Who knew that a simple visit with my sister would have such a profound impact on my family? As soon as I walked through the front door, my sister informed me that they had a test for me to try. In that moment I was introduced to the Myers-Briggs Personality Test. I learned that my personality type was ITSP for those who know about the test. For those who have never been introduced to the wonders of Myers-Brigg, don’t worry about what the letters mean. It’s not important.
I discovered that as part of his job my brother-in-law had just come home from a full week of studying Myers-Briggs and was just waiting for a prospect on whom to try it out. I was the lucky soul who happened to walk through their door. Before I unpacked my suitcase I was sitting at their kitchen table deciding which answers best suited who I was.
I have become a strong proponent of the test. It certainly helped me understand myself better but even more important it helped me understand the other members of my family. My wife and I realized how different we were in some crucial areas and were able to change our life styles to accommodate each other.
This all happened more than twenty years ago and I have been the recipient of its blessings ever since.
I learned a couple of important lessons from this test. The first is that there is no right or wrong in personality types, just differences. I have a daughter who is very different from me. Myers-Briggs differentiates between people who process things through logical thinking and those who process the same things through feelings. I am off the charts on the thinking side of the ledger while my daughter is off the charts on the feeling side. When she was young and she faced an issue, I would carefully explain why my thinking on the matter made logical sense and for me if something made logical sense then of course you took that direction. Often after I had explained to her the logic of it all, she would do the exact opposite.
With my logical mind I could never understand why she would do that. If something made sense than there really was no other choice one could make. Today I still don’t understand her, but I now know why I don’t understand her and for me that makes a huge difference. In fact I now believe that every leadership team should have some thinking people and some feeling people on the team because they both make important contributions to the challenge of solving problems. I have learned that my daughter’s way of processing things isn’t wrong. It is just different.
A second lesson that I learned is that we have to accept who we are because we can’t change our basic personality. I am an introvert and no matter how hard I try I can’t become an extrovert. I am a thinker and I will never be a feeler. We can accept our strengths and improve our weaknesses but at the core of who we are, we will always be that type of personality.
Every church has a personality
About now I expect that many of you are wondering what Myers-Briggs has to do with churches. As church leaders there are some important lessons to be learned.
The first is that not only every person but every church has a personality and that means that every church is different. One of the mistakes that leaders have made time and time again has been to take a system that has been used successfully in one setting and then have tried it in their church setting expecting the same results.
The problem is that their church has a totally different personality than the original church in which the program was first used. It almost never works. I don’t have hard facts on this, but my sense is that for every church that successfully implements someone else’s program, there are at least ten cases where it doesn’t work. In many cases the failure is disastrous.
The second lesson that I learned is that your church has the personality that it has and while it might change over time as new people begin to attend, you won’t change it quickly. Good leaders learn to look for the strengths that their church possesses rather than trying to change who they are down at their core. Too often leaders focus so much on what needs to change that they never get around to looking at the strengths that are already there.
Finally there are no rights and no wrongs. There are just differences. When I say that, I’m not saying that there are no theological absolutes. I’m not saying that we are free to do whatever we wish within our churches. I am saying that in terms of what gives a church its personality there are no rights and wrongs. In fact I believe that God created variety within his church in order to appeal to the variety within people.
God made your church unique with a unique history, a unique mix of gifts, a unique geographical setting, and a unique leadership team. All of that has resulted in a unique personality for your church. The secret is to become the best “you” that you possibly can be.