“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and pray to me and I will listen to you. When you seek me with all your heart, you will find me.” -Jeremiah 29:11
I was baptized as an adult into the Lutheran Church. I found many ways to serve in the church over the years, but I found that most of them were life-draining rather than life-giving. I say serve in the church, because my church wanted me to fill out a time and talent survey and figure out what ministries I would join.
Over time, I heard the message that God has a plan and a purpose for each of us, and I began to try to understand what that might be. The idea resonated because as a child I kept hearing that we are each unique individuals, and that no one else was quite like me. I had a hard time as a child and as an adult discovering the ways I’m unique and how that might be tied to some purpose or destiny.
In years of leadership, I figured out that the best way to burn out a volunteer is to ask him or her to serve in areas where they are not gifted and passionate. I’ve seen it happen over and over. I discovered that I am not that good at figuring out where my gifts and passions are on my own. So, for years, maybe decades, I walked around with generalized anxiety that I knew I should be doing something for God, but I didn't know exactly what. So I dabbled at different things, and, without focus, became mediocre at many things in service of the Lord. I was still nagged by this feeling that I hadn’t done enough, and that one day I’ll have to stand face-to-face and give a report. Even though I was a good, church-going Lutheran, I dreaded that thought.
For over 20 years, I kept seeing time and talent sheets, but no real process to help people discover their gifts and passion. When I was putting together my second career plan, I began with one simple design criterion. I was going to spend more time doing what energized me and less time doing what drained energy away. You know what I’m talking about. You can work hard but feel more energized when you get done than when you started. Finding flow.
I spent a year with my antennae out, sensing the energy flows in my work. I found some surprising things. Some of the things I do quite well, like problem-solving and negotiating, fell into the energy-draining category. Now, If you had asked me describe my skills, those would have certainly been on the list. But once I used the energy-flow meter, these quickly dropped off my list.
After selling my business and beginning my second career, I had a much better idea of what I wanted to do based on finding things that were life-giving. For years, I had been asking God to reveal His plan for my life. But I didn't do much praying or reading of the Bible, so I did not hear much.
In embarking on Life 2, I prayed a different prayer: “Lord, in Jeremiah, you tell me you have a plan for my life. If that's so, surely you would have prepared and gifted me to accomplish what you designed me to do. What would you draw forth from the gifts, passions and experiences of my life that could serve Your purpose?” As I prayed those prayers, shapes began to emerge in the mist, and as I moved towards them, over time I found my path; a path with a heart, a purpose and a calling.
People who enter the community are changed by an experience of the living God. With millennials, you get one chance--if they don’t experience God in worship, they won’t return (and recent studies report most people have not experienced God in worship in their church in the last year).
Then, as people seek a deeper spiritual journey, the church helps them discern how they are gifted.
The purpose and life to which we are called is nested in our gifts. Prayer and meditation about our gifts will help us define our calling.
Once we begin to get clear about our call, we are ready to be equipped. That fact that I might feel called to be a Christian counselor does not mean I will excel without some equipping and practice.
Once people are equipped, they are sent out into the world to serve others as the body of Christ.
Discover Who You Are
A few years ago, I met David Stark at the Changing Church Forum and learned of the Life Keys: Discover Who You Are tools. I had been looking for tools that would help people short-circuit the decades-long process of finding a purpose and clear calling as Christ-followers in the world. I went through the certification process to facilitate this course and have been leading it for several years. I have seen the Life Keys tools help people in transitions from school to career, from career to career, and for finding Christian vocation.
Here is how the website describes the process: LifeKeys looks at an individual through five distinct lenses helping them discover their personality, values, talents, spiritual gifts and passions. LifeKeys tools help you identify a calling in the world, underscoring the fact that each of us has been created uniquely and has a destiny to fulfill. LifeKeys does not end when the conference is over. This self-discovery allows you to create action plans that may be immediately executed in the church, workplace and in daily life.
People gather with a facilitator to process through several tools and discern meaning and focus. It is an experiential learning process, a guided process of inquiry that will bring much to light. Workshops take about 8 hours and are held in several formats: Friday Evening/Saturday, Weekly meetings for 1.5 hours, in team or small group meetings. People are encouraged to read the book LifeKeys: Discover Who You Are before the workshop. Each person gets a Discover Who You Are workbook at the beginning of the event.
