Ministry And Personality Type Surveys: Starting To Draw Some Threads Together
If all the shortcomings of my questionnaires that I mentioned can be indulged, then the summary would read something like this. There is a remarkable coherence between the responses of ministers and church members displayed throughout all the sections of the surveys. This may be a promising sign that incidents of church-minister tensions are relatively low.
Within that broadly harmonious state of affairs, there is a slight preference for extraverts in the ministry, but not overwhelmingly so. In particular, there is more than one sign that the overall preferred Myers Briggs personality type is ENFP.
However, that needs qualifying in a couple of ways. Firstly, a couple of particular characteristics of the ‘typical’ ENFP seem less appreciated. One is ‘charismatic personality’, and I suggested this may be because we have seen several high-profile instances of the abusive version of this. The other is ‘imagination’, and this seems a shame when such a quality has much to offer when ministering in a postmodern culture. It could just be a small sign of how ill-equipped we are ‘to serve the present age’.
Secondly, the section where ‘imagination’ was not valued very highly, was one where six of the sixteen personality types ranked significantly higher than the other ten. Of those six, five were introverted types. Introversion, then, still has a significant place to play in Christian ministry.
That is about as objective as I can be. However, I have throughout the last few posts on this subject often linked the results to my own personality type, INTP. And I did so, because I set out to explore this topic during my sabbatical due to the tensions I have felt during my ministry (and even before, when I contemplated ‘candidating’) about the relationship between my personality and the common expectations of a minister.
How do INTP’s fare in the survey? Not very well. Individual aspects are appreciated, for example the ‘big picture’ and ‘future vision’ passions of an iNtuitive, and the openness and flexibility of a Perceiver. Indeed, these are two of the elements of the ENFP. However, I think two factors need to be set against this.
Firstly, the ‘E’ and ‘F’ qualities of an ENFP have a fairly instant attraction for those who like traditional models of pastoral ministry: the tendency of the Extravert to be a ‘people person’, and of a Feeling personality to seek harmony. In contrast, the often more reserved Introvert and the (coldly?) logical Thinker are less welcome.
Secondly, it’s not just about individual elements of the personality type, it’s about the matrix created by all four. We INTPs generally like to analyse and solve complex problems. That may make us admired, but not necessarily loved. (I’m not suggesting a minister should try to be loved, but it may mean that the gifts people like me have to offer may not be readily appreciated, and that makes for tensions. Of the sixteen types, INTP was ranked around 13 to 14.)
So where does someone like me go with this? First of all, it’s important to remember as Pam has rightly pointed out in at least two comments, not everything someone does is or should be determined by their personality type. The four axes of the Type Indicator are about greater and lesser preferences; they are each like a spectrum. While I have a strong preference for Introversion, I am borderline between Judging and Perceiving. (And INTJs rank much higher in the survey!) Myers Briggs theory acknowledges that we do not always act out of our preferred style: we still sometimes act in a way redolent of our lesser preferences. Sometimes even a person like me with that strong preference for introversion will act as an extravert. In my case it can be when I need to do so and don’t feel like it, I tell myself inwardly that I need to be ‘in rôle’ as a minister to accomplish the task. Doing so tends to be exhausting, and it is then an open question that can only be discerned by various spiritual methods whether such exhaustion is simply the price to be paid for following in Christ’s call or a sign that I do not fit and should not be there.
Secondly, there is a need to revisit the whole issue of ‘call’ and ‘dream’. Did God call me to the ministry? Yes. What kind of dream did he give me for ministry? I ask that second question, because the issue has been stirred in my mind by a blog post I’ve seen this evening, ‘The 4 Ds Of Leadership‘. It touches on the dreams God gave Joseph in Genesis and reminds us that God can bring about the dreams he implants in us. I do have some issues with the article, because it can’t be the whole picture. Not only are there three more Ds to come, it isn’t enough to link ministry to dreams. It’s not just about our passions, however God-given they are; it is fundamentally about servanthood. However, divinely inspired dreams are still part of the picture, and in my case they involved teaching the faith to equip God’s people. That’s one thing that fires me up, and sadly I sometimes only find a notable minority of people interested in it.
