Monthly Archives: April 2009
Today was the day my surveys into ministry and personality type (from the perspectives both of congregation members and ministers themselves) finished. In between going to visit two young cats whom we hope to be ours within the next day or two and continuing to look after Mark as he still recovers from scarlet fever, I have only so far done the most sketchy of analysis.
However, here are a few preliminary thoughts, and I expect to post more in the next few days. As you may have gathered, there are a number of different tools for analysing personality type. I picked the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, because it was the one I was most familiar with and it is the tool I have found most useful for my own self-understanding.
MBTI uses four different categories. Within each one, it then suggests where a respondent is on a spectrum between two ends. Because a person tends to one or the other of four different pairs, there are overall sixteen different basic personality types.
A ‘proper’ licensed Myers Briggs practitioner will administer a detailed questionnaire to those who wish to know their ‘type’. I am not a licensed practitioner, and I therefore do not have the right to use that official questionnaire, which is copyright. I simply devised a few basic questions, which I then tailored to ministers and members of churches. My questions were based more on general overall tendencies within types. Some were based on general Myers Briggs insights, some others (especially in the survey of ministers) specifically used some research about how certain types related to specific traits in leadership and management.
I should add a couple of further caveats. I did not try to distinguish between survey respondents of different Christian backgrounds. This is important, because some research based on other tests has shown there is a clear difference between leaders in the older denominations and those in the newer denominations and ‘streams’. It has confirmed what many people would have guessed anyway, namely that leaders in the Pentecostal and independent charismatic churches tend to be more extraverted than their colleagues in the more established (lower case ‘e’!) traditions. Insofar as I know, my respondents came from the older denominations.
There are also known differences between different cultures. Americans report much more strongly as extraverts than British people do, for example. However, that is a theoretical point here, because the vast majority of those who responded were from the UK. There was a small handful of non-UK respondents, but although I don’t know the official data, they were from countries or regions that I would guess to be fairly reserved: New Zealand and South East Asia featured.
Furthermore, I did not attempt within the survey of congregation members to deduce what their own personality type was, in order to compare that with their preferred personality type for a minister. Ministers answered questions which could have given a rough indication of their own type. However, for both surveys, I only have access to aggregated results, not full individual answers. In order to have such data, I would have had to have taken out a paid account with Survey Monkey, but this would have cost me $20 per month, and I didn’t feel I could justify that expense for a simple sabbatical project. Therefore an inspection of bias from personal perspective was not possible.
Enough waffle and qualification, I’m sure you’d like a flavour of the initial results. Tonight, I present to you the data from section 1 of both surveys. This section was based on those four elements of the Myers Briggs Type Indicator. Each pair of questions corresponded to one of the four pairs, and I asked the same questions of both ministers and church members, but with this twist. I asked ministers what their own personal preference was, whereas I asked members of congregations what they preferred in a minister.
Question 1 teased out the difference between preferences for extraverts (‘E’ in Myers Briggs) and introverts (‘I’). Extraversion versus introversion is not about loud versus quiet here: it is about where someone gains their energy. Is it from being with people, or from being on one’s own? The extravert is energised by other people but is drained by being on her own; the introvert finds energy on his own (reading, perhaps) but is drained by prolonged contact with lots of people.
Hence the question contrasted a minister who would speak to everybody, but not necessarily give much time to each person (E) with one who would speak to fewer people but give each person quality time (I).
Both ministers and church members slightly favoured E (extraverts). The ministers were split 52.2% E to 47.8% I. Members of congregations preferred E to I by a margin of 57.0% to 43.0%.
Personally, I am strongly an introvert, so I am just in the minority here, both among ministers and among what respondents in congregations preferred.
Question 2 examined the difference between those who favour intuition (‘N’) and those who prefer sensing (‘S’). This is about how people receive information. Sensers favour the five senses, intuitives work more on a sixth sense or a hunch. Sensers see the trees, intuitives see the wood. Sensers live in the present, intuitives look to the future.
The question asked people to choose between a minister who has a big vision for the future, but can make errors of detail or fact (‘N’) and one who has an eye for detail and the immediate, but is less concerned with the ‘big picture’ (‘S’). Both ministers and congregants strongly favoured N (intuitives). Ministers preferred N by a margin of 78.3% to 21.7%; church members by 87.0% to 13.0%.
I am pleased to say that in this category, I fit the trend. I am an intuitive. I didn’t realise when I began in ministry seventeen years ago that one of the things I would end up doing was help churches discover their vision for the future. This is a classic N trait.
