Sabbatical, Day 35: Missional Party-Going

If there’s one thing I struggle with Missional Jesus over, it’s parties. He loved them. I hate them.

OK, ‘hate’ is the wrong word, but they have too many connotations of embarrassment from the past. And tonight, Debbie and I were at a party for missional reasons.

M has become a friend of ours through pre-school and school. She has children of a similar age to ours. Major aspects of her life have been horrendous in recent times – I’m not going to detail them in a public medium here – and we have stood with her through some difficult and painful decisions. Most of the time, it has simply meant inviting her for coffee or lunch. We gave her a few spare possessions when she needed to move her accommodation. Occasionally, there have been overtly spiritual conversations.

But today was her thirtieth birthday. She could not afford a party, but good friends hired a hall and a DJ. They decorated it and provided food. We were among eighty or so guests who were invited, and we felt it right to accept the invitation, even though we knew it would be the kind of event where I in particular would feel uncomfortable.

It’s that raging introvert issue again. Discos are not my thing. The style of music isn’t my taste, and you’re not likely to see me dance any time before the Second Coming. King David may have danced before the Lord, but this David doesn’t. Thankfully, nobody tonight applied any of the heavy social pressure to which I have been subjected on other occasions: this bunch of largely non-Christians was a lot more relaxed about people making their own decisions than many Christian-dominated parties I’ve attended in the past.

But I can’t escape the fact that in the Gospels, Jesus seemed so comfortable at parties. I know there is no verse which says, “And it came to pass that Jesus got up and danced to ‘You’re The One That I Want’,” but to my mind he seems chilled and at home at parties. If we’re going to share in people’s lives on their territory, not ours, it is going to involve actions that are uncomfortable for us. Not in the sense of ethics and moral decisions, but in terms of personal preferences and tastes. It may not be party-going for you, but if it isn’t that, it will be something else. 

So yes, the incarnational theology stuff is important. We need to be ‘in the world’ and also ‘not of the world’ without giving the appearance that we have landed from another planet. But the practice of such theological theory requires a dose of chilled-out Jesus.

Yet what exactly was that? Was he happy at parties because he was an extravert? If I take the Myers Briggs definition of extraversion as someone who derives energy from being with other people, then he certainly did enjoy the company of gatherings large and small. Yet at the same time he displayed introvert tendencies in his ability to go off on his own for extended times of prayer. So I don’t think this is a matter of personality type, however much I am thinking about that subject at present.

I think it’s a matter of security in his own identity. He knew he was the Father’s belovèd Son, and that the Father was well pleased with him. God reminded him of that twice in his life. The first time was at his baptism, just before his public ministry started. The second time was at the Transfiguration, just before he made his deliberate journey towards his Passion at Jerusalem.

And isn’t it that same knowledge in us – in our case a blessing of grace – of knowing that we are loved beyond measure by the Father – that is our security and foundation? Is this not the rock where our feet stand firm, and where it doesn’t matter how other people treat us or what social pressures they exert? Isn’t this vital for the whole spiritual life, mission and worship? May this knowledge, and an the experience of it, grow in each of us, not simply that we are blessed out of our socks, but that we are chilled-out little Jesuses who bless others.


  1. The thing is, even if one is an introvert, one will do selected activities in an extroverted way and vice versa. I don’t think we can tell from Scripture whether Jesus was an introvert or an extrovert.

    I’m an introvert and I grew up in a culture that sees introversion as almost ‘sinful’. But I’ve gradually learned to stop beating myself up and accept the way I am. We can’t all be the same and God knew what he was doing when he created each one of us as a unique human being (c.f. Psalm 139).


    1. Yes, I think that’s exactly what I’m trying to say on the question of personality. One can’t come to a conclusion about extraversion and introversion in Jesus from Scripture. There are conflicting pieces of evidence. But under Myers Briggs theory, where one can pay attention to one’s lesser preferences, it can be for the reason of still exercising them, so from time to time and in certain circumstances I act in an extravert manner.

      I think in certain cultures there are particular social pressures that assume one kind of personality preferences is somehow culturally, if not even morally, superior. From what I’ve heard of American culture (and seen in terms of differing distributions of MBTI types), I can well believe what you say about the culture virtually conceiving of introversion as ‘sinful’. There are other pressures in British society and varying ones in different religious traditions. This is where, in your language, we need to stop beating ourselves us, and in my language, we need to be chilled.