And if I’m accepting but qualifying the idea of dreams, I also need to note that British Methodism has become equivocal about the notion of a call to the ministry. Or at very least, it seems capable of saying some apparently contradictory things. Go to a ministerial Synod and listen to the ‘probationer ministers’ (those in their first two years of ministry, but who have not yet been ordained) asked the statutory questions each year, you will hear them quizzed as to whether they still believe they are called as much as when they offered themselves to the church. So there is still a strong element of call present. Against that must be set the claim in a document dated December 2007 from the Stationing Review Group that when it comes to stationing ministers, the denomination believes less in being called to a particular appointment and more in being sent. I quote:
We reviewed the possible options for more frequent stationing cycles, but felt that the distinctive ethos of the Methodist principle of “sending” rather than “calling” could best be managed on an annual basis. (SRG116 Consultation paper December 2007.doc, page 4 of 19)
Conference reserves the right to station a minister where it believes that minister is most needed. Not that Conference would deny the need to do so prayerfully, but it seems that the evidence suggests the official Methodist position of a minister’s call is that it exists in terms of a general call to the ordained work, but it does not exist in a specific call to a particular circuit or other appointment. The Stationing Action Group will do its best to take into account a minister’s gifts, but sometimes general need seems to outrank that concern. This will surprise some people who have been working with the assumption that a call is involved in inviting a minister to a circuit. It will be a major surprise to many of our ecumenical partners, who certainly operate on that assumption.
Where do I go from here? I want to follow God’s call, exercise the gifts given to me and pursue the dream (vision?) given to me through the call. Yet at the same time I don’t want that to degenerate into self-indulgence. I recognise that the Christian life is characterised by servanthood. Realistically, I’m not a good fit with the traditional model of the pastor. Stationing me in a mutually fulfilling appointment for churches and minister could be quite tricky! Take just these two paragraphs from the Personality Page profile of an INTP to which I linked above:
INTPs do not like to lead or control people. They’re very tolerant and flexible in most situations, unless one of their firmly held beliefs has been violated or challenged, in which case they may take a very rigid stance. The INTP is likely to be very shy when it comes to meeting new people. On the other hand, the INTP is very self-confident and gregarious around people they know well, or when discussing theories which they fully understand.
The INTP has no understanding or value for decisions made on the basis of personal subjectivity or feelings. They strive constantly to achieve logical conclusions to problems, and don’t understand the importance or relevance of applying subjective emotional considerations to decisions. For this reason, INTPs are usually not in-tune with how people are feeling, and are not naturally well-equipped to meet the emotional needs of others.
Now put that mindset in pastoral ministry: I can tell you, it sounds uncannily accurate! If you want the traditional pastor, you might like having someone who doesn’t like to control but you probably want a leader. You’re unlikely to want somebody who is shy with new people, and almost certainly not a minister who is ‘not naturally well-equipped to meet the emotional needs of others.’
One thing that saves me at times is being married to a wife who has a vastly different personality from mine. A counsellor told me about five years ago that Myers Briggs theory suggested a good marriage was between two people who differed in just one of the four categories. I don’t know what the evidence for that claim is, but – although Debbie has never taken the MBTI – we would both likely hazard a guess that we differ in three, if not all four sections! Although that means we can have a lot of hard work understanding each other laid on top of all the usual misunderstandings between men and women, one great advantage is that Debbie is the person who spots the needs and says, “You need to visit Mrs X.” I have learned over the years to value and trust her judgments. She has access to understanding that I simply don’t hafve. Our marriage is not only an illustration of what often happens in ministry, where the spouse behind the scenes makes telling contributions, it is an argument for teamwork incorporating people of varying gifts and personalities.
Therefore, one thing I know I need to do as a minister is to say to churches and circuits, here is a description of the kind of person I am. I believe that these are my strengths, and these are my weaknesses. Can you live with a minister like that? And I would want to build a team around me of people who offer the gifts I don’t have, so that we can offer a rounded ministry to the community. That is something I think every minister would benefit from doing. It may be that those whose personality types and gifting more obviously fit the conventional expectations may not see the need for this so quickly as a self-confessed misfit like me does. Although having said that, the first person to mention this in any of these posts over the last few days was Dave Perry, here. And he’s an ENFP!
Well, enough for now, I’ve got to get up early in the morning for my annual blood test for cholesterol, kidneys and you-name-it. So time to sign off, and I look forward to your comments so that you can improve my thinking and contribute to what I believe should be a critical debate in the church.