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Published on Tuesday, August 29, 2017

DISC and the Spiritual Leadership Inventory

Many denominations use the DISC workplace profile assessment with clergy (for ordination and placement). DISC primarily assesses style and priorities, but it also helps you understand why some activities motivate you or stress you. And it helps you better understand team relationships, and may contribute to hiring appropriate staff.


The Spiritual Leadership Inventory can be used for clergy and lay leaders to assess identity and purpose. But it also helps you understand which lifestyle segments are more likely to value your ministry or service. In which demographic contexts are you likely to be most effective? Among which lifestyle segments will you personally feel most at home?


I think the DISC assessment is more helpful to understand your relevance vis a vis the church and ministry among the membership; and the Spiritual Leadership Inventory is more helpful to understand your relevance to and among the diverse cultures of the mission field.


As you know, I make a distinction in spiritual leadership between “function” and “identity”. I think the DISC assessment is primarily aimed at the functions of ministry. (After all, it focuses on work and the workplace). The Spiritual Leadership Inventory is primarily aimed at the identities of spiritual leadership. If you look at the questions asked in the inventory, you can see that many of them do relate to functions: Are you a strong visitor? Do you facilitate meetings well? And so on. But other questions are deeper than just function: How do you hold yourself accountable and to what standard? How do you measure success? And so on. The functional questions of the Spiritual Leadership Inventory are most helpful in identifying behavioral habits, and not just work priorities; day-to-day lifestyle rather than just work-a-day intentionality.


Nevertheless, DISC and the Spiritual Leadership Inventory clearly overlap in their assessment, and I have the utmost respect for the complexity and nuance of the DISC resources. It is helpful to understand yourself as a leader in terms of dominance, influence, conscientiousness, and steadiness. It would be no surprise to discover that a “Constant  Builder” was a strong “D” (Dominance as a direct, results-driven, strong-willed leader) and “C” (Conscientiousness as an analytical, systematic thinker). Nor would it be a surprise to discover that a Constant Visitor or Gardener was a strong “I” (Influencer as an outgoing, enthusiastic supporter) or “S” (Steadiness as a patient, tactful, mild-mannered facilitator).


The further beyond Christendom we go, however, and the further we stray from the traditional functions of Constant Leadership, the less useful DISC becomes for spiritual leaders to understand themselves or God’s call to reinvent themselves to bless different lifestyle segments. Yes, it is helpful to understand what motivates or stresses you as you work in the ecclesiastical environment; but for spiritual leaders in post-Christendom it is even more helpful to sense how God is calling you and changing you in the multi-cultural world.


The Spiritual Leadership Inventory is about assessing the existential anxieties and fear factors that drive your quest for God … and compare these to the anxieties and fears that drive distinct lifestyle segments both within and beyond the church. Leadership is not really about function, but about courage. It is less about being a competent professional, and more about being a credible role model.


Here is the professional and ecclesiastical dilemma that I see occurring more and more among clergy. And the same dilemma is blocking young people who feel called by God into special service, but don’t want to attend seminary or work within the established church. The dilemma is that they can be appointed or called to the right church, but still be irrelevant to, and stressed out by, the diverse community outside that church. The dilemma is that a would-be minister can have an excellent understanding of who they are, but no insight into who God wants them to become.


For me, at least, as valuable as the DISC assessment is (and it is valuable!), it is still too limited for spiritual leadership in the 21st century. It best helps Constant Leaders, and is moderately helpful to Faith Tutors; but it is less helpful to Life Coaches. It much less helpful to understand Extreme Leaders. What makes the Visionary not just an enthusiastic idealist, but a Relentless Futurist? Or what makes the Mentor not just a counselor and friend, but a “Greek Interpreter” who translates the mystery of faith and lays bare the human soul? What makes the Pilgrim such a rigorously accountable Determined Traveler?


I think the comparison and contrast of the DISC assessment tool with the Spiritual Leadership Inventory reveals that psychology and spirituality are not the same thing. They are related, yes. But spirituality cannot be reduced to psychology. And spiritual leadership breaks the boundaries of ecclesiastical orders.

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