I wonder whether or not there is an increasing desire for intuitives, brought about by cultural change. Firstly, in an age of church decline, many churches are desperate for a vision of hope. Secondly, postmodern sensibilities have made intuition more socially acceptable than when rationality and empirical observation ruled the roost.
Question 3 looked at how we make rational judgments, and the two ends of the spectrum in Myers Briggs that explore this are called Thinking (‘T’) and Feeling (‘F’). Thinkers prefer objectivity and logic, feelers use subjective personal values. Thinkers tend to be detached observers, feelers want to be involved and personal. It is important to grasp that thinkers are not necessarily devoid of feeling, and feelers can bee as intellectual as anybody: these words should not be taken in any pejorative way.
I phrased my question in terms of choosing between a minister who prefers to be interested in people and maintaining harmony, or one who likes to test everything by logic and evidence.
Again, both ministers and church members opted overwhelmingly for the same preference: F. For ministers, the split was 69.6% versus 30.4%. For members of congregations, it was 88.0% against 12.0%.
I suspect this indicates we are still showing a preference in the historic churches for a traditional notion of the pastor. It is often a strong value in churches that we have to hold everyone together. That, too, is exacerbated by church decline: we dare not lose another person. Perhaps I am being negative and betraying my own strong T preference here, or my concern to put missional concerns higher up the agenda. However, I should admit that one thing that should be a strong witness today is a loving Christian community, and F leaders can contribute hugely to that.
Question 4 was about how someone relates to the outer world, the external environment. Here, the contrast in Myers Briggs is between Judging (‘J’) and Perceiving (‘P’). Those who prefer J tend to be decisive, planned and orderly.They like things to be under control. Ps are flexible, adaptable and spontaneous. They are more likely to go with the flow.
My question asked people to choose between a minister who is open and flexible, getting involved in lots of things, even if that means not always finishing projects or making decisions (P) and one who is decisive, but who can tend towards inflexibility (J).
Once again, both congregants and ministers favoured the same preference by a large margin: P. It was 65.2% to 34.8% among ministers, and 65.0% to 35.0% among the members.
In my own case, I have taken the Myers Briggs Type Indicator twice, and in this section I do not exhibit a strong tendency either way. The first time I took the test, I reported as a J, the second time a P. I can easily see elements of myself in both, and it is axiomatic in Myers Briggs theory that even when we hae a strong preference for one end of a spectrum, there will still be some elements of our weaker preference. However, it is also usually assumed that you do not change your basic personality type during your life, so I take my two results as an indication of just how borderline I am in this area. I have chosen to denote myself as a P, for the following reason. When I have examined the two different possible overall personality types I could be, INTJ or INTP, I find the latter a more convincing general account of who I am. So if I am a P after all, I find myself with the majority of ministers and the majority aspiration among all worshippers.
Overall, then, for this section of the survey – and what follows is a crude simplification – the personality type exhibited by ministers and the type preferred by congregations is the same one: ENFP, in contrast to my own INTP.
When I examine other sections of the surveys, I shall see whether they confirm this finding or not. Will there be further support for the ENFP personality type? Will ministers tend to be NF leaders? Tune in over the next few days to find out.
“When I grow up, I want to be slim like Sophie, not fat like Louise.”
That was Rebekah (aged six, if you’re new here), at bath-time tonight.
She had said the same during the Easter holidays when she returned from a two-night sleepover.
Six years old and worrying about body image.
The other day, she’d been telling me she was stupid.
“Who tells you you’re stupid?” I enquired, knowing that we might get frustrated with her but we never call her that.
“I do,” was her reply.
So tonight when she came up with the slim versus fat line again, we reinforced all we’d said before (to no avail). The most important things are to know you are loved, and therefore to be happy and want to be healthy. Yes, slim is better than fat, but only if you are loved and happy.
But with it not having worked before, we explained further. Big mistake. We explained about how some get so obsessed with being slim they make themselves ill, and even die.
At this point, Mark starts wobbling and dissolves into tears. “Am I going to die because I’m not eating?” He never eats much when he’s ill (as at present), and we’d totally put the wind up him.
It took a lot of reassurance. No Mark, remember how we’ve been saying that you’re heavier than your sister, even though you’re younger? This sort of thing generally happens to girls. Etc.
I think we got out of jail alive. But were we both devastated to have that effect on our son.
It’s one of our major goals to build up our children’s sense of self-esteem and self-worth, not for any pop psychology reasons, but because we believe that’s a consequence of the Gospel. It’s in creation: we’re made in the image of God. It’s in redemption: God loves us so much he gave up his Son, and even wants to dwell within us by the Holy Spirit. We even build something into our nightly prayer with the kids, where we pray that they will know how much God loves them and we love them, and that this will have a positive effect on them psychologically and spiritually. OK, we don’t quite use that language, but that’s a summary for grown-ups.
