My SHAPE: P—Personality

May 16, 2014

When our second daughter was born, I was blown away by how different she was from her older sister, on the first day! I guess I had held the view that “a baby is a baby,” until Darling Daughter A exhibited her own response to the world in contrast to Darling Daughter 1. It’s a good thing I could see the difference between them, because I was enabled to receive each girl on her own terms and enjoy her uniqueness. Such an appreciation releases a mom from the temptation to treat her children exactly alike, which I think was a goal my own mother had. (It didn’t help that my sister was born on my second birthday, which doomed us both to joint birthday parties and exactly the same gifts year after year!)

It has been fun to watch the girls’ personalities evolve over the years. They have many characteristics in common, probably attributed to their gene pool and common household upbringing. But their temperaments are different from each other and even their parents, all of which demonstrates the lesson for today. Two people with similar gifts but different personalities approach life and ministry from their unique vantage points. And people can change.

A person in church leadership, as an example, has many opportunities in life to undergo assessment of ministry potential, gifts, and work style. The first, for me, was when a Bible study of which I was a part decided to explore the Myers-Briggs Temperament Sorter. The polarities explored are these: Extrovert-Introvert; Sensate-iNtuitive; Thinker-Feeler; and Judgment-Perceiving. What emerged from this experience was the awareness that people are wired differently, along the lines the Apostle Paul spoke of in his letters about the Body of Christ. 1 Corinthians 12, for example, Paul makes the case that every Christian is uniquely gifted, and the Body’s responsibility is to affirm that giftedness in the way it coordinates the saints for ministry. Others do not have to be just like me in order to be effective, make a contribution, or give glory to God. The fact that they aren’t is a good thing!

For many heading into ministry, the next opportunity for assessment is when one is taken under care of the presbytery in preparation for ordination. In San Francisco Presbytery, long ago (and still to this day), candidates were required to undergo a psychological assessment to check for psychosis, unhealthy motivations, or mental issues that could affect one’s handling of the pastorate. Yes, I passed, for those of you who think I am crazy. But I remember the comments from the psychologist, who pointed not only to present gifts but also to future potential and growth points. Those put me on alert for further work in the future.

As time passes and one encounters the real self in real ministry situations, other opportunities to grow and learn present themselves. It may be in the form of “executive coaching,” a Doctor of Ministry course in church leadership, or perhaps, after a crash-and-burn experience, a full course of psychotherapy. In those situations, one might take the DISC Personality Test, which measures four behaviors: dominance, influence, steadiness, and conscientiousness. A lot of pastors are “high-dominance” and/or “high-influence,” and I am no different, as these are the people who communicate broadly, lead groups, accept risk, and set vision.

With these tools in mind, I can report that I started out in adulthood as a Myers-Briggs ENTJ, otherwise known as the “field marshal.”  Extrovert, Intuitive, Thinking, Judging. That is, energized by social interaction, naturally organized to create structure in groups, able to articulate vision, think and present rationally, and make decisions that stick. This accounts for my rise to leadership in the pastorate (getting bonked on the head by the stained-glass ceiling eventually) and in renewal organizations in the PC(USA). It’s why I am at my best in front of a white-board with colored pens in my hand working with a group. It’s why I have a continuing desire to learn and grow and become competent in new areas.

As I have gotten older and maybe wiser, my Myers-Briggs profile has changed to XNTJ, with scores in the T-F continuum closer to the middle, that is, more expressive at an emotional level than before. The X means an even score between extrovert and introvert behaviors, reflecting the quiet lifestyle I have enjoyed the past seven years, working at home alone. What has changed is my ability to work with individuals and small groups, and to be more sensitive and empathetic, even as I apply knowledge and rationality to the problems and issues that come before me. As to the benefits of introversion, I heartily recommend the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain (Broadway Books, 2013). I am learning to nurture the quiet side, allow time for reflection, prepare for social occasions and give time to “recovery” afterward.

I believe that Jesus was an XXXX on the Myers-Briggs. He demonstrated the perfect balance between alone-time and crowd-time, between vision-setting and practical problem-solving, between thinking and feeling, and between judgment and flexibility. So the fact that two of my scores have moved toward the middle of the scale gives me hope that God is even working to transform my personality into something he can use in new and (I hope) delightful ways.

We’re getting close now to a full SHAPE profile. My next post will review the ministry experiences that have shaped me, for good or for ill, over decades of ministry life.


2 Responses to “My SHAPE: P—Personality”

  1. I shudda known it. I’m an ENTJ also.

  2. emd5542 Says:


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