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Leading from Your Strengths: Building Close-Knit Ministry Teams
(Broadman & Holman, 2004)

Leading From Your Strengths 2: Building Intimacy in Your Small Group
(Broadman & Holman, 2005)

Web Sites
For more information about John Trent, his organization, or the various assessments you can take online, please visit www.insightsinternational,, and

Team Synergy: Who’s In Your Boat?

By Laura J. Bagby Producer -- Harnessing talent, releasing creativity, maintaining unity, experiencing synergy, evoking effectiveness—these are qualities that every ministry team leader wants for their organizations. But creating a smooth-working team is no easy task.

Just look at what personality mix you might have in your boat: Sammy So-Slow can’t seem to make a decision, Rick the Rule Breaker doesn’t want to play by company procedures, Darla Dynamic wants to throw out the status quo in favor of change at all costs, Vinnie the Vision Caster, though highly optimistic, has a tendency to disregard critical facts, and Annie the Analyst is too caught up in the minutest details to see the big picture.

With a conglomeration of opposites like that, how do you make it work? Can you make it work?

John Trent, Rodney Cox, and Eric Tooker, authors of Leading from Your Strengths: Building Close-Knit Ministry Teams, say a resounding “Yes”! The key is to understand who is in your “raft” and how each person will react when navigating the “whitewater” of change.

I was privileged to talk with John Trent, president of and the chairman and CEO of Ministry Insights International, an organization that seeks to build strong organizations, staffs, families, and individuals through assessment tools that pinpoint individual strengths, and find out more.

I was already familiar with Trent’s work, specifically the personality test based on the four animals—lion, otter, golden retriever, and beaver—found in the book The Two Sides of Love, that he co-wrote with relationship expert Gary Smalley, so I was excited to find out what Trent and his team had newly uncovered through their extensive research.

In Leading from Your Strengths, Trent uses the analogy of a whitewater rafting trip to explain what typically happens in a ministry organization if caught unaware during seasons of change.

“Imagine that you are putting in at the Colorado River in a raft,” says Trent, “and you have never had a guide, and you don’t know what is coming up ahead of you. Obviously, you are in for an interesting ride. That is what most of us do—we even swim out to the raft, jump in while it is still in the river, and have no idea what is ahead of us. But what if there was a predictable way to understand conflicts and challenges?”

Fortunately, for ministry teams, there are predictable indicators. Trent notes that there are four transitions, or what he terms “rapids,” that every ministry faces. They are the ‘problems and challenges’ transition, the ‘people and information’ transition, the ‘pace and change’ transition, and the ‘rules and procedures’ transition. Different personalities will react differently to each transition. Knowing this will help leaders place individuals in the correct positions so that they can adjust to each change effectively and work in their areas of strength.

Each transition highlights a different personality variable, asking the following questions:

  1. Are you an aggressive problem solver or a passive problem solver?
    (problems and challenges transition)
  2. Are you more trusting or more skeptical of people, situations, and information?
    (people and information transition)
  3. Are you a slow decision maker, careful to gather all the facts before deciding, or are you a quick decision maker who moves toward a fast resolution?
    (pace and change transition)
  4. Do you play by the rules, carefully weighing what was done in the past, or do you take risks and doing something new?
    (rules and procedures transition)

Unlike personality instruments that only show what a person is like, Trent’s Leading From Your Strengths: Understanding Strengths and Blending Differences™ indicator looks at what a person is most like, what a person is least like, and the correlation between the two. Plus, unlike the Myers-Briggs type indicator, which measures 16 behavioral characteristics, and the DISC test, which measures 28 behavioral characteristics, Trent’s indicator looks at a total of 384 behavioral characteristics, thus hoping to give a broader and more accurate picture of the whole person.

The test, which uses the lion, otter, beaver, and golden retriever* categories as a base, is quick and relatively inexpensive, less than $30—free if you buy the book—and the results come back instantaneously as a 28-page in-depth analysis in your e-mail inbox.

When you take the assessment, you will see graphs showing your “core” style and your “adapted” style. Your “core” style is who you really are. Your “adapted” style, on the other hand, reflects how you think you need to adapt to be successful in the environment that you are in.

The more these two differ, the more likely that you will experience stress on the job because you are trying to be something that you are not. But before you note any major discrepancies between these two graphs and decide to change jobs or positions, consider that this might simply show a growth area for you.

As Trent points out, “If you are having to adapt, that doesn’t mean that is not where God wants you.” Trent tells the story of a policeman who is a high golden retriever/beaver combination who was tasked to become an early response captain, a position that calls for high lion tendencies, a quality he typically has very little of. For the past 11 years, this same policeman has risen to the challenge of being an effective early response captain because he believes that is what God has called him to do.

I was highly curious about this assessment, so I took it online. Much of the information I received back was accurate, but in some areas, I think I skewed the results because I was trying to answer how I thought I should rather than how I really am. I am much more analytical and slower on making decisions than my test results show.

That’s why I offer this word of caution: be yourself. If you have worked in a ministry environment for a while and you know what your organization highly values, you might sway your answers to fit your ministry’s beliefs. For instance, if your company values change and aggressive decision-making, you might define yourself as a quick decision maker also. On the other hand, if the ministry you work for believes in the tried and true and a steady progress, you might indicate that you, too, value the status quo when you are really more of a change agent. Make sure you aren’t biasing results because of highly held external values.

A diverse team, once understand, is much more valuable in the long run than a homogenous group who thinks and acts the same way. Why? Because a ministry needs people who see the big picture and people who see the details. A team needs those who venture forth optimistically, getting the ball rolling, and those who put on the brakes to avoid foreseeable pitfalls. A team needs to make both quick decisions and deliberate decisions, depending on the circumstances. Wherever you land in the spectrum, you are invaluable to the success of your team.

As Trent says, “God has placed the members of the body just as He desired [see 1 Corinthians 12:18]. If that is true, if your ministry team is together by divine design, it is crucial to understand who is in the boat with you.”

So, do you know who you’ve got in your raft? Do you know what makes them swim and what makes them sink? Do you know what makes them paddle with vigor and what makes them turn the boat around? With tools from Trent you will.

For more information about John Trent, his organization, or the various assessments you can take online, please visit www.insightsinternational,, and

Also, be sure to pick up Trent’s latest book in the Leading From Your Strengths series called Leading From Your Strengths 2: Building Intimacy in Your Small Group.

*For those who aren’t familiar with the four animal personalities, the lion is the assertive, take-charge type; the otter is a fun-loving, highly verbal and spontaneous type; the golden retriever is the very understanding, compassionate, eager to please type; and the beaver is the detail-oriented, systematic type.

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