In my work as a minister (to which I shall be returning in an active sense on Sunday week), I find there is an epidemic of low self-esteem in our churches. It isn’t just the obvious theological causes, where people have been brought up to live in permanent fear of divine wrath, or with ‘worm theology’ (“I’m just a worm”). There is also the damage so many carry around from various life traumas, not least their upbringing. These damaged people then damage others, both within the church family and in the next generations of their biological families.
And yes, I know that a central component of the Gospel is that it addresses the problem of human sin. And yes, I also know that ‘grace’ makes little sense without an understanding of why we need it. And yes, I’m aware it’s easy to turn talk of God’s love into ‘Jesus is my boyfriend’ slogans. But – without losing those things – I want to share all the more the knowledge of a God who is passionately committed in love to his creation, who doesn’t stop with weeping over human sin but who also, in the words of Zephaniah, rejoices and dances over that creation.
Of course, I could be crazy. What say you?
It’s difficult to know what to report today. With both children off school, interruptions come thick and fast, especially from Rebekah our extreme extravert. She thinks the job description of parent is ‘professional entertainer’.
Mark, on the other hand, can enjoy company providing he’s offering the entertainment. He has a developing line in cheeky humour, and few things please him more these days than making people laugh. That included the doctor yesterday. However, sustained periods of company drain him (yes, he’s an introvert like me), but the flip side of that is that he can enjoy his own company and occupy himself.
Last night proved rough, with him waking several times. We all slept in today, and I postponed going for my annual fasting blood test at the hospital. Mark was chirpier today when he woke up, but needed more sleep later and also complained of various headaches (which could underline the scarlet fever hypothesis) and other aches and pains. He went to sleep quickly tonight, but has already been awake coughing a couple of times.
So there has been little I could achieve today. The thought of concentrating on some serious reading is out of the question on days like today. Debbie gets behind on tasks she wants to accomplish, too.
We’ve also not heard back yet from the lady with the animal rescue clearing house about the two pairs of cats we’d like to consider.
Probably the main thing I finished today was my batch of Cross Rhythms CD reviews. The last one was not my normal taste in music, but highly commendable if you like hip-hop soul. He’s called Stanley Porter, he used to be a school teacher in the States and I think he deserves a deal with a major label.
Finally, on the music front, a very pleasing arrival in the post today. Lately on the MP3, I’ve been listening to new stuff by the wonderful Irish singer Juliet Turner. She is multi-platinum across the Irish Sea, but barely known here. Perhaps she is best known for her version of Julie Miller‘s ‘Broken Things’ that she played at the memorial service for the Omagh bombing victims in 1998:
She refused to release it as a single, although she did record it for the ‘Across the Bridge of Hope‘ CD that supported the cause.
Last week, I spotted a bargain on Amazon Marketplace. Her debut CD from 1996, Let’s Hear It For Pizza, has become difficult to find. The website for the record company, Sticky Music, seems to have disappeared from the web, and new copies sell for around £20. But this used copy was £4.99. It came today.
If you like what you hear of her above, her Live CD is a good place to start.
Not time to report much today, and here’s why. Since early last week, the children have both had rashes. They were puzzling, but not looking sinister. Having followed flow charts in a medical book and from past experience, we thought that either they had slapped cheek or it was just something viral that would pass. They both still had them this morning, but Mark’s was worse. We kept him off school for a doctor’s appointment and sent Rebekah in.
Well, Mark entertained the GP with his comic timing and his wry replies to rhetorical questions. By the end, the doctor said it was probably viral, but had we heard of a condition called scarlet fever? There was just a small chance it was that. He advised us to watch out for the symptoms, and gave us a penicillin prescription in hand, to obtain should things develop.
Tonight, I drove to the midnight pharmacy to get that prescription. During the afternoon, Mark had complained of various pains, which Calpol relieved for a few hours but then returned. This evening, he didn’t want his dinner, despite it being sausages, a favourite of his. He went to sleep unusually quickly, but woke an hour later, spewing huge quantities of vomit. Debbie was out at a meeting to plan a church fun day, but Mark wanted Mummy. A quick call to her mobile, and she was home in record time.
So with all that and more going on that it wouldn’t be wise to talk about here, I’m just going to leave you with a couple of links that grabbed my attention earlier in the day.
First, here is a laughably bad example of a church taking a blatant biblical metaphor literally: Smells like Holy Spirit? Well OK, they may be going for effect, but how is it going to be perceived by non-Christians?
