personal satisfaction and worth, and to your being productive and energised.
Perhaps the most engaging exponent of this view is Marcus Buckingham. A Brit living in the States, he is clearly bright and successful himself, and in a combination of books and online resources he helps you find your strengths.
What’s weird about reading Buckingham is that he’s not a Christian and he’s not writing about church, but his material feels so familiar from all those Spiritual Gifts Inventories that churches do.
So it’s worth mulling over the differences, because they are critical. Buckingham is a child of his time and culture and so are we – and if we are not careful we will swallow the world’s baited hook.
Take his definition of a strength. A strength is not defined by being something you’re good at. There are things you’re good at which leave you feeling empty afterwards. I’m currently working in a college environment and so I have learned to be good at marking fairly and efficiently, and giving helpful feedback. But it doesn’t jazz me up, especially. It drains me. So, even though I’m good at it, isn’t a strength.
Equally, something that jazzes me up isn’t a strength necessarily, if I’m no good at it. I like painting, but I’m not really any good at. It’s just fun. A hobby.
So what is a strength? A strength, according to Buckingham, is what makes me feel strong. It energises and lifts me, and helps me to make my best contribution to the team. No one else can help me here, because no one else knows what makes me feel strong.
Stop right there. This is massively different from helping people find their gifts and a place to serve in church.
Gifts are given for the good of the body, not the well being of the individual. It may be that standing up front and giving a talk gives me a buzz. It may be that it drains me. Neither viewpoint helps to discern whether I have the gift of teaching The only criterion is whether other people learn. If the Bible is more clear to others after I have spoken, then I have the gift of teaching, whether I’m pumping the air with an adrenaline high or chucking up in a bucket.
My gifts are not given to bless me. They are given to bless you.
In fact, doesn’t the Lord Jesus prefer to build his church through weakness rather than strengths? I’m not denying the place of gifts – I’m passionate about releasing them – but there’s a critical difference between a strength and a gift. A gift can be exercised in weakness and brokenness. A strength can’t.
And whatever happened to grabbing a towel and washing feet? That’s not a strength. It’s servanthood.