Feb 8, 2022

ChurchPulse Weekly Conversations: Sandra Van Opstal on the Importance of Self-Reflection

On a recent ChurchPulse Weekly episode, Sandra Van Opstal (pastor, author and activist) joins David Kinnaman to discuss why self-reflection is essential for every leader’s development journey, the transformative power of individual giftings and strengths in both leaders and their people and how the Church can move beyond relief work into actively pursuing justice.

On The Importance of Self-Reflection
According to recent Barna data published in Gifted for More, only one in five U.S. adults (21%) has taken an assessment, inventory or test that was designed to help them better understand their giftings, abilities or talents. 

Reflecting on the data, Opstal comments, “I don’t know that [the statistic] surprises me, but it makes me a little bit sad that we haven’t said to leaders, actually investing in yourself is a part of being a great leader. You need to know what’s happening inside of you.” She continues, “I meet many leaders that don’t know a lot about themselves. I would say, [for] most of us, the truest part of ourselves is in hiding… We are all on a journey of uncovering our truest self, our motivations and our joy… I think actually a lot of leaders don’t have that yet.”

Opstal observes, “A lot of leaders don’t have people that pull them aside, put an arm around them and say, ‘Hey, I see this in you. Do you see that gift in yourself?’ or ‘You are really prickly right now. You are not doing well.’ 

“When you hear enough of that from your friends, from your mentors and from your community, you’re actually invited to newness and transformation.” She concludes, ”Because the leadership journey is so lonely, and most leaders are not invited or not encouraged… a lot of things are kept in the dark, even from ourselves. I’ve listened to stories of entire communities falling apart because of leadership failures. I’ve thought to myself, that could have been me if I didn’t have people around me to say, ‘That’s not right.’ That could be any one of us if we don’t have good practices, good rhythms and good community in place to warn us when those things are coming.”

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On the Power of Unique Gifts and Perspectives
More Barna research about giftings shows that 46 percent of U.S. adults say they know or understand their own giftings, abilities or skills “very” or “extremely” well.

In discussion of this statistic with Kinnaman, Opstal notes, “That [statistic] doesn’t surprise me at all as a coach or as a pastor. I think a lot of the work that I end up doing with the cohorts for Chasing Justice, or when I’m consulting with churches, is actually helping leaders understand what they’re bringing into a room. And [by that] I mean, gifts and skills as well as cultural perspectives.”

Opstal goes on to explain more about how gifts and perspectives play a role in the ministries she is a part of. “When we come into a community, we try to help the community understand that God has given them all the gifts that they need right here. And while it’s great to have suburban partners and financial resources, [the community] is not absent of giftings and assets.” 

“I don’t do all the work in the church,” Opstal continues. “I equip the people in the community to do the work themselves. And part of that equipping is [giving people] self-knowledge… [by] simply saying, you have gifts and you have resources. So what does it look like to find them and to utilize them to transform the community?”

On The Importance of Pursuing Justice
As Kinnaman and Opstal’s conversation comes to a close, Kinnaman offers one last Barna stat for discussion.  As per research conducted late last year, data show that nearly half of churched adults (45%) strongly agree their church is involved in addressing injustices in society.

“That stat actually looks high to me,” responds Opstal. “I think a lot of churches do a really great job of engaging in what I would call relief work, betterment or development. But not a lot of faith-based organizations have moved from the relief work to what I would call justice work—which is to address the systems and structures that actually cause the need. 

She continues, ”[When] churches participate in the act of justice, they’re taking action towards restoring flourishing and wholeness through individual relief work but also through structural and systemic change.”

Opstal concludes with thoughts on how a church or congregation’s posture can change toward addressing injustice, beginning simply with being in proximity to those who are affected by the injustice.  She notes, “[People] don’t always have proximity. So, in some cases, I don’t think people are trying to be cold hearted… [but] if people don’t have proximity to what’s happening, and they don’t see what’s happening, then they don’t know how bad it is.”

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About the Research
This quantitative study consisted of three online surveys. The first was a survey of 1,504 U.S. adults with an oversample of 1,000 additional practicing Christians (meaning they self-identify as Christian, say their faith is very important in their life and, over the past year, on average, they attended church at least one time per month). In total, responses from 1,374 practicing Christians were analyzed in this report. This survey was conducted from June 16–July 6, 2020. The margin of error for the sample is +/- 2.3 percent for all U.S. adults and +/- 2.5 percent for practicing Christians at the 95 percent confidence level.

The second quantitative survey focused on the 12 giftings explored within this publication and mastery measurements within giftedness. This online survey was conducted among 1,019 U.S. adults from September 3–12, 2020. The margin of error for this sample is +/- 2.9 percent at the 95 percent confidence level.

For these two general population survey efforts, researchers set quotas to obtain a minimum readable sample by a variety of demographic factors and weighted the samples by region, ethnicity, education, age and gender to reflect their natural presence in the American population (using U.S. Census Bureau data and historical Barna data for comparison). Partly by nature of using an online panel, these respondents are slightly more educated than the average American, but Barna researchers adjusted the representation of college-educated individuals in the weighting scheme accordingly.

The third quantitative online survey was conducted among 491 U.S. Protestant senior pastors from June 23–July 28, 2020. These pastors were recruited from Barna’s pastor panel (a database of pastors recruited via probability sampling on annual phone and email surveys) and are representative of U.S. Protestant churches by region, denomination and church size. The margin of error for this sample is +/- 4.4 percent at the 95 percent confidence level.

U.S. adults are U.S. adults ages 18 or older.

Practicing Christians are self-identified Christians who have attended a worship service within the past month and strongly agree their faith is very important to their life.

Featured image by Samule Sun on Unsplash

About Barna
Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization under the umbrella of the Issachar Companies. Located in Ventura, California, Barna Group has been conducting and analyzing primary research to understand cultural trends related to values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors since 1984.

© Barna Group, 2022

About Barna

Since 1984, Barna Group has conducted more than two million interviews over the course of thousands of studies and has become a go-to source for insights about faith, culture, leadership, vocation and generations. Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization.

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