As are so many Nazarene leaders these days I want to begin with an apology that is in no way an apology at all. I am sorry I have not been able to post anything for the last few days. I have actually had a life and a local ministry context that needed my attention and so have not had time.
When I do have a spare moment, I have been piecing together a post about our big tent in the church. I want it to be a really well written piece about getting along despite our differences and a call back to charity. But it has not yet come together.
However, in the interests of biding time and frantically trying to keep your interest, Monday night’s NNU Alumni Q&A (that was more Q than A) with David Alexander introduced a fascinating wrinkle into the ongoing discussion about Nazarene identity. As a sort of defense, he listed off his top 5 strengths according to Gallup’s Strengthsfinder’s Inventory.
This wrinkle, like most wrinkles in sheets or blankets, is caused by something much more concrete and sinister lying underneath and something that has bugged me for many years. We in the Church of the Nazarene seem to be cultivating an unhealthy relationship with the Gallup organization, particularly through their Strengthsfinders Inventory.
Now, it would be inappropriate to leave out that I was on staff at a church that did not exercise caution when it came to Gallup’s Strengthsfinders. The church let Gallup’s message replace the cross as its main proclamation to the world.
Perhaps most disappointing was regularly my senior pastor, whom I otherwise love and respect, would climb into the pulpit, hold up one of Gallup’s books, open it and read a passage. This was in a worship service where no Scripture was otherwise read. Then he would exegete the Strengthfinders book for the congregation. Whenever any book other than Scripture is exegeted from the pulpit, I get super nervous.
So I readily acknowledge that my beginning with Gallup left a really bad taste in my mouth, one I have not yet washed down (as evidenced by my snarky caption above). In humility, I admit that isn’t how others are using Strengthsfinders and some have found a great and healthy way to refer to it. Yet my weary journey with it has led me to deep and critical thinking which in turn has led to some questions and concerns.
The doctrine (or as I call it “gospel”) of Strengthsfinders rests on a few key principles:
The 1st and most foundational principle is that people should play to their strengths as much as possible while only managing their weaknesses. A subset of this is that you manage your weaknesses by surrounding yourself with those who have different strengths.
2nd: There are only 34 strengths.
3rd: Those strengths are grouped into four categories that further help define your personality.
4th: You cannot change your strengths no matter how hard you try. Your personality is set in stone.
5th: The best way to help yourself is to pay a tithe (er, um, donation, er, um, purchase) to Gallup so that you can take a test that tells you your top 5 of 34 strengths. For those reaching super Gallup-saintdom you can even hire a Gallup clergy person, er, Strengths coach to help you help yourself even more.
With that basic framework in mind (and I admit I am summarizing the loads of Gallup books I have read and heard sermons about) I have great concerns about Strengthsfinders as it relates to our doctrine and polity.
First, I think it is quite naive to assume all of humanity can be summarized in 34 categories. Humans are way more complex than that. After all, when I fell in love with my wife I did not fall in love with an order of strengths but a complicated and complex human being who has shades of moods and layers of depth. I am the same way. You are too. I am not a jumble of 34 categories roughly ordered. I am a full, complete and complex human being and the only way to get to know me is to do life with me over the course of years. I am not a woo, ideator, inputter, communicative and positive ENFP.
More than that, our church, particularly us Wesleyans, have always argued that the best way to know ourselves is to find ourselves in Christ using the means of grace. If you want to know yourself and all your strengths and weaknesses, an inventory will not do it. Instead it is much better to pray, fast, worship, give and serve.
Second, I really struggle with any narrative that says you cannot change. I know Gallup insists they are talking about personality, not sinfulness, but still the Nazarene doctrine is built on the concept that God can change you and the real sciences have shown over and over again that you are changing whether you like it or not. I think we need to be cautious and critical of doctrines and gospels that claim we can’t and won’t change.
Third, and perhaps most importantly for me, is that the church’s main proclamation is about the weakness of a cross. Paul says in 1st Corinthians 12 that the power of God is made perfect in weakness and that when we are weak, then we are strong. I believe Paul arrives at that conclusion because Paul understands the cross. He is arguing from a logic he articulates in Philippians 2, that though Christ was in very nature God, he emptied himself and became nothing and humbled himself to death. Biblically, postures of weakness glorify Christ, not postures of playing to your strengths.
This leads to a rabbit trail about the nature of American corporate greed with its gospel that only those who produce get the glory. In that world Gallup really is good news because if you just pay your tithe and buy their book and take their test you can produce more for your church. But the church is not a community of production. We are a community of worship and of service. In our church only those who take postures of weakness are guaranteed glory.
I feel like maybe one of the reasons our leaders are failing us so badly right now is because they have gotten caught up in the gospels according to Wall Street and Gallup. They are trying to manipulate their personalities to produce things for God instead of falling on their knees in weakness and crying out, “I need you. I need you. Every hour I need you.”
But I digress. . .
With those things in mind, I am in no way saying we need to throw everything out that Gallup tries to offer us. In fact the one thing personality inventories do is create a common vocabulary for people to understand each other and themselves. Doing so aids understanding, creates unity, contributes to cooperation and leads to love.
But hopefully I have at least convinced you to keep Gallup in the boardroom and out of the pulpit. After all, no doctrine or book or decree or gospel should share space with the Holy Scriptures of our Living God. 😛
Stay tuned for more as I have time!