Sabbatical, Day 90: Ministry And Personality Type Survey Data Part 2

Yesterday, I showed that replies to questions in the first section of the surveys showed that congregations roughly preferred a minister of Myers Briggs type ENFP. 

Various descriptions are available in books and on the Web of the personality types. Here are some of ENFP: at Personality Page, Type Logic, Similar Minds and good old Wikipedia, just to get you going. 

Before exploring more what might or might not be appealing about this personality type in Christian ministry, there were further tests in the survey about preferred personality types. In the next few days, I shall introduce you to the results from other sections, but tonight I just want to mention one of them. 

There was a question I posed to ministers which did not have an equivalent in the survey of congregational members. I asked:

From the four descriptions below, please choose the one which most closely describes your style of leadership:

I see myself as a visionary, an architect of systems or a builder. My orientation is towards a strategy that ensures the future of the church.

I am a traditionalist, a stabliser or a consolidator. My oreintation is towards a church whose activities and ministries meet certain standards.

I function as a trouble-shooter, negotiator or fire-fighter. I wan the activities and ministries of the church to reflect current needs.

I like to work as a catalyst, a spokesperson or an energiser. I want to motivate the church into greater holiness and witness.

So what was this about? The second and third of the four elements in the Myers Briggs Type Indicator can be taken together to explore a person’s likely leadership or management styles. The four statements above represent, in order from top to bottom, NT, SJ, SP and NF. Remembering that I am an INTP, I would expect to fall into the first of the four, and I do, because that statement emphasises the importance of vision and the future. If ENFP is to be verified as the ministers’ main preference, then we would expect the fourth of the statements to poll the most votes.

So did it? Yes. NT polled 26.2%, SJ and SP both gained 7.1%, but NF took 59.5%. The intuitives (N) who see the big picture more than the details who are also feelers (F), who stress harmony among people  more than logic and evidence, represent the most common leadership style among those ministers who took the survey.

Again, on its own it is just a tentative result, because a proper questionnaire would ask many more questions to refine this. However, that is two results now looking the same in the survey.

Here is a description of ENFPs at work that Jerry Gilpin took from the book ‘Introduction to Type and Teams’ by Hirsh, Hirsh and Hirsh (CPP, 2003) in his notes for the course I took at Trinity College, Bristol in February:

Lively, charismatic and encouraging, ENFPs work well when they can innovate and be creative, persuade others to take action, and stimulate positive change. They generate enthusiasm for startup activities, are tireless in pursuit of newfound interests, and anticipate the needs of people and organisations.

So, ministers – do any of you recognise yourselves as being somewhat like this? And church members, is this what you are looking for?

More generally, here is a description of an ENFP’s general characteristics (also from Jerry’s notes):

Warmly enthusiastic, and imaginative. See life as full of possibilities. Make connections between events and information very quickly, and confidently proceed based on the patterns they see. Want a lot of affirmation from others, and readily give appreciation and support. Spontaneous and flexible, often rely on their ability to improvise and their verbal fluency.

Is this what you would put in a person specification if you were looking for a new minister? (To which I’d cheekily like to add the typical examination questions, if so why? If not, what would you include?)

Finally from Jerry’s notes, some things he included about the temperament in leading for an NF manager:

Focus Growth needs of an organisation

Abilities Communicates organisational norms; make decisions by participation; had personal and insightful style

Questions asked How does that affect workers’ morale? What is most important to people? What impact does this have on values?

Beliefs People potential is the organisation’s strength; organisation should develop people’s talent

Values Autonomy; harmony; believes in co-operation

Needs Approval

Irritated at work by … impersonal treatment; criticism; lack of positive feedback

Irritates others by … Emotional and moralistic standards; creating dependencies; getting over-extended

Potential pitfalls Sweeps problems under the rug; plays favourites

Appreciates in self High energy; ability to value others

Does that sound like you or your minister? Does it seem like a description of a valuable minister who (thankfully) is not the Archangel Gabriel?

I’d love you to tell me how far these descriptions do or do not describe your ministry or your minister.


  1. Interesting Dave, I am an ENFP, and yes I identify with the traits you mention, I also recognise my shortcommings, I am easily bored and find that details bog me down so seeing projects through including the minutiae of detail is frustrating. I struggle to keep on top of admin work.

    I believe that for ENFP ministers to function effectively they need to learn to listen to the details folk and to own their shortcomings- asking for help when necessary!


      1. Just adding a bit more, because either WordPress or our PC locked up at the end of the second sentence above! I just wanted to say that it would be an intriguing exercise for an INTP like me to learn more from an ENFP like you – especially (as you will see in the next few days) it will become apparent what a minority I am in as a minister!


