Only one personality counts

A month or so ago a friend emailed me: “Write about personality – I have heard only half a sermon in fifty years on that!” So here goes!

Personality is God-given, for it is what we are born with. Canon Lesley J. Thomas, a professor of practical theology and a fellow of the British Psychological Society, who has specialised in ministry and personality types, wrote: “Taking Genesis 1.27 seriously, sex differences are clearly rooted in creation: men and women are created equally in the image of God…. By extension, the theology of individual differences argues that psychological type differences reflect the intention of the divine creator: introverts and extraverts are created equally in the image of God.” There is no one personality type better than another.

Many years ago I underwent a Myers-Briggs personality analysis at Ridley Hall, Cambridge. My reported type was ENTJ. Based on this analysis, I am a ‘dominant extraverted thinker with introverted intuition’! Graham Osborne in his book, Be A Better Leader: Personality Type and Difference in Ministry (SPCK 2016) described the ENTJ leader as ‘the decisive strategist’. He wrote:

ENTJs are quick-witted, original, innovative problem-solvers with a natural flair for leadership. Intelligent and perceptive, they are quick, assertive and positive, making decisions with clarity and logic, and seldom troubled by second thoughts…. With their highly developed presence of personal power, ENTJs are charismatic magnets who draw others to their cause. They decide quickly and communicate easily and are always on the lookout for improvement in themselves, those they lead and the organizations to which they belong. With a tendency to be outspoke and critical, ENTJs would benefit from being less hard on themselves and on those they serve.

However, as Osborne made clear, ENTJs are just one of 16 types of Christian leader all of whom have strengths and weaknesses. For while an ENTJ may be ‘the decisive strategist’, the ISTJ leader is ‘the responsible realist’; the ISTP leader ‘the logical pragmatist’; the ESTP leader ‘the energetic problem solver’; the ESTJ leader ‘the efficient organizer’; the ISFP leader ‘the practical helper’, the ISFP leader ‘the versatile supporter’; the ESFP leader ‘the enthusiastic improviser’; the ESFJ leader ‘the supportive contributor’; the INFJ leader ‘the insightful visionary’; the INFP leader ‘the thoughtful idealist’; the ENFP leader ‘the imaginative motivator’; the ENFJ leader ‘the compassionate facilitator’; the INTJ leader ‘the conceptual planner’; the OINTP leader ‘the objective analyst’; and the ENTP leader ‘the enterprising explorer’. As Keith Lamdin, a former Baptist minister who became Principal of Sarum College, Salisbury, has said, Christian leaders “come in all shapes and sizes of personality”.

As a young preacher I loved the definition of preaching as ‘the communication of truth through personality’. The definition was coined by Phillips Brooks (1835 – 1893), then rector of the Church of the Holy Trinity in Boston, Massachusetts, who at the age of 42, delivered the Lyman Beecher Lectures in Preaching at Yale. According to the Oxford Dictionary, the term ‘personality’ means ‘the assemblage of qualities or characteristics which makes a person a distinctive individual; the (especially notable or appealing) distinctive character of a person’. Before actually reading Brooks’ lectures, I confess that I had equated these ‘qualities’ or ‘characteristics’ with the natural attractiveness or winsomeness of the preacher, as if the effectiveness of the preacher has something to do with the preacher’s charisma or dynamism. In these terms I had deduced that a good preacher is a preacher with ‘personality’. But Brooks had something else in mind: For him the effective preacher is a preacher whose character has been shaped by their experience of God. To quote Brooks again: “It is to be a message given to us for transmission, but yet a message which we cannot transmit until it has entered into our own experience, and we can give our own testimony of its spiritual power”. Preachers are not just objective “messengers” of God’s truth, they are subjective “witnesses” to the saving truth of God. Indeed, I am told that Brooks himself was not a colourful personality: he was shy, spoke rapidly, and had no eye contact. Yet he became a ‘prince of preachers’ not least because he spoke with sincerity and intensity. His personality reflected his experience of God.

In the end, of course, there is only one personality who counts – and that is Jesus. One of my earliest memories as a teenage preacher was entering an old wooden pulpit and seeing there a plaque with the words of John 12.21 (AV): “Sir we would see Jesus”. This, surely, remains the challenge for preachers – to ensure that our preaching enables our hearers to “see Jesus”.

One comment

  1. Thank goodness that so many different personality types can help us “see Jesus”.
    I have just returned from a weekend on Poetry and Prayer led by the Poet priest Malcolm Guite, Who was for many years the chaplain at Girton. When I was younger, I had not thought I was particularly attracted by poetry, although hymns had always been a source of joy and help to me.
    Almost the whole weekend was taken up by an exposition of Herbert’s poem on Prayer, with Malcolm giving lots of illustrations from his own life and experience and revealing much of his personality.
    I came away with a feeling of uplift that had been absent for some long time; he had certainly helped me to begin to “see Jesus” freshly again. I am hoping that gems received then will continue to lighten my life and by extension, the lives of others.

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