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More On Methodists And Social Media

The debate I mentioned on Tuesday continues. To mention some:

Richard Hall interviewed Toby Scott on Wednesday. Fat Prophet sees the document as similar to standard policies issued by ‘secular’ employers. Pete Phillips was consulted (as Secretary of the Faith and Order Committee) but isn’t happy. Like Pete, Matt Wardman contrasts the lengthy Methodist document with the much briefer Civil Service guidelines, which concentrate on principles and permission rather than details. Steve Jones, observing from South Africa, knows that such guidelines are normal in industry but wonders how we distinguish between legitimate debate and bringing the church into disrepute.

Other figures with something to say haven’t done so on their blogs, but in comments on other people’s posts. For example, Dave Warnock and Dave Perry. Both are members of the Methodist Council and may have therefore felt it tactful not to post before the meeting next Monday.

It seems to have escalated today. David Hallam, who got the debate going with a controversial post, has written about it passionately again today. In it, we learn more of why David is so upset:

I know of two cases already where blogging Methodists have face harassment and bullying by certain senior church officials (I stress certain, many senior Connexional officials would be shocked if they knew the full story). In the case that I know best extensive efforts were made to resolve the issue by the blogger concerned but to no avail. The Matthew 18 procedure was exhausted.

If true, this is worrying. I do know of one person who felt they were being implicitly criticised in the paper, but I don’t know anything that would fit the ‘harassment and bullying’ description David talks about. I’m still not sure I like some of David’s language – he compares the Methodist Church to Iran and China towards the end of the post – but if he has come across cases of bullying, it is little surprise he is angry.

So where are we up to, before Methodist Council discusses this issue?

Firstly, there remains disagreement on the transparency issue. Broadly speaking, those who are favourable towards the policy see the naming of the bloggers who were consulted as a red herring, while those who have reservations see it as important. In my limited surfing, I have only seen some Methodist bloggers say they weren’t consulted. I have not yet seen anyone say they were. Please let me know if I am mistaken.

Secondly, the debate so far illustrates the problems we have with confidentiality, privacy and Internet openness. In today’s piece, David Hallam fears that Dave Warnock is alluding to a potential retreat from publishing papers online as a result. I hadn’t read Dave that way, and I don’t see him as ‘authoritarian’ as David describes him – that’s not the Dave I know at all. But perhaps we need to distinguish between confidentiality and privacy, if that doesn’t sound too strange. What I mean is this: as a minister, I am committed to confidentiality apart from in exceptional circumstances (for example, if someone made an allegation about child abuse). However, even if the discussion papers for Methodist Council were once private, it must have been the Council that agreed to them being publicly available ahead of time on the web. Once you’ve done that on the Internet, the genie is out of the bottle, and any retreat – if that is indeed contemplated – will look very bad indeed.

Thirdly, we have an issue about acceptable behaviour in meetings. Can you text, tweet or surf during a council, committee or conference? I am no multi-tasker and I would find that difficult. However, I have to accept that others can – unlike me – multi-task. Everyone will agree it is important to give attention to the business being discussed, but we have to face up to personality differences – and to the fact that not everyone can find every minute of every business meeting riveting. And yes, as a young minister I’m afraid it was my practice to take a good book to District Synod!

Finally, in the long run, this may prove to be a storm in a green Methodist tea cup, or it may involve serious issues of principle and practice. My prayer is that we can all ‘speak the truth in love’ as we work through it. One commenter on Richard’s original post is worried about the tone he has seen on Methodist blogs, so it’s incumbent upon us to consider carefully how we conduct ourselves. If we turn this debate into a flame war, there could be every reason or occasion for the church authorities to consider strong guidelines. We need an authentic Christian witness in blogging that carries passion without flaming and love without wimping out. Surely we can do that?

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.

Ministry And Personality Type Surveys Part 3: Up The Workers

I’m not going to label blog posts any more with the day number of the sabbatical. Have I returned to my duties? No. I’ve had the thirteen weeks of the sabbatical now, but am tacking on a week’s leave to the end to avoid problems in the summer.

