I have done enough personality tests to know, with a fair degree of certainty, I am an INTJ. And, when I read the comments about INTJs, there is a fair degree of accuracy about me. For good or ill, if you buy into the personality type thing at all (that everybody in the world can be categorised into 16 personality types), that seems to be what I am.
According to my test score, I am something of an introvert. I work well on my own, I am pretty self-motivated and I like being given the freedom to just get on with what I want or need to do. I am fine being around people, but I work best when I am given the freedom to get on and do the things that need doing. This also means that I don’t relish being surrounded with people all the time. My idea of a great holiday is not going away with a bunch of acquaintances in the hope we’ll become lifelong friends. I am not, and never have been, much of a party animal and I don’t love being in big crowds.
As with any sort of personality thing, there are strengths and weaknesses to my type for pastoral ministry. There are things I can press on with that other types will tire of very quickly. There are things that I tire of quickly that other people love to do seemingly endlessly. At it’s best, a personality score can help you identify the areas where you are likely to do well as well as showing you the areas in which you are going to need to motivate to do what you do not naturally incline toward. It can be helpful to know these things.
But there can be a tendency in the church to use a personality test score as an excuse not to do certain things that Jesus clearly wants us to do. As a friend of mine was fond of saying, a personality test is not an excuse to get out of doing what Jesus demands of us. Jesus’ commands aren’t optional and Paul didn’t call us to serve out of our weaknesses for nothing. Sometimes, despite our personalities and natural inclinations, there will be things we simply have to get on and do. We can’t appeal to our personality test score as a get-out-of-serving-where-you-feel-uncomfortable-free card.
At the same time, I am convinced that a lot of churches have yet to fully understand how best to work with people who do not fit the prescribed mould. Of course, it depends on the kind of church you are in as to exactly what that mould is. Some, led by the most introverted of introverts, can’t cope with people who need people around them to function. Others, led by supreme extroverts (or those who wish they were extroverts and want to make everyone else extroverts too), just don’t know what to do with those quiet, slightly awkward introverts who find socialising really difficult.
It is also interesting to see how this plays out in different church values. One of the current buzzwords is ‘community’. We are all (apparently) seeking to build community in our churches. The assumption is that everybody is looking for community. And, I suppose, on one level they probably are. But not everybody is looking for the same kind of community. Not everybody is seeking a place where they can 24/7 be in and out of people’s homes and encouraged to be at endless social events. Some people just want a handful of pals who they can hang out with now and again, to be known by some folks well, and that is adequate community for them. For every person who is crying out for homes they can be in and out of with impugnity, there are others who are happy with one or two people they can see periodically. Trying to create ‘community’ to suit one or other may well lead to the exclusion of those who incline differently.
Similarly, this extends to our evangelism. For some, the idea of being confronted with the truth claims of Christ in the street by a perfect stranger is not going to move them one iota closer to trusting in Jesus. I don’t so much as buy pegs from strangers who knock on my door, they think, why on earth would I alter my entire worldview and take life-changing decisions such as naming Jesus as Lord just because a stranger in the street approached me to that effect? Such people would far rather hear about Jesus over time, from trusted friends, with whom a strong relationship has been built where these things can be explored. And, without doubt, we need to have opportunities for people to do just that in our churches.
But it also bears saying, for every person like that, there are those who would far rather chew over the truth claims of Christ with a stranger. There is no danger that their questions will lead to a fractured relationship because there is no relationship there to break. It gives them the freedom to explore big questions and test ideas without any threat of a friendship becoming a bit weird. It pays to make sure there are opportunities in our churches for these sorts of folks to explore the things of Jesus too.
The point here, in all these things, is that we need to make some room for different personalities to be expressed in the church. All too often, churches expect people to fit a particular mould. The things we expect our members to do and the evangelism that takes place tends to be aimed at certain kinds of people to the detriment of others. But we do better, I think, to find ways to reach a variety of people and personality types, as well as recognising that within the church as to how we express our different personalities in the church.
Of course, there are commands of Christ that do not come with a particular personality get out clause. Those who struggle are not freed from the command to show hospitality nor to go and tell people about Jesus. Others are not freed from the command to meditate on God’s Word and to point people away from themselves in humility, not making much of oneself. All of us are called to bear with one another. Wisdom tells us that we should find the best way to put our divergent personalities and gifts to work for the good of the kingdom.
In the end, as seems to be coming a regular theme on this blog, we need to be alive to the reality of Christian freedom. The question isn’t about allowing people to ditch the commands of Christ, it is about allowing them to express and apply those commands in ways that might be different to how we fulfil them. We do well not to force any particular types into specific moulds, but to allow them to serve Christ, as best they are able, in and through the personality that he has given to them.