Secondly, a controversial article – I think it’s a partial truth but there’s more to it – nevertheless well worth reading: How the digital revolution might affect the Church.
A collection of websites for online photo editing, morphing, with templates for spoof magazine sites and all sorts of other tricks and fun.
After Rebekah’s weekly ballet lesson this morning, we set out on our first expedition to look at possible new cats. A bit quick you might think, but certainly the children needed to begin the process.
Using the Web, we had scoped out two possibilities locally. One turned out to be more like a clearing house for a people who needed to rehome their cats and dogs – nothing wrong with that, just not what we were expecting. They had descriptions of some very appealing young cats, in particular two friends that would come together. We now await a phone call back from the proprietor once she has spoken to the family with those cats, and to two other families who also want to rehome two cats each.
The other candidate was the local branch of the Cats’ Protection League. Its address put it down a tiny, narrow country lane on the southern side of town. We drove up and down this road three times without finding it. Eventually, we asked a local man, and he told us where it was. They are the charity in the field of rescuing and rehoming cats, and we had high hopes of our visit – not necessarily of finding our new pets, but of coming away with a sense of hope. However, we left with mixed feelings.
The problem we had seemed to be something analagous to an issue we face in the Christian community. How do you set the bar high and yet remain welcoming? There is a sense in which joining the Church should be difficult, because we should not hide the fact that discipleship is demanding and costly. It’s no good giving people the impression you can just give Christ part of your life. It’s all or nothing. Yet at the same time, we want to demonstrate the unconditional love and grace of God. Some churches end up being hostile in the name of fidelity to the Gospel, others – perhaps with a slight touch of desperation – lower the bar as if Christianity is more like limbo dancing. The latter is the problem I meet more frequently.
The Cats’ Protection League need to make it suitably difficult for some people to have an animal from them. We knew already that candidates for their cats had to be visited at home for interview and inspection of the property. Things like that are fine with us. We have nothing to hide, and are happy to put ourselves through a process that separates out those who will mistreat cats or give up on them easily and bring them back for another rehoming exercise.
What we found today were two staff with quite different attitudes. There was a young man who showed us the cats, was careful to keep to official policy, but who was flexible and warm towards us. There was also a woman on the welcome desk who wanted to put every possible obstacle in our way. We’re not sure how she felt about us having children. She didn’t want to take our details “because they would be lost in all the paperwork” (not an encouraging thought about the quality of their administration). She seemed to have clear ideas about which cats we should and should not be allowed to view. And she warned us that if we wanted to adopt any of their felines, then we would have a mountain of forms to complete – didn’t she realise I’m a Methodist minister and belong to the most bureaucratic church of them all?
Striking the balance is very difficult. The woman is right to put obstacles in the way of the casual or the unsuitable, and of course she doesn’t know new people who walk through the open door at all. Yet somehow people in her position need to develop a nose for those who might just possibly be genuine and suitable.
As I said, we face the same problem in the church. Given how we perceived our reception at the CPL, I wonder all the more how people we connect with through our faith feel. I’m partly thinking about that select and decreasing band of newcomers who just show up on a Sunday for the first time, and those with whom we share in the community. And if it is a difficult balancing act, what helps us do it best?
It was our shared love of animals – as well as our faith, of course – that brought Debbie and me together. We were separately members of a Christian singles organisation. There are some dodgy ones out there, but we had each found a sane one, called The Network. Every few months, those members who were interested in ‘introductions’ would receive a list of several other members who might be appropriate for them, along with each person’s brief self-description.
One day, around September 1999, my name appeared on a list they sent to Debbie. She noticed I was a dog lover, and thought I might therefore be not only a Christian but also kind to animals. This was important to her, as she owned two cats she had rescued, Sam and Trixie.
I had a dog of the obscure breed I had grown up with, the Finnish Spitz. Being a pedigree, he had to have an original name for registration with the Kennel Club. My dog’s breeder was famous in Finnish Spitz circles, Mrs Griselda Price, and my parents had bought a succession of dogs from her over many years. Her tradition was to find original names with successive letters of the alphabet for each consecutive litter. She told me that one of her bitches was pregnant, and that this litter would have names beginning with ‘T’. Could I please think of a name no other dog could possibly ever have had, that began with ‘T’?
Well, where’s a minister to go at a time like that? To my Greek Lexicon, of course. I chose the noun ‘Tarachos’, which is used twice in the Acts of the Apostles. On one occasion it means ‘mental consternation’, and on the other it means ‘riot’. I thought it highly appropriate, as the Finnish Spitz is a very noisy breed. Mrs Price pronounced my choice ‘ghastly’, but proceeded to register the name for me.