Tonight, I’m going to trail the results from the final section of the surveys into ministry and personality type. However, that doesn’t mean this is the final entry on the subject. For one thing, what I’m about to report has the potential to be quite complex, and I don’t think I can easily nail my thoughts just with my initial immediate reactions. But also, having gone through every section of the questionnaires, I shall then want to step back and think about some of the wider implications. 

Section 3 had one question. I listed sixteen characteristics of a good worker. I asked ministers to pick the five that most represented them, and church members to choose the five that most appealed to them in a minister. I did not ask respondents to put their five in any order. I just wanted to get a good picture of the attractive qualities in the work of a minister.

Each of the sixteen words represented one personality type in Myers Briggs. (You may recall there are sixteen types.) They were the summary words for each type taken from Jerry Gilpin‘s sheet, ‘The Sixteen Types at Work’, which he extracted from ‘Introduction to Type and Teams’ by Hirsh, Hirsh and Hirsh. (The book appears to be currently unavailable in the UK, hence no link to it.) Jerry’s sheet of course doesn’t just contain the single word that is described as the ‘hallmark’ of each type at work: it also contains a short paragraph describing them. More on that anon.

Some very interesting patterns emerged from the results. In the results from both the ministers and the congregants, six qualities emerged with significantly higher scores than the remaining ten. And it was the same six qualities on both the ministers’ results and the church members’ results. They weren’t in exactly the same order (although they weren’t far off), but that the same six emerged from both surveys clearly separated from the remaining ten seemed significant to me.

So what were they? The church members ranked the top six as follows:

1. Commitment (ISFJ)
2. Vision (INTJ)
3. Sensitivity (ISFP)
4. Integrity (INFJ)
5. Enthusiasm (ESFP)
6. Dependability (ISTJ).

The ministers put them in this order:

1. Commitment (ISFJ)
2=. Vision (INTJ) and Integrity (INFJ)
4=.  Enthusiasm (ESFP) and Dependability (ISTJ)
6. Sensitivity (ISFP) 

Within these six leading qualities, I notice a number of things. Having noticed with disappointment but little surprise that my own personality type of INTP, the hallmark of which is ‘Logic’, featured very low on both lists (14= among ministers and 13= in congregational aspirations), I was quickly heartened to notice that five of the qualities in the top six were introverted personality types. I suppose the Richard Dawkins of this world would make something of just how low logic is valued in the church, but so would liberal Christians and academics in the evangelical tradition. However, at least there are clear elements in the ways many introverts work that are valued, after all, in the church. 

Why? It’s hard to know exactly, but given the close correspondence between the two sets of results, let me venture this tentative thought. The vast majority of responses to the surveys came, I believe, from people in the older, historic denominations. These are traditions that more commonly function in introverted styles. Other studies show a higher preponderance of extraverts among the Pentecostal and charismatic churches. It isn’t uncommon to find in the more traditional denominations a fear of the ’emotionalism’ that the newer churches display. Sometimes this is legitimate and well-founded, but could it be that on other occasions it is a fear of extraversion? And if so, might it be that we want to recruit ministers in our own image? It would be comforting, I suppose.

The other observation I want to make on this section of the results tonight is about our previous clear front-runner, ENFP. You’ll notice it doesn’t feature in the top six. Among the ministers, it ranked at 7, and among church members, it was number 8. You may say that was not far off the top six, but remember there was a clear gap between them and the rest of the field. For example, number 6 among the ministers, ISFP, attracted a response rate of 48.7%, but ENFP scored only 30.8%. Among the congregations, ISTJ at 6 had 51.7%, but ENFP made only 19.1%.

What I haven’t told you yet is the hallmark word used for ENFP. It was ‘Imagination’. Here’s my gut reaction: if imagination is commonly accepted as an important part of our approach to mission and worship in a postmodern context, then our ENFPs are incredibly important to the church. (Are you reading this, Sally and Dave?) So on the one hand, earlier results in the survey suggest we might have a good number of ENFPs in the ministry and appreciated by churches, but on the other it may be that one of their most important qualities is not appreciated as it needs to be today. 