      I think you and I are on the same page on this one!


  2. I do get a little concerned about the emphasis that seems to be put on things like MBTI and Belbin – I am not really sure that knowing your personality type is that helpful. I think it’s a bit like when my daughter was being investigated for the possibility of having dyspraxia and one of thye experts said in his opinion it was sometimes better not to have a diagnosis as it can become a sort of crutch to lean on – Myers Briggs can become a thing we get obsessed with and can if not careful start using it to justify what we do or don’t do because we are not of the right personality type.
    I did Myers Briggs about two years ago but I would struggle to tell you what it is now – I can say I thought it was pretty accurate as did a group of my peers who had assessed me but I have never really thought about when getting inovleved in things or not.


    1. I think it’s helpful for some people, but not others. Some take Myers Briggs or Enneagram or Belbin to extremes, treating them almost like psychometric horoscopes. I think that’s inappropriate.

      Having said that, I find myself keep going back to Myers Briggs, because in my case I have found it a helpful tool for self-understanding. The first time I took it was in my last District, where it was made available to the ministers as part of the Accompanied Self-Appraisal process. On that occasion, the workshop I attended helped me pay attention to the creative gifts a strongly logical person like me can overlook. I was about to plan my previous sabbatical, and decided I should include something creative. So I attended a writing workshop at the same time that I designed a website. Ultimately, that has all fed into what I do with blogging now. And it’s also why on this sabbatical I also decided that one aspect should be creative and not strictly academic. Hence why at the end of this month I shall be at Lee Abbey for a photography course.

      On this sabbatical, I have been using it to try and work through some tensions I feel between the kind of person I am and what ordained ministry involved. I have learned that my personality type is typically one that in the ministry often does not spend the whole time in local church ministry, but often ends up in what we used to call ‘sector ministry’. I am also of a type that often finds research appealing. Both of these insights chimed with me and gave me the reassurance that I was not so strange for feeling this way.

      Finally, I think it’s worth addressing an important point you make when you say, Myers Briggs can become a thing we get obsessed with and can if not careful start using it to justify what we do or don’t do because we are not of the right personality type. I think this is an area where it is worth distinguishing between Myers Briggs and Belbin. It is a charge that can be levelled successfully against Belbin, but not (in my opinion) against Myers Briggs. In the case of Belbin, each strength has a flip side which is called an ‘allowable weakness’. So the person who presses for quick, decisive action is allowed to have a short fuse. I think that’s indefensible. However, Myers Briggs recognises that we are talking about preferences, and that sometimes we must also act within our lesser preferences, or give attention to the weaknesses we display in those areas.

      Oh dear, I seem to be turning into an evangelist for Myers Briggs! 🙂 Seriously, I stand by my comment that it has been helpful for me, and I think it needs careful application to avoid the dangers you rightly highlight.


  3. I too have found Meyers Briggs helpful on a personal level.

    Firstly with the extravert / introvert pair. Not only does my native culture have a preference for extraverts, but the industry I was previously in did as well. Something like 5% of my UK-based department was introvert. This gave an explanation, for example, about why I could not go to a three-day conference and stay up for the whole time but would be exhausted by 10:00.

    Also, the sensing / intuitive pair. I’m VERY ‘intuitive’. Something that was almost demonised in my Lutheran fundamentalist schooling. I did learn to always go and look for the evidence of my intuition before trying to communicate it to others because I ‘knew’ that intuition was unacceptable. I now view it as not only acceptable but as a gift from God.

    I also found it helpful to learn that there are actually people who get uncomfortable when – as they see it – their options are closed down. Something that a ‘J’ like me sees as ‘knowing where I stand’.

    Yes, any system can be used as an excuse, but that’s down to the person using it. As the saying goes, we shouldn’t get rid of knives in the kitchen just because someone might be cut using it.


