Saturday, January 30, 2016

Seminary PM2: Ministers have different personalities and strengths

Today's post in the "Seminary in a Nutshell" series features Living Your Strengths as a resource. It is a ministerial version of the popular resource, Now Discover Your Strengths.

The series so far:

Chapter 1: The Calling of a Minister

Chapter 2: The Person of a Minister

Ministers have different personalities and strengths.
1. One of the greatest insights you can have as a minister is to know that people are all different. You yourself have certain strengths and weaknesses, as well as a particular personality. We cannot and should not expect everyone else to be exactly like us or necessarily to be able to do the things that we can do. By way of compensation, those who have difficulty in our areas of strength probably have areas of strength where we are weak.

Paul expresses this truth in terms of spiritual "gifts" in 1 Corinthians 12: "Just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ... If the foot would say, 'Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,' that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear would say, 'Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,' that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?" (12:12, 15-17).

Paul gives us here a wonderful picture of an organism where the different parts have different strengths but they all work together for common goals. So people each have different personalities, different strengths and weaknesses, but they can each serve a function. They can all work together toward common goals. And the same applies to ministers. Different ministers have different personalities, and different ministers have varying strengths and weaknesses.

2. One of the best tools to analyze personality is the "MBTI" or the "Myers-Briggs Type Indicator." There are various websites where you can take an unofficial version of the test for free. These sorts of tests are sometimes called "inventories" because they help you see what resources you have in stock.

The Myers-Briggs test uses four categories to help categorize someone's personality, thus giving you four letters that characterize the way you tick. The two central letters are the most central to your personality. Are you more intuitive or concrete? Do you act more in terms of what is logical or what you think is right?

So one person might be highly intuitive and another highly concrete. An intuitive person tends to be more imaginative and perhaps abstract. This is a person that does well with the big-picture and sees connections between things. The concrete person sees details and distinctions. They might say that they live in the real world. If a person is more "iNtuitive," we give them an "N" for their second letter of the four. If a person is more "Sensing," we give them an "S" for this letter.

The third letter is either a "T" (Thinking) or an "F" (Feeling). The "T" is someone who always tries to do what makes sense to them, what they think is logical. They may have difficulty relating to people who operate more out of their emotions or values. The "F" personality is more concerned with what they think is right than with what the rules say or what may seem logical.

Usually, one of these four characteristics (N or S, T or F) is dominant in the way you tick, the dominant characteristic of your personality. And the letter opposite your dominant characteristic is usually your inferior characteristic. Your greatest strengths unsurprisingly line up with your dominant characteristic, and your greatest weaknesses usually line up with your most inferior characteristic. If your greatest strength is being logical (T), then your greatest weakness is probably taking other people's feelings into account (F).

3. The first and last letters of the analysis have to do with whether you are an introvert or an extrovert (an "I" or an "E") and whether you like to finish what you start (J) or enjoy the journey more than the destination (P). An introvert is someone who recharges their batteries by withdrawing from other people to get alone or at least away from interaction with other people. An extrovert is someone whose energy levels go up when they are with others, even if they are strangers. It is not necessarily a matter of how outgoing you are or how much you talk but about what energizes you.

The "J" or "judging" personality likes to reach conclusions and destinations. The "P" or "perceiving" personality likes to keep exploring and taking more in. J type personalities tend to be task or goal oriented. P type personalities like side-trips and surprises.

Put these four letters together and you have 16 different personality types, ranging from an ESTJ who is out-going, concrete, logical, and task-oriented to the INFP who is an introverted and imaginative feeler who is all about the journey.

4. Understanding that we all have different personalities, with their accompanying strengths and weaknesses, is incredibly important for ministry. You cannot place a value judgment on others based on whether they have your personality or your strengths. For the church to be the whole package, it needs to have all different kinds of people using each of their strengths.

You have heard the saying, "opposites attract." It makes sense that we would be fascinated by someone whose greatest strengths is in an area of our greatest weakness. This dynamic is the stuff of which marriages are made! And it is also the stuff of which they are undone. If the fact that our spouse has strength in our area of greatest weakness draws us, the fact that their greatest weakness may be our area of greatest strength often results in conflict.

5. The "NTJ" personality will probably like the Myers- Briggs approach to personality because of its logical and comprehensive categorization. Other personalities (P personalities especially) hate it because they feel like it boxes them in.

Another approach to the general subject, one that is more concrete and generated more by open-ended research is the "strengths finder" approach. In 2001, based on Gallop research, Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton published a book called, Now, Discover Your Strengths. It identified thirty-four different types of personality types. A version of the book aimed at ministers followed two years later: Living Your Strengths: Discover Your God Given Talents and Inspire Your Community.

The premise of these books is that many organizations approach the roles their people play in the wrong way. The two key assumptions they get wrong is thinking that anyone can be competent at any job and that the greatest area for growth is in your area of weakness. [1] On the contrary, Buckingham and Clifton concluded that "Each person's talents are enduring and unique" and "Each person's greatest room for growth is in the areas of his or her strength." [2]

The implication is that some people are better suited to function in some roles than others. Similarly, it is generally a waste of time to exert a lot of energy trying to fix your weaknesses. It is a better use of your time to focus on developing your strengths.

6. There are obvious implications for leadership and for the way the church is organized. However, at this point in our series, we are more interested in how these insights can help a minister know him or herself. There are a few easy conclusions to reach.

One is that it is important to know yourself. Hopefully no one will make these sorts of tests into self-fulfilling prophecies. Do not box yourself in. Rather, develop a healthy sense of yourself without refusing to expand your horizons.

Second, you may not have the luxury of delegating areas of your weakness to others. In some contexts, there are hardly any other people to give your areas of weakness. You may have to do visitation even if you are an introvert who hates visiting people. You may have to preach or do administration even if those are not areas of strength.

But you can still have understand why you struggle in those areas and you can help your congregation understand. You can focus on the areas of your strength and, when it is possible, bring in volunteers or staff to balance you out. Or you can leave a solo pastorate and go on staff somewhere where you can focus on your area of strength.

There are great stories of church leaders on the highest levels who questioned themselves because they did not fit the picture of a minister they had in their head. I am thinking right now of two very prominent ministers who questioned going into ministry because they were more business minded than the stereotypical pastor of their day. I am thinking of another who did not have the gift of preaching but was an amazing manager and organizer. He is now in a key leadership role.

These individuals knew their strengths and went into ministry in ways that capitalized on them, and they went on to have an astounding impact. Anyone going into ministry should know their strengths and weaknesses. They should seek out roles in ministry where they can shine and delegate areas of weakness to others.

Effective leaders know who they are. Good leaders leverage their strengths and manage their weaknesses.

Next week: Seminary PM3: Different ministers experience God in different ways.

[1] Now, Discover Your Strengths, 7.

[2] Strengths, 8.

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