Finally, I said I would come back to the question of the one-word hallmarks and the fuller paragraphs attached to each personality type at work. Again, just making the question brief could risk distortion in the results. That is a danger right through this survey, and not only in that way. So below, I’m going to reproduce those paragraphs for the top six plus ENFP and my own INTP. If this is a breach of copyright, perhaps the copyright owner would tell me and I shall gladly remove what follows. I am assuming I am OK, from the way these notes were distributed at the course and the fact that the book is out of print, but if I’m wrong, just let me know. 

The Top Six

ISFJ (Commitment) Conscientious, loyal and dedicated, ISFJs work well when roles and responsibilities are clearly defined. They take care of the specific and practical needs of people, relying on trusted, established methods. They seek harmony and stability, expeect others to be diligent, and make sacrifices to get the job done.

INTJ (Vision) Independent, individualistic and visionary, INTJs work well when they can develop strategies, use foresight, implement their ideas and create intellectual structures to meet goals. Unafraid of difficulty, they objectively analyse varied factors and global issues to meet complex challenges they can foresee in the future.

ISFP (Sensitivity) Low-key, flexible and modest, ISFPs work well when they can meet the individual needs of people in a direct and personal manner. Valuing harmony and tolerance, they are genuine, sincere, and open-minded. They enhance their work environments by ensuring that people are cared for with kindness and artistry.

INFJ (Integrity) Insightful, inspiring and creative, INFJs work well when they can concentrate on what matters to people, quietly exert influence, and model integrity. They envision ways to reach long-range goals, want to develop an atmosphere of mutual trust, and organise people and processes so that all benefit.

ESFP (Enthusiasm) Friendly, outgoing, and enthusiastic, ESFPs work well when they can use their vitality and humour to make things happen. They make collaborative efforts enjoyable by applying common sense and a flexible and spontaneous approach to meeting challenges. They like to use their warmth and generosity to help people. 

ISTJ (Dependability) Thorough, hardworking and responsible, ISTJs work well within traditional structures, following standard procedures and keeping track of facts and details. They clarify responsibilities and roles, seek to maintain what is efficient and useful, and follow through on their commitments. 

The Previous Yellow Jersey Holder?

ENFP (Imagination) Lively, charismatic and encouraging, ENFPs work well when they can innovate and be creative, persaude others to 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.

Me

INTP (Logic) Analytical, intellectual and ingenious, INTPs work well when they can operate independently, search for truth, and use rational approaches to solve complex problems. Their curiosity leads them to research theories, contemplate what makes things work, and discover the long-term consequences of any given plan.

Now I have to be frank and say that on that basis, I can see why INTPs like me don’t always last the distance as ministers in local church appointments. That description would put me more in academia (perhaps underlining what people have been suggesting to me about a PhD), or at very least working as some kind of researcher who is providing thinking to support those on the front line. Either that, or the research and analysis aspect of my personality somehow needs integrating into ‘conventional’ ministry. It works when a Bible study group wants to get to grips with something difficult, but not always at other times.

Anyway, that’s plenty for tonight, and far more than I thought I was going to type. Over to you for your comments below.

Epiphany And The Recession

Today is Epiphany, the day millions of Christians have traditionally celebrated as the appearing of the Christ. It is particularly associated with the visit of the Magi.

Yet in the UK today marks less an appearing than a disappearing. The last Woolworths shops have closed their doors tonight. That is especially poignant in our house. They were my wife’s first employer, initially when she did a ‘Saturday job’ while at school. Then, when she left school, they took her on full time.

A couple of weeks ago, we walked through the Chelmsford store and tried to explain to our small children that it would be closing forever. This place where they had enjoyed getting a tub of ‘Pick and Mix’ sweets,and  where we had bought toys and cheap Ladybird clothes for them, would be no more. Rebekah cried inconsolable tears. How do you explain ‘recession’ to a five-year-old? I’m no economist (which is partly why I’ve been loath to say too much on the subject), and I find it hard to understand.

