Wednesday, December 30, 2015
STRENGTHS AND CHRISTIAN SERVICE Book Review
Living your Strengths
By Albert L. Winseman, Donald O. Clifton,
& Curt Liesveld
A Review by Geoffrey W. Sutton
Many U.S. Universities embraced Gallup’s approach to assessing strengths and discussing how strengths may be used in Higher Education. I attended workshops and conferences organized by the Gallup organization.
Albert L. Winesman, a former pastor in the United Methodist Church, is the global practice leader for the Gallup Organization. Donald O. Clifton (deceased) former chair of the Gallup Organization, was named the Father of Strengths Psychology by the American Psychological Association. Curt Liesveld, formerly a pastor in the Reformed Church in America, is a developmental analyst, consultant, and seminar leader with the Gallup Organization.
“If you’re like most people, you have grown up with the ‘weakness prevention’ model (p. ix).” The authors contrast their focus on discovering and developing God-given strengths with what they perceive as a Christian tradition of focusing on discovering and fixing weaknesses. This book is an application of Gallup’s successful StrengthsFinder assessment instrument and program to the church setting. The authors define strength as “the ability to provide consistent, near-perfect performance in a given activity (p. 3).” Talent can be combined with knowledge and skill to produce a unique pattern of strengths. Talents are those natural tendencies such as the ability to thrive under pressure or recognize the uniqueness of others. Readers can begin their quest by using the ID code that comes with each book to take the 180-item StrengthsFinder online assessment. Those items are associated with 34 areas of strength (e.g., Belief, Connectedness, Developer, Empathy). The assessment report lists and describes the top five areas, which represent a person’s dominant, or Signature Themes.
Chapter one provides introductory material. Following the basic definition of strength, the authors purport to provide a “theology of strengths.” Unfortunately, the three-page treatise proposes more than it delivers. By quoting only three scriptures, this section can only serve as a stimulus for thinking about such a theology.
In Chapter 2, readers learn the descriptions of the 34 strengths. Each description covers a little more than a page and includes a paragraph of descriptive information, a list of five insights that suggest how the strength may be recognized, and scriptural quotes related to the strength. Following is an example of one insight for a person with the Developer strength: “You love to see others make progress, and you will notice even the slightest progress (p. 48).” Only New Testament scriptures are cited to illustrate the Developer strength; for instance, Philippians 1:3-6 and 2 Timothy 2:2.
Readers learn how they can use their talents for growth and service in Chapter 3. The authors encourage people with the Empathy talent to develop it by recognizing their need for experiential worship and employing their sensitivity to help those who have experienced loss and need extra attention. They wisely advise those with empathy to recognize the need to set limits. Chapters 4 and 5 contain brief suggestions on how to recognize the strengths of others within a faith community and how to use the focus on strengths to identify one’s calling.
The book concludes with A Technical Report on StrengthsFinder. The authors provide what might be seen as an Appendix that contains simplified explanations of information supporting the construct validity of the StrengthsFinder instrument. For example, they reported test-retest reliability of .60 to .80 for most signature themes (no tables provided) and they provided quantitative results showing trivial score differences for such categories as race, sex, and age. An interesting tidbit is tucked away on pages 200-201 that suggests the strengths may be grouped into four categories of Striving, Relating, Impacting, and Thinking. There is no explanation of what strengths are associated with these categories or information on reliability or validity. I was able to obtain a list of strengths associated with the categories from the Gallup Organization but I was unable to obtain any psychometric data regarding these groupings.
The book is most suitable for educated parishioners who are interested in a reasonably sophisticated instrument that assesses human strengths and positive attributes that can have application in any organization. Readers who work in an educational setting or provide career counseling in their clinical practice may find the book a useful supplement for students and clients. Clinicians and church leaders can profit from an understanding of the language of strengths that may be used by their clients who have participated in the growing number of strength-based programs in colleges and industrial settings. The book is an interesting first attempt to integrate faith with the strengths model.
Interested readers can find more information at Gallup’s website.
A more recent edition of the book is available.
Citing this blog post
Sutton, G. W. (2015, December 30). Strengths and Christian Service. [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://suttonreviews.suttong.com/2015/12/strengths-and-christian-service.html
Winseman, A. L., Clifton, D. O., & Liesveld, C. (2003). Living your Strengths: Discover your God-given talents, and inspire your congregation and community. Washington, DC: Gallup.
Research on strengths in a Christian sample
When I worked at a Christian university, I joined with my colleagues to carry out a study of strengths, which was subsequently published in the Journal of Psychology and Christianity. The article and can be found at researchgate.