STUDY FOUR: UNDERSTANDING YOUR STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES

© Rosemary Bardsley 2009, 2014

Kenneth Prior in his book Perils of Leadership cites Spurgeon as saying: ‘The strong are not always vigorous, the wise not always ready, the brave not always courageous, and the joyous not always happy’ and comments that Spurgeon ‘was recognizing that Christian leaders are human and can be afflicted by emotional difficulties, such as depression, as much as anyone else.’ Prior goes on to say “the pressures of ministry, the deep concerns which accompany it and the expectations which others have, may render leaders more subject to such problems than others.’ [p7]

There are common human weaknesses, and pitfalls common to those in Christian leadership. Here is a selection identified by three writers:

Prior: Perils of Leadership               
[with biblical examples] 
Exley, Galli & Ortberg: Dangers, Toils and Snares
[re leaders] 
Adams: The Christian Counselor’s Manual

[common weaknesses] 

Immaturity [Joseph]
Inadequacy [Moses]
Sexual temptation [Samson, David, Solomon]
Depression [Elijah]
In the shadow of a mentor [Elisha]
Marital stress [Hosea]
Impulsiveness [Peter]
The love of power and prestige [James and John]
Oversensitivity [Timothy]
Criticism - being the target of  [Paul]
 ‘professional holiness’
‘approval addiction’
Ambition
Laziness
Fear of controversy
Anger
Despair
Seriousness
Anger
Blame shifting
Depression
Envy, jealousy
Fear
Guilt
Rebellion
Self pity
Sexual deviation

      
The purpose of this study of strengths and weaknesses is not to generate introspection or guilt but to give you a tool by which to have a realistic understanding of your strengths and weaknesses so that you can:

  • Have realistic expectations of yourself and others
  • Recognize your limitations and those of others
  • Be alert for your vulnerabilities and those of others
  • Live and serve as the unique person God created, and encourage others to do the same
  • Be prepared for difficulties – your own and those of others
  • Be free to be yourself instead of striving to be someone you are not, and allow others the same freedom
  • Maximize your strengths and those of others
  • Live positively with your weaknesses and those of others

 

A. UNDERSTANDING STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES

Moral strengths and weaknesses
A moral strength or weakness is a strength or weakness in an area where God has put a moral boundary – for example, honesty and integrity, sexual purity, contentment, respect for people.

Some people seem to have little or no problem telling the truth. Others do.
Some people seem to have no problem refraining from physical violence. Others do.
Some people seem to have little or no problem with sexual temptations. Others do.
Some people seem to never be tempted to steal. Others are.

Morally, we all have our strong points and our weak points. It is when we acknowledge where our weak points are that we are most likely to overcome them. When we understand, for instance, in what kind of circumstances we are most tempted to tell lies, then we will be more alert and seek the Lord’s help, when we find ourselves in those circumstances.

A word of caution is necessary here: the changing circumstances and situations of life will sometimes reveal a moral weakness where we thought we were morally strong. What happens is that the changed situation has brought with it a range of temptations or pressures in areas where we have never been tested or pushed to the limit before, and we find that what we thought was an area of ‘strength’ crumbles under this new kind of pressure. For example, a person who thought herself very patient, but had always lived with people who were easy to get on with and self-sufficient, may find that she is impatient when placed in a situation where other people are very demanding and dependent.

 

Personal strengths and weaknesses
Personal strengths and weaknesses come closer to the area of ‘temperament’ or ‘personality’, but do not fully equate with these. Here we are looking at the question: what kind of person are you?

Happy, sad, courageous, timid, helpful, thoughtful, compassionate, optimistic, pessimistic, funny, quiet, serious, studious, active, sporty, creative, academic, musical, relaxed, energetic, morose, grumpy, etc

It also includes what you are good at or not good at, what you can do or can’t do:

Art, business, building, cooking, design, writing, music, talking, helping, computers, nursing, and so on.

Why are we looking at these things? Because knowing your strengths and weaknesses will help you to:

  • Have a realistic expectation of yourself and how you can serve God
  • Have a realistic perception of what you can and cannot do
  • Understand why you don’t feel comfortable in some tasks or roles
  • Further develop your strengths
  • Have a good attitude to your areas of weakness – developing coping skills where appropriate, changing where appropriate, and accepting yourself where appropriate.
  • Recognizing which strengths and weaknesses wrongly applied or expressed have the potential to become moral weaknesses [or sins].
  • Recruit others for tasks in which they excel but you don’t.

Your ability to live for God and serve God will have a lot to do with how you relate to your personal weaknesses.
 
