Westmont Magazine Helping Students Find Their Spiritual Voice

by Sharon Savely Odegaard ’72

A new initiative on campus seeks to better equip students to live in the Kingdom of God. In January, more than 300 students completed APEST, a voluntary, online assessment of spiritual gifts. Based on Ephesians 4, the tool helps individuals identify their voices when pursuing God’s work: Apostolic, Prophetic, Evangelistic, Shepherding and Teaching.

Scott Lisea '88
Scott Lisea '88

Campus Pastor Scott Lisea ’88 first learned about APEST when he studied at Fuller Seminary. His mentor, Alan Hirsch, developed the assessment to promote unity in the body of Christ while acknowledging the benefits of diversity.

“We all have these five voices, but each of us tends to operate with one or two at the forefront,” Lisea says. Each voice possesses specific characteristics.

After finishing the assessment, about 40 students engaged at a deeper level by attending follow-up labs in the evenings, where they met leaders from the local communi­ty willing to mentor them.

Jeff Shaffer
Jeff Shaffer

Jeff Shaffer of Kingdom Causes in Santa Barbara worked with Lisea to build the APEST program at Westmont. “The assessment, the labs and the mentors are all part of the students’ toolbox,” Shaffer says. “When people find the best places to serve according to their gifts, not only will they flourish, but the church will flourish too. That’s the bottom line.”

After taking the APEST assessment, some students choose to serve at Kingdom Causes, which creates networks so people can work together more effectively in addressing homelessness, human trafficking and foster care. “The work allows them to see the other side of the postcard,” Shaffer says. “Santa Barbara is beautiful beaches and fine houses. But you turn that picture over, and you find people living on the street and in their cars.”

Joy Sturges
Joy Sturges '24

Some students took the APEST assessment in Lisea’s Ministry Leadership Internship class in fall 2022. Joy Sturges ’24, who majors in religious studies with a minor in music, scored almost equally in Shepherding, Teaching and Evangelistic. Acting on this information and her passion for shepherding and caring, Sturges participates in the weekly Bread of Life program in Alameda Park that provides food for people who are homeless. “I go to learn and forge relationships with our friends on the street,” she says. “I’m bridging gaps in our community.”

Sturges also serves as a student liaison for the APEST program at Westmont. She wants students to understand more clearly their individual spiritual gifts. “Serving God doesn’t have to involve full-time ministry,” she says. “APEST is like a launching pad, a beginning shot. It starts students thinking about how to serve.”

Sturges appreciates her experience with APEST and Bread of Life. “While God can always change my plans, I feel called into some kind of cross-cultural ministry after college,” she says. “I can’t imagine doing anything else. I want to let people know there’s someone out there who has created them and loves them. God gives me hope and keeps me going. It’s such a gift to know God. I don’t want to keep that to myself.”

Faith German
Faith German '23

Faith German ’23, who also serves as an APEST intern, welcomes opportunities to talk with students about their assessments. She says some students approach APEST with skepticism, and she responds to them with honesty and authenticity. “It would be weird if students didn’t have questions about this new program,” she says.

Some students ask whether APEST is just another personality test. German tells students, “We aren’t trying to pigeonhole you. This is just a tool.” Her goal is moving students from the medium to the message. APEST helps students focus on gifts that will yield validation, freedom and empowerment.

“If you believe in Jesus, you have the capacity for all five gifts,” German says. “But some are stronger than others. With the language of APEST, I can move toward professions I can build my life around.” Already accepted at Princeton Theological Seminary, German will pursue a master of divinity degree there or at another school. “APEST has undoubtedly helped me as I prepare to leave Westmont,” she says.

Sydney Azzarello
Sydney Azzarello '23

Sydney Azzarello ’23 took the APEST assessment almost two years ago because she worked with Shaffer. Scoring high in prophetic and evange­list voices, she says knowing her strengths empowers her when she considers possible careers. “I think about how I can use my gifts to move some­thing forward,” she says. “It’s cool to do that.”

APEST taught Azzarello an important lesson. “I can do many different kinds of work,” she says. “And all of it can be kingdom-oriented.” Majoring in both sociology and economics and business, she loves to combine working with spreadsheets and relating directly with people. She also reaches out to people who are homeless and spent a semester with Westmont in San Francisco. She thinks community development for a nonprofit could be a good fit for her.

Lisea encourages all students to complete the APEST assessment. “I want the students to understand how God made them,” he says. “APEST invites them to join God in the kingdom. Students are developing a vision for engaging rather than just sitting back, moving away from being a consumer in the church to being active in a spiritual vocation or volunteer position.”