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Archive for the ‘gifts’ Category

Part of my ordination training involved doing the Myers-Briggs personality test.  Now I realise that this is not strictly mandated by the Pastoral Epistles, but on the other hand it was a good old giggle. (See mildly amusing prayers for the 16 personality types here.)

I came out quite strongly as ENFP which means I’m an inveterate procrastinator, big-picture, no-detail, scatter-brained, last-minute, wing it with a smile and talk my way out of it later kind of guy.  At this point all the ISTJs (the opposite to me on all four spectrums) are waking up to why my blog really bugs them.  (Myers-Briggs did actually help me understand something of my bible college experience – the majority of Anglican ministers I trained with were ISTJs).

But already you’re probably sensing what everyone should know about these ‘personality types.’  They’re not neutral.  They describe real patterns alright – and extremely hard-wired patterns too.  But a lot of what they describe are patterns of sin.  A good part of each of the 16 ‘personality types’ simply identify chosen, self-protective schemes that enable us to navigate a cursed world along paths of least resistance.  Whether we buy into the ‘loud’ or the ‘shy’ persona, the ‘organized’ or ‘shambolic’, we’re basically doing the same thing – finding a way to make life work apart from Christ.  By some combination of retreating from the thorns and sewing our fig leaves we hit upon a style of relating that minimizes pain and maximizes self.

Now we cluster together in different groups of sinners because there are natural contours to our make-up, and there are unique events shaping our development.  Those internal and external differences are not in themselves sinful.  What’s more God redeems our Adamic personalities (rather than replaces them) and gives us distinct and glorious gifts.  This is all a very good thing.  Differences are not a problem.  Not at all.  The new creation will not be monochrome!  And different gifted-ness is not something to be ironed out in the name of Christian maturity.  We are trinitarian!  Our goal is not the absence of difference but the harmony of God-given distinctives.

The problem is not difference.  The problem in fact is a lack of distinctiveness to our personalities because instead we slide into personas that deny our particular identity in Christ.

How many times have we flinched from serving Jesus by making such claims as…

‘I’m just not an extrovert.’

‘I don’t really do organization.’

‘I’m not a morning person.’

I get energy from withdrawing and being alone’

‘I need order/control.’

‘I’m not good with authority/structure.’

‘I’m not a people-person.’

See more “I am not…” statements here, and their effect.

Even as we think of these deep-seated statements of identity it should be clear that they’re not just descriptive.  They are also very strongly aspirational.  I got that sense even as I took the Myers-Briggs test.  So many of the answers I gave were actually the answers that I thought the artsy, laid-back Glen should give.  In fact it was almost exactly like doing the Star Wars personality test where I tried my hardest to come out as Han Solo (but ended up as Princess Leia.  My wife was the Emporer – but that’s another post).  The point is our reactions to events are partly innate but also strongly determined by the persona we’d like to hide in.

So who’s identity are we hiding in and why?

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Gal 2:20)

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.  (Col 3:1-4)

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Rest of series:

I am not…

Tearing down the idol of my personality

Conclusions

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Here’s a question Rich Owen asked me.  I’ve included my answer, but I thought it would be great to get your opinions too.  This is the question:

To what extent does the gospel require a homogenisation of personality?
 
I’m thinking about bearing with one another, rebuking one another, kindness… the hard edge of graciousness and integrity…  but gentleness etc. So as a simplistic example…
 
Person A is really very nice. Wouldn’t say boo to a goose, tends to fall in line even if reservations are bubbling in the background – thinking very positively about others, perhaps naively, so is always looking for smooth and non confrontaional paths in dealing with people. It is not always obvious what they think about things because everything is tempered with caveats because they are gentle people in every way not seeking to offend.
 
Person B is also very nice but is very gritty, calls a spade a spade etc. Doesn’t fall in line without having to be persuaded. Thinks very highly of others and so in love calls things pretty black and white – calls sin sin, points right at pride and invites others to be just as direct with them. They think positively about others, but analyse and challenge – likewise not seeking to offend – but knowing how pride works want to expose it directly.
 
These personality types are partly “considered” in that is what they want to be and think is best, but they also reflect how someone naturally is – some people are more gritty than others etc.
 