    1. Yes, these are also the sorts of areas where I have found the MBTI very helpful. I appreciate the definitions of extraversion and introversion in terms of where you get your energy. Even British culture (including the church, of course), which does not have the same level of bias towards extraversion that I see from a distance in the States, still has value-laden ways of describing these categories. An extravert is ‘a people person’, and that’s good – indeed, I wouldn’t argue. But it is set against an introvert being ‘a loner’ and we know what loners do. They commit massacres and the like. Little value is seen in personal reflection. Is that ironic given the influence of post-Enlightenment individualism (not that I’m condoning that, either)?

      Similarly to you, Pam, I too have a strong preference for intuition. I am a big picture person, not one for fine details. Ask my wife about my congenital inability to find something that is under my nose!

      I’m out on a limb in the church as a Thinker, not a Feeler, too. I’m a bit of a one for logic more than maintaining harmony between people. Some seem to believe only people with an F preference should be in the pastoral ministry, but I think there’s a strong case for the Ts, too (but then that’s my logic working!).

      The twice I have taken Myers Briggs I have had different results on the J-P axis, but both times they have been very close. There is a J in me that ‘knows where I stand’, but there is also a P that likes to explore endless options. Ultimately, I decided that pen-portraits of an INTP were a closer fit than that of the INTJ.


  4. Just one more comment on the ‘intuitive’ part. I recognised very quickly that, in two of my churches, there were individuals who got exasperated with my failure to deal with detail. My response was to say ‘I’m terrible with details, I really need help with them. I will do my best, but please forgive me if I forget. Better yet, maybe someone who is good with detail can offer a hand?’ To which both individuals volunteered and we now make a joke about how I’m completely hopeless and about how good they are with the detail.

    This helped turned my weakness into their virtue and also helped to work a bit as a team. I don’t think I would have been able to do that without the perspective of MBTI. Being an INFJ perfectionist, 😉 I would have tried to get the detail right myself, I would have continued to fail miserably and instead of feeling valued, I think these people would have got more and more exasperated with me.


    1. I used to get wound up with those who were forever telling me in Church Councils or similar meetings that I had missed an important area of detail. One chap in a certain church particularly got on my nerves, although I now recognise that was also because he was a strong personality who had a need to dominate. Now that I understand myself a bit more, I am more relaxed about it. I have taken a similar line to you, albeit rather more implicitly, because in this circuit it hasn’t been a major issue of conflict. I have been especially blessed by having a church steward called Les who does spot all the issues of detail, and raises them in a gracious way. He recently alerted me and us to the fact that the church will celebrate its centenary in two years’ time. I would have missed that, but he raised it and now we can begin making some imaginative plans.


  5. I am pleased you find Myers Briggs useful Dave I am not sure it proved of any use to me personally or to a lot of the folk in the same group as me – knowing our ‘type’ didn’t really seem to change anything.
    I think it would be reasonably fair to say that apart from a couple of days after we did the test I don’t remember any colleagues talking about it other than when members of other groups took the test and talked about it.
    I like you can only speak from my experience of this and of Belbin and the other one I have never done so would not even attempt to comment on it.
    I think I ought to look for my paper work and check what I was/am – not that it will probably alter anything I say or do!


    1. I think that’s fine, FP, Myers Briggs worked for me because it gave me a sense of self-understanding and brought some peace and sanity to where I thought I must be crazy. Maybe you didn’t need something like that!


  6. I feel very strongly due to where I now find myself that our personality traits are definitely influenced by the circumstances we find ourselves in. Years ago I was an extravert who loved being the centre of attention. If I had people rolling around in laughter I’d done my job. I was also a good listener. From school days my name was Marjorie Proops,(yes, I too am in my final yr of 40’s) and I’ve always tried to be an Encourager. However, since becoming disabled I am struggling to find my place. I am also sometimes reluctant to go to meetings as I don’t want to be a nuisance. If I was to do Personality profiling now you could be forgiven for thinking that it’s that of another person. I was a top Midwife now I’m on benefits. I loved being in Theatre productions,now I’m in the audience. I hate parties now and feel side-lined by even my closest friends at times.


  7. I found The Enneagram did for me what you discovered from MB.
    “it gave me a sense of self-understanding and brought some peace and sanity to where I thought I must be crazy”.
    What I particularly liked tho’, was the fact that it included the possibility – and even expectation, that you would change from one type to another at different times in your life, or even throughout the same day – so very different from a horoscope – and liberating too.

