Derek chats to Scott about one of the key skills needed for gospel resilience: self-awareness.

Why is self-awareness so critical?

If you’re going to reflect on life well, you need to have self-awareness. Same goes if you want to be a better leader or to work better in a team or to develop others.

So much of how we operate is connected to who we are. But self-reflection is not a strong part of our culture. We’re not really pushed to be reflective. And so being deliberate about understanding ourselves and how we operate is so important in team contexts. It’s also useful in learning about how we respond to other people and the influences that we come across.

Who we are and how we’re formed is a process that comes to us powerfully from our culture. So it’s not enough to say that non-Western cultures have got it worked out, or even that modern Western identity and sense of self has got it worked out either. But the peculiar thing that I want to press into and think about is: what does God’s word have to say about our own identity, and how much self-reflection are we doing on that, and how much of that is actually shaping who we are rather than the culture around us?

So it’s different from navel-gazing. It’s not just introspection for the sake of introspection. Can you give us an example of where self-awareness has an important end point in your life? 

I’m trying to think about it in the context of my own parenting. Why is it that I get angry at my girls? What are the things that fire me up particularly about my girls, and why do I get angry at those things and not other things? A bit of self-reflection on that can actually address a deeper issue that’s going on for me, that often the gospel is going to need to address in my life.

For me, one of the ways in which I’ve seen this play out is when I’m not self-aware. I get irritated at seeing people do things a certain way. And if I’m not self-aware as to why that’s irritating me, I might assume that I’m irritated because what they’re doing is incorrect, while it could just be that that they’re doing it differently to me and that irritates me.

One of my great a-ha moments recently has been around flexibility. Being flexible is a great skill when you’re working in a new context, because you are making things up and trying to work out new things. But once you’ve created a system and have a process in place, it’s not always so good to be flexible. You’ve got a process in place for a reason. It gets things done efficiently and purposefully. But I’ve come to realise that I just struggle to work in any system. So being aware that I value flexibility, and being aware that I’m going to constantly push against systems and processes, helps me to see a process and tell myself: “No, there’s a process in place for a reason and I need to keep working it out, because it’s actually moving us toward a common end point and we’re going to see outcomes that are far better than if we just constantly make things up every time we come to it.”

So where do we start if we want to become more self-aware when it comes to leading in ministry?

When we think about a ministry project, there are a whole bunch of different aspects. You’ve got the actual doing of the event or the ministry. You’ve got the planning and the recruiting of team members. Before that, you’ve got the thinking and conception of an idea and having the vision and dream for it. And then at the end, you’ve got the evaluation: what worked, what didn’t work?

So many of our Christian ministry processes involve just getting on with the doing and the planning. We don’t do a lot of the evaluation or the dreaming: could we do this differently? Do we need to keep doing this?

So the two spaces where we can grow reflective behaviour are in the dreaming and the evaluating stages.

  1. The dreaming stage. Start spending regular time – say, monthly – thinking about your ministry, thinking about where it’s at, taking some time away to think about the future of where you want to go. Where is it that we’re actually seeking to get to in this ministry?
  2. The evaluating stage. In the busyness and the urgency of week-to-week Christian ministry, we don’t actually stop and go: let’s look at what we’re doing, could we do it better? Do we need to be doing it? So start asking those reflection questions.

Those two things will bring some greater self-awareness into ministry projects and ministry leadership.

A part of growing leaders of churches in the Reach Australia program is helping them be self-aware. What are some of the areas that you’re working on with them as you help them grow in self-awareness? 

It’s so important in both ministry and non-ministry life to have a balanced set of relationships. So much of our thinking about ourselves comes from those outside of us.

So here are five key relationships that will help you grow in self-awareness.

  1. God. Ultimately and importantly, you need to understand that you are a child of God. We are first and foremost his and he loves us. Because of that great love that he’s shown for us, we don’t need to perform for others, we don’t need to be defined by others’ expectations of us. We are loved by God. That’s a massive thing just to sit with as you lead your church or your ministry. We’re part of a larger story. We are created by God for good works (Ephesians 2:10). So we need to actively let that shape who we are.

    If all that is true, we are free to lead in humility, lead in love, lead by actually pouring ourselves out. So one of the defining metaphors for Christian leaders is being a servant. Being a servant of Jesus Christ means being accountable to him, and being somebody that serves others and not themselves. That pushes really counter-culturally against our world, which is often so much about us and about how much we’re going to get out of things. So the place to start is in rightly understanding your relationship with God.
  2. Mentor. The second key relationship is: get a mentor. Or, if you’re in a ministry team, you might have a supervisor or boss or a lead pastor who is caring for you. Regularly reflecting with that person is quite a powerful way to get an understanding of your self. On the flipside, have that conversation with your boss or your mentor where you try to understand them as well. Often that conversation will be powerful in showing you how you work. So it’s really important to be open to getting that feedback, to be open to be coached, to be open to have the hard conversations about sin in your life and areas where you need to grow as a leader.
  3. Peers. I know a number of ministers who get together with peers from their college on a regular basis, and I’d encourage people to do that as regularly as they can. That’s hard if you’re in a cross-cultural context, or if you’ve left where you’ve grown up. But find peers who can speak into your life and help you understand who you are. It’s often hard to find peers when you’re in the workplace, so look for them in other churches. You’re going to have to go out there and network and find people in similar ministry roles to you.
  4. Those you coach. One of the key relationships that I find most challenging is those you’re coaching or those you’re supervising. Or as I think about being a father, it’s my relationship with my kids. Because you’ve got to have integrity in those relationships. You can’t tell someone to do something and then not do it yourself. I’d encourage Christian leaders out there to find someone to coach. Find someone to pour into and disciple. And then you’ll add the accountability structure to actually do it yourself. It’s very hard not to do something when you’re encouraging your children to do it. My daughter called me a hypocrite the other day, and they’re wounding words: “You asked me not to raise my voice, and you’ve just raised yours!” Having that mentee relationship is really important.
  5. Spouse. If you’re married, your wife or your husband often knows you best. It’s very hard to hide stuff from them. You need to be careful with that relationship. There are helpful aspects to sharing things with your spouse, but don’t necessarily share everything. But that’s another data point to help you get a good understanding of yourself.

What place do you think things like Myers-Briggs, Gallup Strengths Finder and Enneagram have within this self-awareness discussion?

They’re all tools. They’re extra bits. I’ve done Strengths Finder. I’ve done Myers-Briggs. You need to realise they’re not deep psychological analysis tools, they’re general rubrics on life. So take them with that in mind. It’s always good to have someone who’s trained and knows what they’re talking about, so the Enneagram is one that kind of scares me, because it seems like everyone watches a podcast and then becomes an expert. So be thoughtful about them, and use them in the context of a team or with others.

What is the one thing people should be taking away when it comes to self-awareness?

Seek out a balanced set of relationships: a mentor, peers, someone to coach, and if you’re married, your spouse. Having a balanced set of relationships can really help you think well into yourself, and help you reflect on your own behaviour.