By Rachel Sinclair
In both secular and Christian cultures, personality assessments have reached widespread popularity. It’s not uncommon to overhear conversations like, “I’m really leaning into my 3-wing today” or “I think my top love language is quality time.”
But what role do personality typing systems play within the church, and should church leaders pay attention to them?
We interviewed Anne Bogel, author of Reading People: How Seeing the World through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything to learn how church leaders can use these topics and tools to better connect with, serve and love others.
Personality tests and typing systems, such as the Enneagram, Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, StrengthsFinder and Five Love Languages, are prominent in our culture. What does this prevalence reveal about the desire to understand ourselves and others on a deeper level?
Bogel: We want to know and be known, but we don’t always know how to go about it.
In the book Reading People, you write that organizations, including churches, can have a personality, and many Western churches have an “extrovert bias.” What is an extrovert bias, and why should church leaders be aware of it?
Bogel: As far as personality distinctions go, introversion versus extroversion is an important one. Introverts and extroverts are literally wired differently.
Scientists have discovered measurable, physiological differences between the two groups that affect everything, from how quickly they think on their feet to how their bodies react to caffeine, to how much they enjoy church coffee hour.
The terms “introvert” and “extrovert” often are used to refer to people, but they are also verbs: We all spend time introverting and extraverting. A healthy human needs to spend time introverting and extraverting. The world—and the church—need both introverts and extroverts.
Just like people have their own personalities, places and organizations have personalities. “Extrovert bias” is a fancy way of saying a place caters to extroverts, valuing their gifts, preferences and communication styles over that of introverts.
Generally speaking, evangelical churches in America have more extroverted qualities than introverted ones. This extroverted personality puts extroverts at ease but can make introverts feel overwhelmed—or worse, as though they don’t belong at all.
How can personality assessments help believers foster unity within the body of Christ?
Bogel: We are all fearfully and wonderfully made, and also uniquely made. Understanding how our personalities differ—sometimes greatly so—has made me appreciate how true it is that we are all needed in the body of Christ.
Is there a specific personality assessment that you recommend for church leaders?
Bogel: Personality assessments can be fantastic tools to help individuals understand both themselves and others. I’ve observed the Enneagram to be a helpful tool for spiritual growth, while the Clifton StrengthsFinder and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator can help leadership teams function more effectively.
What’s your advice for individuals taking a personality test? Why is it often difficult to achieve accurate results on the first attempt?
Bogel: Most personality assessments are self-reporting, which means they are only as accurate as your answers. Even when well-intentioned, it’s all too easy to deceive ourselves about what we’re really like, or to answer questions aspirationally instead of realistically.
My best advice is to seek input from someone who knows you well, and to view any results as a starting point, not as a final declaration.
Can you explain the terms “fixed mindset” and “growth mindset?” How do these play a role applying knowledge from a personality test?
Bogel: People approach life in one of two ways. Some people believe their characteristics are carved in stone: You’re good at math, or you’re not. You’re athletically inclined, or you’re not. You’re funny, or you’re not. We say these people, who believe you have to play the hand you’re dealt, have a fixed mindset.
Others believe people can change over time, improving their natural skills, talents, and abilities through deliberate effort and purposeful engagement. These people believe that your cards are just a starting point.
These phrases—“fixed mindset” and growth mindset”—come from Carol Dweck’s groundbreaking research, and for further reading, I highly recommend seeking out her work.
As you may suspect, it’s vastly better to have a growth mindset, because it frees us to accept ourselves as we are, while also freeing us to grow and change.
In Reading People, you write, “Our types should never dictate who we are or what we do––not to ourselves or to anyone else.” Why is this statement important, from an accountability standpoint?
Bogel: Your personality is not your destiny. Any information you get from a personality assessment should be a starting point for understanding and growth, not the final word.
You may have heard people use their personality type to explain away bad behavior: “I’m Type X, I couldn’t possibly clean up after myself/pray quietly for thirty minutes/be kind to strangers.”
No! This is the wrong way to use personality assessments. The information you gain about your own (or others’) personalities should never be used to excuse behavior, but to gain clarity about aspects of your personality that you’ve felt lingering beneath the surface but have never been able to articulate.
Once you can bring these things into the light, before your conscious mind, you can actually do something about them.
Rachel is a freelance writer based in Franklin, Tenn.