  2. Hi Dave,
    as another ENFP I recognise the generic truths you identify and echo Sally’s thoughts. I make sure that our District Leadership Team has a great selection of Myers-Briggs / Belbin types on board; that way we stand a good chance of doing some effective work.
    best wishes,


    1. Thanks, Dave, I think that’s an ideal use of Myers Briggs or Belbin, and I’ve seen Myers Briggs applied well in a Church Council once before. There are different issues, of course, when it comes to one-person leadership, however collaborative we are with stewards, circuit colleagues and others, and that is the particular area of my concern at this time. I embarked on this study for the sabbatical from a gut realisation that my personality type doesn’t always fit what the ‘average’ Methodist church wants from a minister. I hope this will give me (and perhaps others) more tools for self-understanding, and hopefully even some strategies for dealing with the tension.

      BTW, when I went on the course in February, I told Jerry Gilpin who was running it that I was also going to spend a week of the sabbatical on a photography course. “That’s a very ‘Sensing’ activity,” he replied – so that’s interesting for Ns like you and me! 🙂


  3. This is facinating Dave! (I’m an ISTJ by the way, so I would find it so wouldn’t I? Does that make me the opposite of a minister, and what is that anyway?)

    I see Jon is pretty much spot on for the ENFP thing, though he isn’t quite fully that, I think he’s a bit T and a bit J at times. But the things that irritate (both ways) are SO right!! It would be helpful to get a church’s leadership team (elders/deacons/council) to do these personality tests. What an eye opener it could be.

    It also shows how we have such definite expectations from a pastor and yet I’m sure God calls folks of various personality types into this ministry – you, for instance. Do we need to be more flexible and form teams more in order to get the balance needed I wonder? My dad is a retired pastor and certainly wasn’t an ENFP at all!



    1. Ruth,

      Thanks for the comments and welcome to the blog. We thinkers need to stick together! I didn’t realise Jon was ENFP, but re-reading it, a lot does sound like what I know of him.

      My sister left a comment in the Facebook group I set up around this theme that also touched on the importance of team ministry. Some churches have to their credit got used to the idea that different leaders will bring different gifts. That is commendable as far as it goes, but rather than do without a particular gift in leadership because we are committed to one-person leadership, it seems to me we need to build team leadership based on a variety of gifts and personalities. You’ll see the comment above from Dave Perry that touches on this. (Dave is a Chair of a Methodist District, BTW.) It’s also something that in terms of differing gifts is now coming out of missional church theologians, especially Alan Hirsch, who argues that every church needs to have a combination of the apostolic, prophetic, evangelistic, pastoral and teaching gifts present as a sign of possessing ‘apostolic DNA’.


  4. I’m an INFJ who works with an ENFP. I also recognise the broad profile. I have to say that I really reacted to ‘tireless in pursuit of newfound interests’. We INFJs can have a tendency to be perfectionists if we don’t watch it (i.e. I’m not claiming this as a good trait!). I don’t know if that makes us want to complete things but being led by someone who doesn’t seem to care whether the latest project they got you doing is even off the ground is not only very frustrating, but it has sometimes reduced me to tears. I’d rather do a few things well and that almost seems like a sin in the world of the ENFP.


    1. Pam,

      I suppose I must be somewhere between what you describe. I do have a habit of getting bored with things that initially excited me, and certainly a book has to hold my interest if I am to finish it. I always put that down before to having a low boredom threshold. Certainly I can manifest something like that in certain church structure circles. I’m not sure it’s ever something I’ve inflicted on others, though.

      But also like you, I prefer to do a few things well. Maybe I just don’t like working in the areas of my weaknesses (or least preferred functions, in Myers Briggs speak). Jerry Gilpin told us on the course that Myers Briggs theory doesn’t explain away your weakness in the way the Belbin team types theory does, more it looks to people to work more on them as they grow older. I’m not always comfortable with that. Sometimes my slogan has been, ‘Do what you do, do well.’


  5. Just a tentative offering to the ongoing discussion but I have been trying to think a bit about God’s role in all this (Jesus as the perfect version of each of the Enneagram personality types etc) and how/who He calls to different roles. What came to mind was this quote from a parenting book I read ages aga (soz, can’t remember what one): “God gives us the kind of children we need to turn us into the parents we should become”. And I wonder if the same might be true about the ministers/congregations He gives us?
    Just a thought.


    1. Liz,

      I think that’s very helpful (and I wonder whether Tess the Enneagram teacher who has occasionally commented here might have a reflection on this). It would tie in with the Myers Briggs idea of needing to give attention to your lesser preferences as you grow older. It would also tie in with some of my experiences in ministry, where a new appointment has called for attention to different skills, maybe ones I didn’t think I had.