Relational strengths and weaknesses
Relational strengths and weaknesses refer to how well we cope with or relate to other people. Again this has some relationship with personality and temperament, but is not entirely the same. Questions we are looking at here include:

  • Do we find it easy or difficult to initiate a conversation with a stranger?
  • Do we find it easy or difficult to initiate a conversation with a friend?
  • Do we find it easy or difficult to make friends?
  • Are we afraid of people generally?
  • Are we trusting or suspicious of people?
  • Do we love or hate being surrounded by a crowd?
  • Do we love or hate being alone?
  • Do we need people or can we get along without them?
  • Do we depend on people for our self-esteem?
  • Do we use people for our personal advantage?
  • Are we careful to maintain confidentiality?
  • Can people trust us?
  • Do we love people to come to our house?
  • Do we find it easy to contribute to a group conversation?
  • Once we have a friendship do we sustain it or damage it or drop it?
  • Are we forgiving or do we hold grudges?
  • Do we find it easier to relate to some people than to others?
  • Do we love our enemies or just our friends?
  • Do we avoid people? …

Spirituality and service is largely to do with people. Relationships cannot be avoided. People are the number two priority on our ‘to do list’ given by God [the first priority is himself]. It was people that Jesus came to seek and to save; it was people for whom he died. Relationships are therefore extremely important for all Christians, and in particular for Christians serving in the church and community.

Ministry strengths and weaknesses
Ministry strengths and weaknesses relate to specific ministry skills. Some of these will parallel strengths and weaknesses in other areas. Some will reflect areas where you have, or do not have, specific natural talents, learned abilities or spiritual gifts. For instance, teaching the scriptures could be a person’s ministry strength, while working with children could be a weak point.

When a person is part of a large church there is not so urgent a need to build up areas of ministry weakness; however, if a person moves to a small church some strengthening of weak areas could be appropriate or even necessary.

Footnote:
While moral strengths and weaknesses are obviously either ‘good’ or ‘bad’, personal, relational and ministry strengths and weaknesses are not necessarily ‘good’ or ‘bad’, ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. What is good, bad, right or wrong is how we live with them. For instance, a relational strength, such as the ability to talk to others easily, may seem to be a good, positive thing, but it can be bad if we use it wrongly – either to say the wrong thing or to constantly take over conversations. A ministry strength, for example, teaching the Scripture, while good in itself, can have a negative impact if we never take the time out from teaching to build relationships with people.


B. RECOGNIZING YOUR OWN STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES

In consultation with your Christian peers and older Christians, and perhaps your Pastor or Mentor complete the strengths and weaknesses analysis in Study Four Worksheet now. .

When you have completed this analysis there are some questions and issues you and those involved in the analysis might discuss:

  • How you are using your strengths for the glory of God and the well-being of the Kingdom community
  • Ways can you build on and maximize these strengths
  • Are any of these strengths, or your attitude to them, a stumbling block in your growth towards Christian spirituality?
  • Do you recognize and live positively with your limitations?
  • Are you alert for your vulnerabilities?
  • Are you prepared for difficulties?
  • Are any of your weaknesses actually sins that you need to repent of?
  • In what ways are your weaknesses, or your attitude to your weaknesses, a stumbling block in your growth towards Christian spirituality and service in the Kingdom community?
  • Are you living and serving as the unique person God created?
  • Are you allowing yourself the freedom to be yourself instead of striving to be someone you are not?

 

C. THE CONCEPT OF ‘TEMPERAMENTS’

Meanings given to the word:

Concise Oxford: ‘Individual character of one’s physical constitution permanently affecting the manner of acting, feeling, and thinking.’

American Heritage Dictionary: ‘1. The manner of thinking, behaving, or reacting characteristic of a specific person: a nervous temperament.  2. The distinguishing mental and physical characteristics of a human according to medieval physiology, resulting from dominance of one of the four humours’.

Roget’s Thesaurus: ‘A person's customary manner of emotional response.’

Biology-online.org: (Science: physiology) ‘The peculiar physical and mental character of an individual, in olden times erroneously supposed to be due to individual variation in the relations and proportions of the constituent parts of the body, especially of the fluids, as the bile, blood, lymph, etc. Hence the phrases, bilious or choleric temperament, sanguine temperament, etc, implying a predominance of one of these fluids and a corresponding influence on the temperament.’

Tim LaHaye: ‘Temperament is the combination of inborn traits that subconsciously affects man’s behaviour. These traits are arranged genetically on the basis of nationality, race, sex and other hereditary factors. These traits are passed on by the genes.’ [p5,6 Spirit Filled Temperaments]

 

In the 1960s Tim La Haye, drawing heavily on the work of Christian psychologist Dr Henry Brandt, and on ‘Temperament and the Christian Faith’ written by conservative Norwegian theologian, Dr Ole Hallesby, popularized the concept of personality/temperament types in the English speaking Christian world. Over the decades since then there have been conflicting responses to this concept, and particularly to the appropriateness of Christians accepting this concept.

The four temperament types traditionally proposed are:

Melancholic
Sanguine
Phlegmatic
Choleric

Those who promote this four-type temperament identification indicate that it is usual for each individual to be a combination of at least two types.

