New Series beginning Monday: Spiritual Practices by Personality Type

Beginning next week, Mondays are going to become the day on which I post as a part of an ongoing series (this is my proactive response to one of my fears that I’ll run out of things to say).  My first series, which will last for 16 weeks, will center on the intersection of two areas near and dear to my heart: spiritual practices and personality types.

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When I consider all the things that I have learned that have had an impact on my relationship with others, the recognition of typologies has probably been the most influential.  According to Wiktionary, a typology is defined as:

  1. The systematic classification of the types of something according to their common characteristics.
  2. (archaeology) The result of the classification of things according to their characteristics.

As much as people want to be unique (and we are!) there are still common characteristics that we can use to group certain people together.  Some easy typologies around which we can generalize are the differences between women and men, and between introverts and extroverts.  But, as helpful as these typologies are, they tend to be a bit limiting due to the fact that there are only two types to compare and contrast.  As a result, generalizing about women, for example, can get a person in hot water pretty quickly because not all women reflect the generalization.  I prefer typologies with a bit more breadth to them, and my typology of choice is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).

The MBTI is a system of 16 different types, composed of a combination of 4 natural preferences and how they interact.

1. Do people wear you out or get you jazzed? (extroversion/introversion)

Contrary to popular opinion, extroverts and introverts are not identifiable by whether or not they are expressive (I happen to be an expressive introvert). Rather, the extroversion/introversion scale identifies whether you gain energy from external activity or internal reflection.  An easy (but not exhaustive) test is to ask, “Do you get jazzed or worn out by being with other people?”*

[*Let’s be clear, the question is about energy, not whether or not a person likes other people.]

2. Do you see the forest or the trees? (intuitive/sensing)

When making a decision, do you want to get a sense of the basic flow of the situation or do you want a lot of information?  Intuitive types gather information in ways that are very abstract and theoretical, and they tend to connect information to other pieces of information or larger patterns.  Sensing types, on the other hand, prefer to gather information which is tangible and concrete – information that is “right here and how.”

3. Do you make decisions with your heart or your head? (feeling/thinking)

Despite conventional wisdom, everyone makes decisions in rational manner.  The difference comes in what criteria we use to make our decisions.  Feeling types try to make decisions that conform with emotional and relational ideals.  What will return balance to the situation?  Thinking types, however, make decisions based on logic and consistency.  What decision will match the assumed set of rules?

4. Are you organized or spontaneous? (judging/perceiving)

While the ability to plan in a skill that can be learned, this preference is all about your disposition to deviating from a plan.  Judging types have an amazing ability to set and agenda and stick to it.  Percieving types are the ones who show us there is nothing to fear in going off-script.

For the next 16 weeks I’d like to explore what difference a person’s personality type might make to their practice of spirituality.  For instance: As an introverted, intuitive thinker ,I love silent meditation (zazen is my fave), but I know that this form of spiritual practice is quite frustrating for my extroverted, sensing feeler of a wife. I want to find out what kind of practice my be as transformative for her as zazen is for me.  It makes me mad to think that some teacher of practice would tell her that she should be able to practice zazen as effective as he does.  Given the difference in the temperament of people, that doesn’t compute.

During this series I want to explore four different questions:

  1. How do we identify a each personality type?
  2. What does each type value as a part of their Christian faith?
  3. What practices can help each type maintain balance and remained centered in God?
  4. What practices can help each type grow and continue to conform to the image of Christ?

As you look forward to this series, what practices have you found important for you?

4 thoughts on “New Series beginning Monday: Spiritual Practices by Personality Type”

  1. I’m looking forward to this series. There are so many books on the market about leadership, but I have found that a deep understanding of people’s personality types is the foundation of them all. Every staff that I’ve been part of has worked on knowing their own and each other’s types. It is indispensable; it helps us see how our strengths can blend more forcefully, and it helps us have compassion for each other weaknesses. Futher, there is far less “personalizing” of issues when we understand the fundamental differences in how we engage and process the world around us.

  2. Excited to continue this conversation, both for my work and for myself. Both times I have had MBTI evaluated, the response has come back, ‘You are __, but BARELY.’ The lines ‘score’ to one side or the other by only a tick. I prefer to think of this as adaptable and flexible, not indecisive. :o)

  3. Note please that I am INFP and as a pastor that is rare. I find myself pushed into practices that I would not choose for myself. But that push is sometimes what I need to find the one thing that helps me broaden my understanding, awaken a new thought path, or understand where those E or S or T or J people live.
    Having that experience has deepened my relationsihp with others around me as well as my relationship with God. So although I would love to sit alone, pray in silence, listen for God within my personal sanctuary, wehn I am able to worship through mission opportunities – a Saturday evening service or even at our food pantry, I come away with deep gratefulness for the opportunity.

    1. Leigh, thank you. That is a perfect example of what I hope this series will help us accomplish. We all have our preferred ways of connecting with God and if we can augment those with practices which push us, then we and Creation are better for it.

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