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Workshop focuses on identifying talents, then putting them to work in group settings

PC(USA) hosts initial Year of Leader Formation training event for about 225 people

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

the Rev. Michael Gehrling

LOUISVILLE — It’s the Year of Leader Formation in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and on Wednesday about 225 Presbyterians celebrated by tuning in to hear the Rev. Michael Gehrling deliver an engaging 90-minute talk on identifying and cultivating one’s individual talents and then coalescing those talents in a group setting, such as a church session, board of deacons or ministry team.

Based in Pittsburgh, Gehrling — a West Coast Swing dancing champion among his many talents  — is Associate for the Northeast Region and for Assessments with 1001 New Worshiping Communities.

After offering up an icebreaker that involved polling participants if they always or often talk to strangers on an elevator, make to-do lists even on their day off, or select another car to race while driving on the highway, Gehrling said if Wednesday’s gathering were a small group, he’d ask, “Why do you do that?”

“I don’t know,” most people reply. “It’s just who I am.”

The reality is there’s a reason we do what we do, said Gehrling, who’s certified by Gallup in CliftonStrengths, a tool he uses regularly to leverage the talents of leaders and teams and strengthen group dynamics. “It’s our talents that drive our behavior, the way we think and relate to others, the ways we approach leadership and influence.” Our talents, he said, are like our eyeglasses: we sometimes forget we’re wearing them, but everyone can see they’re right there on our face.

To Don Clifton, the psychologist whose work formed the CliftonStrengths assessment, talent is a naturally recurring pattern of thought, feeling or behavior. Skill, he said, is an acquired ability learned through practice. Together, talent and skill produce strength.

Clifton taught these five talent indicators:

  • What activities would you fill your day with if you could do anything?
  • Rapid learning. What activities did you do naturally well the first time you tried them?
  • What activities can you do for hours without noticing time pass by? What complicated tasks can you perform without having to think intentionally about each step?
  • What accomplishments made you say, “Wow! That went really well!”
  • What tasks made you say, “When do I get to do that again?” upon completion?

While talents occur naturally, spiritual gifts come to us super-naturally, Gehrling said. Someone once told him that talent is how we go about things. Spiritual gifts are what we do, such as preaching and teaching. It’s talent, he said, that “informs how we go about the task.”

After a brief break, Gehrling focused on combining our talents for what he called “effective teaming.” He used responses to the questions, “What was your best team ever?” and “What made it enjoyable?” to form a word cloud, which included these most common responses among webinar participants: humor, fun, trust, collaboration, cooperation, encouragement and respect.

“You value the relational aspects of being on a team,” Gehrling told the participants, may of whom are clergy, ruling elders or deacons. Other groups have told him, “We got a lot done” or “We were really successful,” Gehrling said. “My hunch with you is there are talents toward relationship-building present in this group.”

Dig deeper, Gehrling urged learners, using these qualities of highly successful teams, according to Gallup:

  • A common purpose, with clear and compelling goals and objectives
  • A clear understanding of individual and collective talents and gaps
  • A common language to describe each other’s talents, strengths, weaknesses, goals and expectations
  • Intentionally structured activities to maximize talent
  • The team is emotionally and psychologically engaged
  • It’s developed support systems and workarounds for the gaps
  • Members are highly collaborative and have formed powerful partnerships
  • The team is a talent magnet. It seeks and is sought by highly talented people
  • It places a high value on excellence and on understanding members’ talents.

Gehrling posed these questions for further reflection:

  • When you think of leadership in your church, who are your three most important partners? What talents do they bring to you? Do they know they are important to you? “That question is my favorite,” Gehrling said. When people name others “who have no idea they are an important partner, the group bonds.”
  • Who relies on you as a partner? What talents do you bring to them?
  • Are there partners you’re currently longing for?

During the question-and-answer time that followed Gehrling’s presentation, someone asked, “How do we get a handle on who depends on us as a partner?”

“Pay attention to who is asking you for things, who is asking for advice, who enjoys talking to you,” Gehrling suggested. “We often focus on the task at hand. Very rarely do we step back to say, how are we working together? Who are the people we’ll need?”

“I suspect,” Gehrling said, “you’ll hear your own name.”

The next Year of Leader Formation webinar will be held on July 14. It’ll focus on parliamentary procedure. Registration will open in mid-June. Learn more here.

In 2012, the 220th General Assembly of the PC(USA) declared a commitment to a churchwide movement resulting in the creation of 1001 worshiping communities over the next 10 years. At a grassroots level, nearly 600 diverse new worshiping communities have formed across the nation. 


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