Anyway – that is my already unhelpfully stereotyped situation.
 
under those maxims of bearing with one another, etc should person B attempt to be more like person A so that person A hears them better? should person A be a bit more bullish so that there is more clarity and person B knows exactly where they are going?
 
does the gospel require these people to deny self in the sense that they are naturally fluffy or gritty, and as they move towards the other, modify personality to be more like each other… a homogenisation?

Here’s my answer:

I wrote a series of posts on personality, idols, repentance, gifts, service, maturity etc here, here, here and here.  
 
Basically I think there are four elements to consider:
 
1) God-given temperament.  The triune God loves diversity.  When humans make ice we make ice cubes, when the Father makes ice He makes snowflakes and all that,
 
2) Idolatry which takes hold of our natural differences and creates idols that we serve and imitate (this is an all-pervasive part of ‘personality’).  For instance, the world, flesh and devil take hold of a person with an above average IQ to make them worship and serve their brain, or intelligence in general, or being right or knowledgeable or whatever. 
 
3) In Christ there is repentance for this idolatry which will mean acting against type.  2) means that a naturally sweet disposition will in some large part arise from flesh-dynamics that simply want to justify self, protect from relational pain, pursue some idol of ‘niceness’.  Such a sweet person’s repentance will involve assertiveness, standing up for truth etc while the bruque person’s repentance will involve the reverse.
 
but also,
 
4) In Christ there is spiritual gifting which will very often redeem those God-given temperaments from 1).  The same Spirit through Whom I was made is the Spirit who gifts me in Christ.  He gifts me and gives me to the body of Christ in my distinctness to be a member of this diverse church.  
 
 
1) and 4) are the pre-redemption and post-redemption celebrations of diversity.  I think the last thing God wants is homogeneity.  The devil through the idolatry of 2) shoves us into some very bland temperamental boxes.  In this sense homogenisation is satanic.  Dan Allender talks about how a woman’s flesh-dynamics lead her really only to three basic categories: good girl, party girl and tough girl.  There’s a billion ways of being a woman if we live out our identity in Christ, there’s only a few very narrow ones if we don’t.
 
So yes broadly speaking I think repentance will look different for different people. (e.g. party girl should take responsibility, good girl should let go, tough girl should sweeten up.) But that’s not because there’s some ‘average girl’ in the middle that Christ is shepherding womankind towards!  Following Christ will mean expressing our God-given, Spirit-redeemed diversity not squishing us into some homogenous mould.  
 

Some follow-up questions to consider:

  • If the gospel doesn’t create homogenous personalities then why do our churches, not to mention our ministry training bodies, churn them out?? 
  • Why is ‘being nice’ the bland medium that defines so much of our Christianity??
  • Is there space for confrontation in our homogenized churches?? 

 

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Codepoke made this comment on my last post on “personality types

Still conflicted. :-)

If the Spirit has gifted you as a pastor and you torture yourself trying to prophecy, you have not benefited anyone. Some are eyes and some are feet. When the eye tries to do its part in the body by being walked on, good things do not happen to the eye or to the body. Taking guidance from a foot, savoring our food with our hands, and balancing the checkbook with our tongues would all be egalitarian but not spiritual.

Yes it’s possible to err with the personality message, but it’s possible to err with spiritual gifts too. It makes no more sense to throw the one out than the other.

If Jesus made the evergreen and the deciduous tree, should the deciduous tree feel guilty for not being always green? And if Jesus made one man an NF and the other an SJ will He iconoclastically make both into the “perfect” neutral personality?

Good points!

Let me make a couple of clarifications:

1) The trinity tells me that difference in no way compromises one-ness / equality.  One of my hobby horses is to allow the Persons to be considered in all their distinctiveness and not let them be dissolved into some common essence.  Humanity made in the image of this God will wonderfully reflect these distinctions.  Difference is not at all a bad thing!

2) There is definitely such a thing as natural temperament – ie a way that this Trinue God has made me.  Pre-fall and post-return we will still be gloriously different from one another and should not bemoan this fact but rejoice in it. The ‘perfect’ personality is certainly not ‘neutral.’

3) There are definitely different Spirit-given gifts that do not work against unity but are in fact an expression of our unity – even in all our distinctness. (cf 1 Cor 12)

Posts like this one have me banging the drum for all these points.