The psychological type indicator developed by Myers-Briggs identifies 16 different types. This indicator is currently preferred over the four type system in both secular and Christian organizations today.
 
Practical problems associated with temperament typing
There are significant life problems arising from an inappropriate response to temperament analysis:

  • Using one’s temperament type to excuse sinful attitudes or actions.
  • Using one’s temperament type to excuse non-involvement in Christian service.
  • Locking oneself into a certain mindset or attitude because ‘that’s the way I am’.
  • Having little or no expectation of growth in others because ‘that’s who they are.’
  • Minimizing the ability of the Holy Spirit to change a person.
  • Assuming that because you are a particular temperament you will not be tempted in the way people of other temperaments are tempted.

The subjective nature of type testing
A second area of difficulty focuses on the subjective and relativistic nature of personality typing. This lack of objectivity and authority is almost unavoidable because:

  • The questions in the test, and the different classifications and descriptions, are formulated by fallible human beings, based on their observations of multitudes of fallible human beings.
  • In the multiple choice questions involved it is frequently impossible to identify which answer is most true of oneself. Sometimes two or even three of the four choices, or both of the two choices seem equally true. The questions assume that there will be one that is predominant.
  • To maintain personal objectivity when answering the questions is very difficult. One tends to want to choose the answer which seems more positive, even though told that all answers are equal.
  • One’s emotional, relational, mental and physical health at the time of testing can affect one’s self-perception and therefore one’s answers to the questions.
  • Test results are really non-definitive; one can do the same test a few weeks later and obtain a different result.

All of this cautions us to hold lightly to test results

Is there any valid use of the concept of temperament types?
People are different in these non-physical areas, just as they are different in the physical area. Awareness of these differences helps us to:

  • Understand ourselves
  • Understand others
  • Realise that there are some situations and/or roles that maximize the expression of personality strengths.
  • Realize that there are some situations and/or roles that will aggravate the expression of personality weaknesses
  • Seek roles for ourselves and/or others that are best suited to our/their temperament.


D. CHARACTERISTICS OF THE TEMPERAMENTS

D.1 The four basic types [according to LaHaye]

Strengths Weaknesses Strengths Weaknesses
SANGUINE CHOLERIC
Cheerful
Optimistic
Enthusiastic
Friendly
Loves people
Compassionate
Lives in the present
Dynamic personality
Shares joys and sorrows of others
Restless, Impractical
Disorganized, Undisciplined
Seldom lives up to potential
Weak willed
Runs from one thing to another
Does not know own limitations
Not dependable
No resolution or loyalty
Egotistical, domineering
Emotionally unstable
Easily discouraged
Anger 
Self-disciplined
Self-confident
Good planner
Strong will power
Single minded
Practical
Organized
Makes quick decisions
Strong leadership skills
Good judge of people
Optimistic
Adventurous
Goal - oriented
Hard
Lacks compassion
Too thick skinned
Hot-tempered
Violent anger
Vengeful
Cruel – runs over feelings of others
Impetuous
Proud
Self-sufficient
Domineering
Hard to please
MELANCHOLIC PHLEGMATIC
Sensitive
Excels in fine arts
Emotionally responsive
Creative thinking
Perfectionistic
Analytical
Faithful
Dependable
Self-sacrificing
Knows his/her limitations
Reserved
Introspective
Perfectionistic
Self-centred
Morbidity
Easily offended/insulted
Suspicious
Pessimistic
Indecisive, fearful
High expectations
Critical
Moody/depressed/despair
Escape from the present
Vengeful
Witty, dry humour
Easy going
Good listener
Objective
Dependable
Cheerful
Good natured
Faithful/loyal
Practical
Efficient, neat
Works well under pressure
High standards of efficiency and accuracy
Slow, lazy
Unmotivated
Tease
Gets others stirred up or angry
Selfish
Self-protecting
Stubborn
Resistive to suggestions
Stingy
Indecisive
Half-hearted
Won’t get involved
Vacillating

 

D.2 Myers-Briggs typing
Many people prefer Myers-Briggs typing.

Myers-Briggs identifies:

Two primary directions of energy: extrovert and introvert.
Two ways of processing information: sensing [what you know] or intuition
Two ways of making decisions: thinking or feeling
Two ways of organizing life: judging [weighing things up] or perception.

It is not possible to reproduce more detailed information about Myers-Briggs testing, because of Copyright issues. You can read brief descriptions here http://www.personalitypathways.com/type_inventory.html.

There is a simple, free version of the Myer-Briggs test on the above web page.

For a more detailed free on-line test go here http://www.humanmetrics.com/cgi-win/JTypes2.asp  .

Warnings:
[1] Keep in mind the warnings and limitations identified in Section C above.
[2] The two web pages referred to above may contain material, including advertising material, that is contrary to your Christian principles. Just focus on the test and ignore other things!