      It therefore raises an interesting tension for both ministers and congregations over ‘stationing’ (to use Methodist jargon – i.e., matching ministers and congregations for new appointments). Where do we say, “I’m just not suited to this appointment” / “This minister is not suitable for us” as opposed to, “Both parties could grow into this one”? I certainly don’t like the traditional Methodist idea that any minister ought to be stationable (is there such a word?) anywhere, because it assumes a one-size-fits-all Macdonaldisation of the ministry. But there can certainly be a challenge to both parties. Some examples come to mind, but I can’t share them here, because I would be breaking confidences.


    2. I love the Enneagram because it allows for the way we change in different times & seasons. Presumably, if our church congregations contained a mix of all the types, then, surely, Jesus would have returned?

      I sometimes think God gives us certain friends and colleagues to show us our imperfections as we readily recognise them in others but not in ourselves!

      Have you ever seen The Enneagram correlated to The Lord’s Prayer? It’s stunning! See if you can work it out phrase by phrase and type by type.


  6. I was just thinking “Where does God come in all this?” when Lizfm said it.

    I was beginning to think it might be a good idea to make everyone take a personality test of some sort before making appointments, to ensure there is some balance in the stewards team or church council etc. but I suddenly had an uneasy feeling of contrivance creeping in.
    I think we have to trust God too for what we don’t know about.
    (ie Lean not on your own understanding etc )
    Maybe this is a bite of the fruit of the tree of knowledge… that we are not supposed to eat?
    Perhaps a check up can be made after the selections though, to better understand and explain any shortcomings or tensions there might be & work around them.

    (For instance, I’m not a natural leader unless no one else comes forward, then I will do it until someone better comes along.) We often spark off each other in a way that I don’t think can be measured.

    Neither do I agree that anyone could be successfully stationed anywhere, I don’t believe any church can afford to “waste” that much valuable time!

    But what does it say if no appointment can be made for a period – or we have no children? does that mean we are already perfect Lizfm???


    1. Jen,

      I think God comes into it something like this for Christians who use MBTI: they see it as a tool to understand the personality God has given each of us. It’s not quite about, say, the New Testament images of the Body of Christ with different people having varying gifts, but it’s not far from that idea, because different personalities gravitate towards different tasks and priorities.

      No, I don’t think anyone can be stationed anywhere in the old-fashioned way either (I could give some examples but again I would be breaking confidences), and I’m sure there’s a lot of effort to try and match people as well as possible. However, it’s not possible to match all circuit aspirations with those of ministers. Square pegs and round holes, etc. Also, the amount of work that this puts on the members of the stationing meetings (District Chairs and other senior Methodists) in their monthly meetings that begin each autumn under the current system must inevitably make for some very quick matching between circuits and ministers.

      The last time I moved circuit I declared my Myers Briggs type on my profile, but when I read through all the other ministers’ profiles, I was the only one to do so. I suspect it wasn’t factored in.

      ‘If no appointment can be made for a period’ – that’s a revealing comment that can probably only come from a Methodist, a Salvationist or a Catholic! I think we three are the traditions that have the most top-down (dare I say ‘authoritarian’) methods of stationing our church leaders. We are pretty unfamiliar with the notion other traditions know well of the interregnum or vacancy. A regional Baptist minister once told me how good he thought the vacancy period was. It gave a church the chance to grieve the departure of a beloved pastor and for those feelings to have been processed before the new minister arrived. I think the Methodist system means that people are still full of their understandable feelings for the last minister when the new one starts almost immediately.

      Much more to say, but getting breakfast for the kids calls!


  7. G’day Dave,

    I’m an Aussie ENFP who is currently in my 3rd year of bible college (and a candidate minister too). I’m actually really relieved to learn that my type is well liked and appreciated by churches as I seem to be the only ENFP in my college! I’d love to see any data on whether particular theological tribes or denominations attract certain types. I find myself in the reformed tribe and I’ve noticed a lot of TJ’s and S types. I suspect my personality is over-represented in the charismatic movement and under-represented in the reformed or broader evangelical tribe. I was initially drawn to the charismatic movement (and still am to a degree), however as the intellectual side to my faith kicked in, I found myself being drawn like a fly to a blue light, to the reformed tribe. Any thoughts on all this?

    I resonate with a lot of the what is said above about my type, though some traits are perhaps less pronounced these days as I’m working hard to correct them (eg showing up on time to various events/class etc).

    I definitely do find it hard to finish some tasks – especially those involving learning languages!




    1. Hi Bryce,

      Thanks for commenting, even after all this time 🙂 I don’t know of any formal data or research on MBTI types and different Christian traditions, but I’m convinced you’re right on the money. One of my tensions has been about being a T in a denomination where that often isn’t welcomed by many in the pews. I look with some envy on the Reformed tradition’s welcoming of Ts, but it’s no use, I’m a convinced Arminian!

      Another part of my journey has been about being a strong I, yet with significant charismatic sympathies. I’ve found Mark Tanner’s book ‘The Introvert Charismatic’ quite helpful on this (published since I had the sabbatical in which I did this research and writing).


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