    I did a course at the Guy Chester Centre with Michael Hampson leading. His Christian background was comforting though he maintains a neutral stance.
    He has added further insights to the old ancient system and written a book called “Head versus Heart – and our gut reactions” so he acknowledges the part that gut instinct sometimes plays. In fact 3 of the personality types tend to act this way more often, 3 more from the logic side and 3 more from the emotion side, but it is the unique mix of them that makes each us very different.

    He ended the session by running through the Lord’s Prayer showing how each phrase represented a different personality type ie each of us is needed in Kingdom Business. Magic!

    You can read up on it here

    Of course, the danger with any of these “tools” is to become self obsessed and inward looking. Whilst a visit into our real self is helpful we do need to come back down to earth again and get on with living.


    1. Jen,

      Thank you – I found your comment, it was waiting to be approved because you hadn’t submitted a comment before.

      I have mentioned in earlier posts that my sister had bought me Richard Rohr’s book on The Enneagram. These days, she works as an Occupational Therapist at a hospice. About three years ago, the chaplain there introduced Enneagram to some staff members, and she (like you) found it helpful.

      To be honest, I simply went for a Myers Briggs approach for pragmatic reasons. (How unlike me, according to Peter Honey’s ‘Learning Styles’!) One was that I already knew a bit about it. A second was that the course I attended at Trinity College, Bristol a fortnight ago used it as the basis for its teaching. Third, I’ve had a few ‘aha’ moments with Myers Briggs.

      That’s not to be critical, even though I know some Christians have reservations about Enneagram. Not so long ago, my friend Jane Hayhow left a comment on the blog expressing her worries about it. I know some are concerned about its origins, although Rohr defends it as more Christian than some believe it to be.

      Ultimately, though, I entirely agree with you. If using these tools just leaves us being ‘self obsessed and inward looking’ to use your words, then they are a waste of time. We do need to apply them in everyday life.


  8. Jane,

    Thank you for sharing such painful things openly. The Myers Briggs theory is that our personality preferences don’t basically change. However, some people clearly do change. Myers Briggs puts the emphasis on that word ‘preference’ – what would you choose if there were no pressures? Having said that, I have changed from a J to a P between the first and second times I took the test – although the scores were very close both times.

    But whatever I say about theory, I hope you have people around you these days who can support and love you through your trials. I’m sorry we’re fifty miles away now.


  9. It’s interesting. I’ve never ‘got’ the Enneagram at all and I’ve never been able to figure out my number satisfactorily. Even reading the profiles I’ve not been able to say ‘that sounds like me.’ I have a few friends who have found it incredibly helpful, though. One friend had her ‘ah hah’ moment with Enneagram and finds Myers Briggs totally confusing and unhelpful!


    1. Seems to be ‘horses for courses’, doesn’t it? I didn’t quite feel the Belbin Team Rôles stuff worked for me so well a fortnight ago, especially when I came out as a Resource Investigator, which is supposedly a strongly extravert style!


  10. Yes, I’m sure you’re right about “horses for courses” – I wonder if certain personality types prefer certain Personality Typing! 🙂
    I love the Enneagram – not only because it allows for leaning towards other personality tendencies at different times but also (particularly with Rohr) becasue of its emphasis on GROWTH. Myers Briggs felt too prescriptive and constrained to me – I hated the questions (wanting to constantly qualify my replies with “well, it depends on…”) whereas Enneagram conclusions we each came to on our own out of group discussion. I think what works for us may also depend on how we learned it (and, of course, if that suited our personality type!).
    In the end, it’s whether any of these tools help us to grow into the people God wants us to be that matters.


    1. I wonder if there’s more than just 🙂 to your suggestion that certain personality types prefer certain Personality Typing? And equally, it may well be about how it was presented to us. If Enneagram leads to growth in Christ, then it has done its job. Thankfully in my case, MBTI was presented in terms of growth, too, unlike Belbin, in that the good MBTI practitioner will help you look at your weaker preferences as well as value your stronger ones. As I said in comment 4 above, I didn’t like the ‘allowable weaknesses’ approach in Belbin.

      I’m intrigued by you saying Enneagram conclusions we each came to on our own out of group discussion. Do you want to expand on that? I like the sound of that.


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