Finding the Hungry Hamster

11 · 17 · 15

– Kenda Creasy Dean

One of my fabulous students, Amber Slate, led a terrific discussion today on Gallup’s Strengthfinders. She told us to beware “the hungry hamster” —referring to a strength that is over-used. Sometimes it goes rogue, cannibalizing so much of our time and energy that we never get around to nurturing our other God-given strengths as well.

Uh-oh. Busted.

I’ve known a lot of hamsters in my day. As a kid, I had a string of them: eight golden stubby-tailed rodents in a row, all named Frisky. My bedroom smelled of cedar shavings and hamster poop until eighth grade, when my affection for a boy overtook my affection for Frisky VIII (it happens). Eventually Frisky VIII was buried alongside his predecessors, in a Tupperware coffin, after a brief but heartfelt backyard funeral. Someday anthropologists from outer space will discover their bones and wonder about our culture.

Aside from impressive cardio-vascular workouts, the Friskies showed no talent whatsoever except for jailbreaks. But each escape was a spectacular derailment, turning our family into a frantic search party because the last thing you want to be in Ohio in January is a hamster on the lam. We’d corral the cocker spaniel, leave dinner on the stove, and forsake all others until the Frisky in question was found. Usually that happened in the kitchen, where Frisky would be peering out from behind the dishwasher with his beady, unrepentant eyes as he stuffed his cheeks with dog biscuits and Oreo crumbs he’d discovered by the baseboard.

To be clear: it’s good to feed our hamsters. And it’s good to use our strengths to their fullest in ministry. All talents need exercise and fresh air, and we know how Jesus felt about hiding lamps under bushels (Matt. 5:15).

But while hungry hamsters trouble-shoot, they don’t innovate. Letting one virtue crowd out our other strengths is a problem–in part because it is our secondary strengths that tend to give rise to our most powerful ideas. Innovation begins on the back burners of ministry, not on its boilerplates. Most of us “smell” a new idea before we can put it into words; we have what Stephen Johnson calls a “slow hunch,” a partial idea that lurks in the background until it collides with someone else’s “slow hunch”—and then the fusion creates an explosion of creative energy. People in a missional start-up will tell you that tapping into underutilized strength areas has energized them for ministry in completely unexpected, often euphoric ways. It turns out that giving our smaller hamsters just a little bit of attention can make them spring to life.

You probably know your strengths in ministry. But food for thought:

  • Do you know your hungry hamster?
  • How is your go-to strength in ministry crowding out a missional innovation that may be forming in the back of your mind?
  • What would happen if you tended to your secondary strengths for just 20 minutes a day between now and Christmas?

Kenda Creasy Dean

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1 Comment

  1. Jo Gordon

    A timely thought provoking blog. Going on a mini retreat tomorrow and this is further food for thought!
    Thank you!