My SHAPE: Pulling It All Together

May 20, 2014

Now begins the process of synthesizing the various discoveries of my SHAPE. To review:

S—Spiritual Gifts. Teaching is dominant among my gifts, with Leadership and Prophecy right behind. You could probably account for the results of and response to my singing and writing abilities as a God-thing, too; so add Creative Communication to the list.

H—Heart. I am particularly drawn to people who have questions, who are making big decisions, who are trying to align their lives with God as revealed in the Scriptures.

A—Abilities. I can express myself clearly through speaking, singing, and writing; I am an accomplished cook. I am able to acquire new knowledge and skills as needed for particular projects (for instance, dealing with my lung cancer this year); I am able to sort matters out and come to practical plans of action; I can read groups very well and enable processes that will foster better communication.

P—Personality. According to Myers-Briggs, XNTJ; the DISC assessment, High Influence and (less so) High Dominance. People tell me they appreciate my positive attitude; I am a morning person; and I think simply being a Californian has shaped my outlook significantly. And to quote both my mother and my college application—it’s still true—I am “determined.” I can work alone for long periods of time, but I also enjoy the collaborative effort of team projects.

E—Experience. I have raised two children and been married to the same man for 39 years. I have spent most of my professional life ministering to adults in upper-middle-class or wealthy suburbs, primarily in large churches (though I have also experienced “downward mobility” on that score). As teacher, I have opened up the entire Bible in Genesis-to-Revelation studies a few times, plus taught in-depth Bible studies on many OT and NT books; I have also taught prospective pastors at the graduate level at Fuller Seminary. International travel and mission trips have given me a world perspective. Extensive experience in denominational participation (PCUSA) and leadership, including legal brief writing, has stretched me in an entirely different direction. And most recently, I have been treated for and successfully cured of lung cancer.

So now what do we do with all this data? A few questions and/or observations:

  1. Does a track record dictate future ministry directions? Not necessarily. Though experience is valuable, it is not required, particularly if God wants to move a person into a new place. I have the distinct feeling that my cancer experience has afforded me the opportunity to do something new (and not necessarily related to cancer). Experience can help identify gifts and abilities that are transferable to new contexts.

  2. Beyond SHAPE, other very practical, physical conditions factor into a decision about where and how to serve. For instance, as a person now with a lung condition, I would be unwise to serve in an area where the air quality is particularly bad (parts of China and the Central Valley of California come to mind). Age and energy level may direct a person towards one ministry setting over another. Many a pastor has also taken into account boredom, restlessness, or achievement as signs it is time to move on to something new.

  3. Choosing a ministry venue is as much an assessment of delight as it is duty. Even if the mission outpost is difficult, a calling to it can be affirmed by observing whether one thrives. In other words, it is not only okay but also preferable to love what you do, because your best work will result. [I know Reformed people of Calvin’s tradition are a bit suspect of having fun while dispatching one’s duty; but I can give testimony that even at the most difficult moments of ministry, I could find pleasure at being fully utilized in service to the Lord.]

  4. I fully subscribe to the Presbyterian/Reformed view that calling is confirmed by the affirmation of God’s people in the form of an invitation to serve. It gets a little tricky, however, as the PCUSA (for instance) has a surplus of trained pastoral candidates compared to the number of positions available. Robert Schuller’s watchword, “Find a need and fill it!” is helpful here, but one would hope that in the end the community of faith would support and affirm a person’s ministry direction. Too much trouble ensues if the Lone Ranger tries to operate without being accountable to the Christian body somehow.

  5. As one evaluates the various options for ministry, as I am doing, the question has to be asked of each one: Is this an opportunity or a temptation? Does this new opening indulge my need to have public recognition or enflame any emotional/psychological weakness I carry (––> temptation)? Does this invitation, in God’s economy, offer the chance to make a difference for the Kingdom and nurture my soul as well (––> opportunity)?

  6. Some people follow the open-door, closed-door rule for decision-making regarding vocation. If I had walked away from every closed door I have encountered, I would be sitting in a box somewhere. Not all closed doors are the result of God’s hand! By the same token, not every open door indicates God’s will either. If that were so, I would have crashed and burned multiple times by now. Landing on God’s will for my ministry life is going to involve saying “yes” to a few select opportunities and saying “no” to those deemed tempting but not right for me.

Next Post: How all this applies to my specific circumstances.

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2 Responses to “My SHAPE: Pulling It All Together”


  1. I appreciate your candor and vulnerability in discussing your SHAPE. Now that I am retired, the question of what to do with my life takes some different directions. Thanks for modeling analysis of SHAPE in practical and personal terms.


  2. Mary, your last comment reminds me of a book I read about 4 or 5 years ago titled, “Saying Yes to No.” (by Greg Cootsonga). Great book about how you need to say no to some good things so you have the ability to say Yes to God’s best.

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