At the workshop, you will use the exercises in the workbook to clarify who you are through five different lenses: Personality Type, Work Preference, Spiritual Gifts, Values and Passions. The facilitator will help you to find a focal point where these five lenses all intersect, like a magnifying glass with sunlight. Let’s look at each of these lenses a bit more deeply.
The first tool used in this workshop is the Strong Interest Inventory. This tool is based on a theory, in use over 75 years, that there are six areas where people tend to cluster as they look for fulfilling career and work choices. These six areas are:Often people find they are a blend of two or more of six areas. Knowing where you are on this Inventory is extremely helpful in making career choices, and for finding Kingdom work that we do well and satisfies us. Many state government agencies use the Strong Interest Inventory to help people find work. See an article on Wikipedia about the Strong Interest Inventory.
Personality TypeYou will use a simple form of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator as a second lens to help you identify which of the 16 personality types they describe best fits you. MBTI measures four dimensions:
Extrovert vs. Introvert: How I gain energy.
Sensing vs. Intuiting: How I gather information.
Feeler vs. Thinker: How I make decisions.
Judger vs. Perceiver: How I live my life.
The workbook contains a Spiritual Gifts Inventory, looking at the spiritual gifts mentioned in the New Testament. Each of us receives different gifts so the Body of Christ has what it needs to spread Jesus’ message of love. The gifts are given for the common good, for our life together. You will go through several pages of descriptions so you can identify which of the gifts might apply to you.Values
The next exercise in the workshop helps you articulate your deepest held values. You will be asked to identify what you truly value: the things that feel important to you, that define your character, that influence your decisions and compel you to make a stand. Values are forged through trials and tests. You will work to identify, shuffle and prioritize your values so you can list your highest ones.
When I first articulated my values, I found that how I spent my time and money (my real priorities) did not overlap very well with my values, as this diagram illustrates.It has taken me several years to push the two spheres of my values and my life together so there is a good overlap. If you would like to see an example of articulated values, and the goals I set to live them out, see the article Values & Goals Circa 1995.
Finally, you will work to identify your passions, the desires or purposes that bring you joy. Often, our passions come from life experience. Cancer survivors are passionate about helping other survivors. Recovered alcoholics are passionate about helping other alcoholics. You have seen many examples in the lives of friends and family.
Putting It All TogetherAfter going through all these instruments and exercises, you will bring the results to a summary page. The facilitator will help you to articulate a statement summarizing your passions, another sentence articulating your life gifts, and how they might all be synthesized into a mission statement for your life.
LifeKeys is an individual journey. As you finish the pages of the workbook, you may be just at the beginning of your personal discovery. You will be asked to make a commitment to continuing the process, and there are several suggested steps to let you integrate this learning into your life.
If you are interested in scheduling a LifeKeys: Discover Who You Are event I would be happy to talk. I spend my life in Atlanta and Boulder and am most interested in doing events in Colorado and the Southeast. Changing Church Forum in Minneapolis does several events a year and trains facilitators. Contact them for more information about facilitators near you. Find a full list of their LifeKeys resources here.
Acree_Solo from Gregg Burch on Vimeo. Atlanta writer Acree Macam describes her experience this way.
There have been only a few moments in my life where I felt total clarity about what God was calling me to do. I tapped into one of them while taking the Discover your Design class. I found that digging into the material was really an act of listening—providing space for the Holy Spirit to speak into my life. I didn't quit my job or re-route my life at the close of this class, but I did feel a more complete sense of purpose in my everyday actions. I truly believe that thinking spiritually about our careers the way that we've done in the Lifekeys class is an act of obedience to God. It's incredible that we spend nearly a third of our waking life working, and yet we rarely visit it as part of our routine spiritual self-examinations. Jesus said that we will do even greater things than he. What would happen if we really began to believe that, and saw our work as a means of his great power and grace? It is incredibly exciting to gain insight into who God created you to be. And all you have to do is ask!