4) There are spiritual gifts that specially equip certain people to serve the body in particular ways. 

5)  Having said this, we all have certain responsibilities to uphold even if we don’t have that gifting.  Some have the gift of service (Rom 12:7) but all should serve.  Some have the gift of ‘contributing to the needs of others’ (Rom 12:8) but all should give.  Some have the gift of evangelism (Eph 4:11) but all should play their part in evangelism.  Some have the gift of administation (1 Cor 12:28) but all have admin to do, etc. 

6) I can bring my giftings and differentness to bear in a very rich way upon the tasks I’m called to do.  I will serve differently to you, give differently, evangelise differently and administrate differently – all to the glory of God.  And the church should definitely not seek to do those things in a monochrome way.

7) I recognize in myself advantages to being laid back when it comes (for instance) to admin.  If my deadline is Friday and an emergency comes up Wednesday afternoon it does not phase me in the slightest.  In fact I’m pretty cool when Thursday goes up in smoke too.  I know that I can work close to the deadline and that does free me to serve elsewhere with less distraction / guilt / pressure earlier in the process.  I also recognize that for larger projects those with the gift of administration can serve me by setting me mini-deadlines along the way and getting me to be more forward thinking.  In this example we’re all doing admin but we’re doing it in line with our different giftings.  Great!

But…

8) I’m not sure Jesus made me ‘ENFP’.  In fact I’m pretty sure He didn’t.  I’ve read school reports from Australia (where I lived until I was 15) and I was hard-working, diligent, organised, focussed etc etc.  When I moved to the UK I found that I was ahead of the school curriculum by at least 18 months in every subject.  I also found that it really, really was not cool to work hard in the UK.  So I stopped.  I then went to a tertiary institution whose unofficial motto was “Effortlessly superior.”  And that pretty much defined the personality idol that I sought.  Throbbing behind ENFP for me is this counterfeit motto: ‘Effortlessly superior.’  I’m not purely and simply ENFP, I know in myself that I seek after such a persona, attempting to justify myself before this false god.  (I am an appallingly sinful, proud young man and I’m aware that my experience will not be the same as others.  But on the off chance that there are other who sin in these kinds of ways I offer these cautionary thoughts.)  

9) I certainly had the experience (and I know others have as well) of filling out my Myers-Briggs test and being aware that my answers conformed as much to an ideal that I nurture as they did to genuine reality.  This is what I mean about our personality types being aspirational.  There’s a big part of me that wants to say ‘I’m not an admin person.’  And this has nothing to do with my organizational abilities.  It is purely a kind of snobbery that says ‘Admin is not rock and roll.’  Certain tasks do not conform to the image I have of myself.  And so I let them drop and I justify it saying ‘I am not…’

10)  ENFP is not who I am.  ENFP has a great deal to do with sinful choices I have made in order to navigate life according to false views of identity, justification, true life.  I certainly do have a God-given temperament and I certainly do have particular spiritual gifts but I wouldn’t equate that with my Myers-Briggs type.  Not at all.

 

Your example, codepoke, of doing admin in a different way from your gifted daughter is pretty much the perfect example of what I’m wanting to say.  You are well aware that just because Myers-Briggs calls you ‘NFP’ does not excuse you from being faithful in the tasks God has given you, rather your differentness gives you a distinct and valuable way of doing that.  And it certainly will involve, at many points, handing off things to others in the body who are gifted for it. 

If we’re mature (like codepoke – I mean that!) we’ll handle this with humility and joy!  Humility because we confess that these things are great things to do but that I am desperately inadequate for them.  Joy because I rejoice in the giftings of others and the Spirit-given unity we have in Christ’s body.

If we’re immature (like me!) we’ll handle that with pride and/or despair.  Pride because deep down I’m saying ‘I’m not that kind of person (whose abilities I don’t greatly value anyway).’  Despair because I’d really like to be omnicompetent and not need help.

I’m sure I’ve overstated things in my usual soap-box style.  But you’ll be aware by now that these issues lie close to some pretty strong idols for me – hence the vigourous tone and lack of nuance.  Correction and criticism always very welcome (he said in a very non-ENFP kind of way). 

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