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Some 50 pastors and congregational leaders met earlier this year at the Maranatha Bible and Missionary Conference in Muskegon, Mich., to sort through some of their own personality characteristics and find out how they can better relate to others.

They did this in part by comparing their personality traits to those of different animals such as golden retrievers, otters, beavers, and lions.

“We’re trying to get participants to see the diversity of the people in their congregations and how each of these personality types has good qualities as well as challenging ones,” said Lis Van Harten, director of the Christian Reformed Church’s Sustaining Congregational Excellence (SCE) program, which sponsored the gathering.

The two-day event focused on helping church leaders “realize their own similarities and differences better so that problems don’t destroy their ministry,” said Rev. Cecil Van Niejenhuis, one of the presenters.

So often in trying to help, he explained, a pastor can get caught in a web of conflicting—and often powerful—personalities. This can lead to significant problems in a congregation, said Van Niejenhuis, a pastor/congregational consultant for the CRC’s Pastor-Church Relations office.

“We’re trying to help church leaders learn how they can be of help instead of getting enmeshed in other people’s problems,” he said.

SCE, whose purpose is to foster healthy congregations, has held 33 learning events for more than 300 smaller CRC congregations over the last few years.

The Muskegon event included presentations, a range of hands-on activities, and times for reflection and discussion.

“I learned that we are all the same, but each of us is different,” says Larry Smith, an elder at Coit Community Church in Grand Rapids, Mich., one of the 11 churches that took part in the two-day conference.

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