9/4/2014 3:00:00 PM
Recently I began teaching principles of leadership on Sunday evenings at World Harvest Church, and I've enjoyed it immensely. Last week we spent the hour talking about personality types, and I could practically see the light bulbs turning on above people's heads as I shared principles from an important text on the subject, Wired That Way
by Marita Littauer.
“So that's why I am the way I am!,” some people seemed to be saying. “So that's why my spouse is the way he/she is!,” was the implied response of others. It's clear this is a neglected subject in the context of ministry.
I'm convinced that if leaders in the Church understood that we fall within a range of personality types and that one size does not fit all when it comes to opportunities for ministry, it would revolutionize the way we did things.
One of the most important business books of the last 20 years is “Good to Great” by Jim Collins. Collins studied companies that performed at the rate of the market as a whole for a period of years, and later became star performers. He looked to see what those companies had in common, and the similarities were astonishing. The change in performance of the “good to great” companies could usually be attributed to the installment of a new chief executive officer, for example, but none of those CEOs came from outside the company as a purported savior. They all were promoted from within, and initially didn't do much to shake things up. What they did was what Collins called “get the right people on the bus” – install people in key positions, usually from within the company – and “get the people in the right seats on the bus” – find roles that suited those people best. Essentially, they put existing staff in positions that maximized their strengths and minimized their weaknesses.
Makes sense, right? And yet too often in organizations, the church as well as in secular business, we look for a body, any
body, to fill a job. We'd do much better seeking to put people in the jobs that their personalities best suit them for.
There are four main personality types:
- The sanguine, outgoing and fun-seeking.
- The choleric, intense and control-seeking.
- The melancholy, meticulous and sensitive.
- The phlegmatic, peaceful and easygoing.
Most of us identify readily with one of the following types, with characteristics of one or two of the other types. It's helpful to think of the four types the way we do primary colors, and the people in the office or the pew as each reflecting a unique combination of three or four of those primary colors.
Types speak to our preferences – what we'd do if nobody made
us do anything. I have an elder who excels at visiting people in our city's hospitals, and other staff members to whom preaching is as natural as breathing. That's not to say those people couldn't switch roles, only that their personality makes work tied to their preferences ideal for them and the ministry.
The trouble is, we don't often account for personality types in assigning staff or volunteer duties. And we market events and programs in the church as though there were only one personality type. Most churches of any size, for example, have a small-group ministry. And how are those groups sold? “Come to someone's house with a bunch of other people! We'll eat together, and pray together, and learn together, and fellowship together and generally be together
! Won't that be great!”
The sanguine thinks so – it's a new audience. The choleric thinks so – it's a new group of people to be in charge of. The phlegmatic will go along for the ride, because that's what phlegmatics do. The melancholy's response, however is more likely to be, “Why would I want to do that? Nothing about that situation appeals to me. In fact, it sounds like a nightmare!”
The melancholy has just as much to gain from a small-group experience as anyone else, of course. So the church should remember that, and highlight other features of the small-group ministry, such as the opportunity for a deeper understanding of Scripture. Check out the messaging for your next church social gathering – I'll guarantee it was written to sanguines and cholerics (probably by
a sanguine or choleric), to the exclusion of others. If we understood the very real differences that exist among us, I suspect we'd do things much differently.
Scripture suggests that God blesses different types of individuals. What we know of Peter suggests that he was a take-charge guy, a choleric. John, on the other hand, was reflective and peaceful, a melancholy or a phlegmatic. They didn't have much in common other than Jesus – but that was enough. More than enough, in fact.
In 40 years of public ministry I've learned that you can't just plug anyone into any job and expect success. God made us all differently, and I believe He expects us to value those differences and acknowledge them as we share the Gospel with others.
- September 4, 2014