When Debbie and I first met (after a protracted period of writing letters – remember that? – and phoning) the three pets didn’t get along. Yet they brought us together.
Today, that era ended when Trixie had to be put to sleep at the vet’s. That followed the deaths of Sam three years ago and Tarachos four years ago. After last night’s episode, the vet diagnosed a stroke. He gave us a range of three options: euthanasia at one end, anti-inflammatory tablets in the middle, and an array of blood tests at the other end. However, he could give no assurances that the anti-inflammatories would do much, and the blood tests might only confirm something even worse had happened to her system. We already suspected kidney trouble, since she was borderline dehydrated. The tablets or blood tests might only buy us another couple of weeks with her. With great heartache, we chose euthanasia. And when he came to administer the fatal injection, he had trouble finding a vein, because they, too, were deteriorating.
Rebekah had come with us to the surgery. She was off school with a rash, and was deeply distraught, whereas Mark, although sad before school this morning, was matter of fact about the situation. I took Rebekah back to the car before the injection, while Debbie spent a last couple of minutes with her cat. We three reunited at the car, all in floods of tears. You see, Debbie didn’t simply identify me correctly ten years ago as an animal lover: I’m a great big softie for them. So is she, and Rebekah has inherited that personality trait.
When we picked up Mark from school, I broke the news to him at home. As with this morning, he was sad but matter of fact. He was happy to talk later about arrangements for finding a new pet soon, whereas Rebekah has remained distraught.
It has been an experience trying to explain death and Christian hope to the children. They aren’t completely unfamiliar with such talk, as they are used to hearing me talk about funerals. Good Friday this year also provoked a lot of discussion about death, including Mark wondering whether he would die on a cross like Jesus.
However, whatever routes or metaphors we try, they blow holes in them. I don’t have a problem with including animals in the Christian hope. I know they aren’t made in the image of God like human beings, but in Revelation heaven is filled with more than humans and angels. There are some (admittedly strange!) animals, too. So theologically, I include them in the new creation. I’m happy to talk about them being given a new body by Father God, just as people will be in the resurrection.
But it’s so hard to avoid conversations that sound like they are giving geographical directions to heaven. However much I read Tom Wright, it’s still surprisingly easy to slip into ‘up in heaven’ language. Debbie ended up talking about all the dead animals taking a train up into the sky to heaven. She hasn’t read ‘Surprised By Hope‘. Rebekah decided she could take a hot air balloon and poke her hand through the top of the sky to bring Trixie with her new body back down to earth. If any readers have better ideas about how to explain these things to children, I’d be only too glad to hear your suggestions in the ‘Comments’ section below. Perhaps Wright should write the kiddie version.
We’ve had a family conference over fish and chips tonight (we didn’t feel like cooking our own dinner). Thankfully, with some ease we unanimously agreed that we shall buy one or more cats soon, having dismissed Debbie’s joke suggestion that we buy a crocodile. We have already tracked down a couple of local rescue centres. The cat or cats will need to be young, because we cannot put the children, especially Rebekah, through another bereavement soon if we buy an older cat. We’ll leave it a week or two before visiting anywhere. For the next week or so, we are looking after a neighbour’s pets while he is away, so we shall take vicarious pleasure in them while dealing with our loss.
Finally, I want to say thank you for the kind wishes sent through the technology of social media. While tweeting on Twitter didn’t produce any response, status updates on Facebook certainly did. At time of writing, a dozen friends have left messages on my profile since I mentioned Trixie’s death this morning. Having trailed her ill health last night, one friend commented then and enquired again this morning. Debbie has had eight or ten comments, too. Whatever people say about the value or otherwise of community across a distance via a stream of ones and zeroes, these little messages have been small oases for us today.
Using the WordPress post ID number to shorten URLs.
Allows you to share links directly to sites such as Digg, Delicious, Facebook, Gmail, StumbleUpon, Google Reader, Twitter and so on.
Little time for anything to report this evening. After we put the children to bed tonight, our eighteen-year-old cat fell off the sofa, fitting. Although she hasn’t repeated that and eventually her heart rate eased, she seems to have a problem with her hind left leg, and we also suspect from the way she is walking around that she may have gone blind. We spoke to the emergency vet on the phone, but would really rather she either slipped away peacefully here at home, or we get her to our own vet in the morning. Rebekah was still awake when this happened, and we called her downstairs to say a provisional goodbye, just in case this is the end.
So we’ve had our mind on other things tonight, and composing any theological thoughts hasn’t been my priority.