By Gerald Korson
In order to provide maximum benefit from the time and talent one offers to the Church, it seems reasonable that he or she should recognize what exactly those personal talents are and how they might best be used in service to others.
That's the idea behind "Living Your Strengths: Catholic Edition," which applies the principles of the popular leadership book to Catholic parishes and ministries.
The new edition is an answer to what the U.S. bishops said in a 2002 pastoral letter titled "Stewardship: A Disciple's Response," according to Father Daniel Mahan, director of the Marian College Center for Catholic Stewardship in Indianapolis. "The bishops emphasized that God has made each of us for a purpose, a work that no one else can do. And he has equipped us for that work."
As good stewards seeking to discern our call from God, it is critical to become aware of just how we have been gifted, he said.
"That's where the "Strengths" approach to stewardship comes into play," he said. "It provides a method for individuals to identify and develop their top talents and to use them for growth and service."
Father Mahan has endorsed the book, written by Albert L. Winseman, D.Min., the late Donald Clifton, Ph.D., and Curt Liesveld, M.Div., all of the New Jersey-based Gallup Organization. His stewardship center makes use of the book in the leadership training and the resources it offers in order to support the Catholic stewardship movement.
"Living Your Strengths" grew out of Clifton's research begun more than four decades ago. In a study of some 2 million people in 25 countries around the world, Clifton examined individual patterns of thought, feeling and action. From the data, he developed the Clifton StrengthsFinder, an online quiz that can identify a person's top talents and weaknesses and help determine how they can be used in service to others.
People who buy the book receive a password that grants them access to the test. Each person's top five talents --any of the 34 traits that the system identifies from the quiz answers -- are his or her "Signature Themes."
When this tool is used in an organizational setting, it can bring about a better mutual understanding of personal traits and make it easier to recognize what kinds of leadership roles and collaborations among members will be most effective. Individuals with complementary strengths and weakness can be identified and "partnered" on given tasks and projects that put the talents of each to the best possible use.
Even perceived weaknesses can be strengths, the system emphasizes.
"We live in a culture characterized by the drive to become a 'well-rounded'person and to fix our weaknesses," Father Mahan said. "But God did not make us well-rounded. He created each of us with a unique array of talents for a purpose. We do our best and we fulfill his purpose when we take stock of those gifts and use them for his glory."
Why was a Catholic edition necessary?
"The Catholic edition of the book presents examples from the lives of Catholic parishioners and parishes --individuals who have identified their talents by means of the Clifton StrengthsFinder and subsequently have made a difference in the lives of others,"said Father Mahan.
Parishes across the country have begun to use the "Living Your Strength: Catholic Edition" process to bring the talents of parishioners to the surface and encourage them to become more involved in parish ministries and community causes. Some churches have also taken on a questionnaire in which members evaluate the effectiveness of the parish in responding to the needs of its parishioners.
Parishes that have used the program have responded "very enthusiastically," he said. "When people discover and develop their talents rather than struggle to fix their weaknesses, they grow in gratitude for how God has made them uniquely for himself," he said.
Gerald Korson writes from Indiana.
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