Looking on as an adult consumer, it’s easy to see where Woolies fell down. They fell betwixt and between, a Jack of all trades, master of none, with no clear vision. What kind of a shop was it? Something of a hotch-potch in recent years, doing several things reasonably but none of them well.

And that makes them sound like many churches. They try to do this, that and everything, because X, Y and Z are all things that a church should supposedly do, but they overstretch themselves and do few of them well. I received a good piece of advice early on from a minister friend called Paul Ashby. He said, “No church is the complete Body of Christ.” We don’t need to do it all. I don’t see anything wrong in an individual congregation specialising. It happens to an extent, even when we don’t acknowledge it, simply through the kind of people in a said church and its location.

Yes, there are shops that want to do a bit of everything, notably the major supermarkets, which have gone way beyond groceries. However, they have done so from positions of economic strength and market dominance, much in the way a large church can cover a lot of bases. But we aren’t all large supermarkets or megachurches.

Likewise, we’ve had the news in the last twenty-four hours that Waterford Wedgwood has gone into administration. Who’s buying bone china tea services any more? Not us. When we moved from our six-bedroom manse in the last circuit to our small three-bedroom house here, we had to downsize considerably. Not without cause did we call ourselves Mr and Mrs eBay. Among the possessions to go were our cups and saucers. We decided to rely entirely on mugs. They are far more acceptable today than the day when it seemed like only builders drank from one. Moreover, when we hear about the need to take in sufficient fluid, who wants a small cup? Even some churches are dispensing with the hideous green crockery! Besides, I need a pint mug of tea to get me going first thing in the morning.

All of which implies for me that a company like Wedgwood has had too narrow a vision. I can best illustrate what I mean by reproducing a story I found in the December 1990 edition of the now defunct MARC Newsletter. It came from an article entitled ‘Doing research with eyes to see’ by Bryant Myers:

There is a story of a company that manufactured drill bits for over forty years. It had been very successful, but the industry was maturing and profit margins were getting thin.

The son of the founder attended his first senior staff meeting after his father died.

“What business are we in?” he asked the older men, who had served alongside his father for many years.

“We make drill bits!” came the exasperated answer. “Our customers need drill bits.”

“No. Our customers need holes,” the young man quietly replied. Today the company is again successful. In addition to drill bits, it manufactures lasers that make very precise holes.

And maybe that too has been a problem in many churches. We have made drill bits instead of holes. I’m not arguing for some corporate-style approach to vision and mission statements, but I am saying that a time of crisis is one that should make us remember the basics of why we exist.

That’s where I get into my usual points about the fundamental orientation of the church being missional. Too often, if you ask church members what the purpose of the church is, they will answer ‘worship’. And while if you push them they will accept that worship is more than the Sunday service, it is everyday lifestyle, really the heart of the answer betrays an assumption that the Sunday morning gathering is the main event.

I don’t wish to disparage Sunday worship at all. But defining ourselves by worship has ironically turned us in on ourselves instead of focussing on God, who is the object of our worship. When the disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit at the first Pentecost in Acts 2, it is hard to know where you draw the line between worship and mission that day.

What I’m saying, then, is that the pressure of the recession has exposed problems of confused vision in companies. The confused vision on its own hasn’t taken them under, but it has left them vulnerable at a time when the economy stopped swinging. Sadly too it is often only a crisis that makes us notice the confused vision in our churches.

There is much more to be said about the moral dimension of the recession itself. I particularly commend a blog post from Sunday by Dave Perry, in which he notes the remarks of a secular journalist who wonders whether the recession will make us a better country. ‘Can we spend our way out of emptiness?’ asks Dave, implying of course a ‘no’.

Similarly, I commend a podcast of a sermon by Ken Costa entitled ‘Surviving The Financial Tsunami‘. Costa is a church warden at Holy Trinity Brompton and chair of Lazard International. As well as some gentle pastoral advice for those facing financial woes at present, he identifies the current crisis as a ‘shaking’ from God, yet eschewing any easy claims to it being divine judgment. Having said that, the sermon carries a clear call to a fundamental change of the values by which we live – as individuals, as commerce and as nations. There is a useful comparison with the downfall of Tyre in Ezekiel 27.