Last Sunday I was delighted to join the last morning of the residential weekend which is the start of our new Lay Ministers’ Formation Year. 12 of the 15 trainee lay ministers this year set out on the last leg of their journey towards licensing next year with a hugely successful weekend, getting to know themselves as individuals and as a new community better. The feedback I heard at the final session before our Eucharist together was better than we could have hoped for.
One aspect of the weekend was an exploration of people’s personality types through looking at their Myers Briggs types. The Myers Briggs test identifies people across 4 different dimensions: introvert/extravert; sensing/intuitive; thinking/feeling; and judging/perceiving. What amazed everyone at the weekend was that almost every one of the 16 possible variations of this scheme was represented by somebody but that, despite that great variety, God seemed to be calling each one and they were all able to get along really well as a community.
Myers Briggs is a very useful leadership tool in helping people undertsand their own personality and preferences but also in helping people identify why other people are different and how to get along with them. There are other useful leadership tools which can also help: Buckingham’s ‘Strength-Finder’ for example can help people understand their strengths and weaknesses so that they can build on the former and mitigate against the latter. I have personally found the Enneagram to be one of the most useful tools for understanding my shadow side, and particularly the fears which drive so many of my shadow behaviours.
Despite the usefulness of these ways of classifying and thinking about personality types, gifts, preferences etc, I have to admit that I’m always slightly uneasy when I see them being used indiscriminately. The key danger is, I think, that they can become self-fulfilling prophecies. Once one knows what one is, there is a tendency to play up to our ‘image’ rather than responding authentically to the individual situation or relationship we find ourselves in. At worst I have heard people use their MB type as an excuse to avoid what they don’t want to do: ‘Aaah, I don’t do admin, I’m an ENFP’. Well, tough (says I, under my breath) sometimes we have to do stuff we don’t want to do, which we find a bit stretching, because it’s part of the job we’ve been given to do. We should acknowledge that it’ll probably take a bit more time and emotional effort perhaps, and maybe that there may be someone else who would be happy to do the thing we’re not so great at and they will do it better than us. But at the end of the day, the job is the job with its good bits and its tricky bits – and hopefully the good bits will outweigh the tricky bits over time.
Just in case you’re wondering, the best description I have found which explains all my funny little ways is that I am a Gemini born in the Year of the Snake. Which means I like blogging more than I like sorting out my tax return ……