Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Vicars: Personality Type and Church Growth

I'm working my way through some of the material from last months Church Growth Research Programme report, and came across something quite startling, though so far little reported. The slides from David Voas presentation on numerical growth have lots of helpful charts on different factors in church growth. There are a couple on the personality type of clergy.

Most of us who've been through vicar factory have probably done a Myers-Briggs test or three. If you don't know it, the test explores 4 aspects of personality (here's my rough summary):
  • Extravert/Introvert - are you energised by the outer world and other people, or the inner world
  • Intuitive/Sensing - do you look at the big picture, possibilities, and process information with your imagination, or do you look at the details, the present and the empirical facts.
  • Thinking/Feeling - do you process information through logic and reason, or through relationships and how people will be affected.
  • Judging/Percieving - do you like to organise things and plan them, or take things as they are and go with the flow.
The startling finding is this: "Growth is associated with E(xtravert) and N (intuitive). The combination of E and N is particularly effective. I-S clergy are three times as likely to preside over decline as substantial growth, E-N clergy are twice as likely to experience substantial growth as decline"

Extraverts will tend to do more motivating and enthusing of people, and here is the correlation in the research between 'motivating' (generating enthusiasm and inspiring people to action) as a personality quality for the vicar, and how much their church has grown, or not.

And here is the chart for '"Envisioning" (having a clear vision for the future and being focused on achieving it" (which is principally an 'Intuitive' quality)

Alternatively, being 'empathic' and 'persisting' were identified as 2 qualities which don't make for church growth. Both are good qualities, but if 'persisting' becomes 'inflexible' and 'empathic' becomes 'don't do anything that will upset people" then its easy to see how a church can get stuck. 

They are also two qualities which link at a very deep level to the culture of the CofE and the way it has traditionally seen ministry. I remember a visit to a senior CofE cleric who suggested that if I wasn't motivated principally by doing house visits to the sick (pastoral care) and saying my prayers according to the daily office (persistence) then perhaps I didn't belong in the Anglican church. Do we have a serious cultural problem here?

I don't believe that these charts simply sanction lack of 'empathy' or 'persistence' - you need persistence to see a vision through, and you need empathy to love people. But perhaps the role of the leader is to make sure that good pastoral care is going on, rather than doing it all themselves. For the Anglican church to grow, so that we can keep saying our prayers and loving people, we need more leaders who don't fit the current mould.

As an extrovert (I blog, what did you expect?) intuitive, I find this all quite encouraging. But what does it mean for people who are wired differently? One of the other qualities strongly correlated with growth is 'reflection' - the ability to evaluate what you're doing and change/improve it. That's something introverts should be good at. And maybe it also encourages us to think about leadership teams, rather than vicars alone, and enabling lay leadership with the qualities which we ourselves lack. We have both a lay pastoral team, and visionary/motivating leadership on a new building project, also led by a lay member of the church. 

Final note of caution: the figures above are based on the leaders own reports of whether their churches are growing or declining. You'll notice that it looks like the majority of churches in the survey are growing, which clearly isn't the Anglican reality. So the stats may be less stark, but they're still significant.

update: plenty of debate in response to this on Twitter, if you can make sense of it!

update 2 good reflections from Jody Stowell on what constitutes good leadership. Makes the important point that a good leader is reflective, which is also made in the research, and that's not always what comes naturally to Extraverts.


  1. That is interesting. Apparently more clergy are introvert in the C of E. As an ENFP, I know I'm in a minority, and share your sense that pastoral 1-1 visits and solitary prayer take energy.

  2. This is really interesting, David. I've been thinking a lot about personality and ministry recently (it's my current IME module), and I think you've hit the nail on the head in highlighting 'reflection' or 'self awareness'. I think we need to be aware of our own strengths and weaknesses, whatever our MBTI types, and be prepared to work on them.

    I also agree that we ought to be prepared to say 'you are better suited at x than I am, so why don't you do it?' I find the traditional visiting-intensive model of parish ministry to be both draining and frustrating, so I suspect that when I move on to an incumbency, I will be quick to establish teams of gifted lay people to help in these areas.

  3. so why is the C of E still selecting for sensitive introverts?? Heard from someone today that he was not selected: part of feedback was 'Did you know you come over as very confident?'

    1. Because hopefully the church is only recognising who God has actually chosen..wonder what the profile of Jesus' disciples would reveal and how much they have been transformed in their walk with Jesus - emphasising the aspect that they were sent out at least in pairs, not alone. Myers-Briggs is actually not that fantastic and evidence based - and the other thing is: growth is not just in numbers and time/speed...'introverts' and 'sensing' people might create growth that takes a long time (as through 1-2-1, aspects of spiritual formation/discipline), but might be more in depth and substantial. It might be more helpful in a lot of instances to focus more on what Jesus lived as an example: being obedient to and shaped by the Father and the Spirit, being truly inclusive and non-judgemental, trusting and expecting His Father to do what He asks for, investing a lot of time, love and energy in a few people who then did the same with others....just a thought...

  4. And that was seen as a problem? I think we have a few more people now in the CofE who understand what makes for good leadership, and Justin Welby was clearly referencing this church growth report in his comments about 'good vicars' at New Year. I hope we don't get bogged down in people feeling got at because their churches aren't growing. The crisis in the CofE is too serious for us to be getting over-upset about whether the ABofC/research validates our style of ministry. We should be getting upset about the failure of the CofE to reach people with the gospel.

  5. I did Myers-Briggs during the discernment process, and came out as ENFP. Didn't work that well at BAP as they seemed set on those who were Intuitive types, evidenced that they said that I couldn't make quick connections when bombarded with questions.
    I tend to like to think before I respond to questions that demand an answer, rather than leap in feet first, a lesson that I've learned from life.

    I understand that there are Clergy from all strands of society, but if we become selective, seeking only extraverts than we do a disservice to those who have much to offer, but in different ways. The concentration on growth seems an idealistic, knee jerk reaction to what is unprecedented levels of decline, while ignoring the wider issues facing society. There is huge cultural shifts going on that we struggle to cope with - much of what we do is founded on tradition (nothing wrong with that) which can hold back the development as we meet resistance against change.

    Perhaps we need to have a different category of Clergy/Laity who are placed in the wider community, in evangelistic chaplaincy roles, whether as Fresh Expressions, or just being a Christian presence in every place. Most of these people would be voluntary, with perhaps coordinating roles across deaneries being part or full time paid roles.

    I know from my own experience from a chaplaincy placement in Bristol last year, what vital connections can be made and relationships built through such a, mainly voluntary presence. Just being and listening, acting as a sounding board or signpost to the wider Church. They might be supported by Ecumenical teams to help build and develop discipleship whether or not someone makes a commitment to a particular denomination.

    It might be worth trying - as one among other initiative and if set up not to measure success, but how it can serve others, it might just do more for the Church than some other things that have been tried in the past.

  6. We're selective already, and personality is one of many indicators. As I suggest above, we need churches led by teams where a variety of gifts our present. In our church, my colleague and I are a generation apart, and almost polar opposites when it comes to personality, and that actually works very well.

    This isn't a knee jerk response, decline has beeing going on for decades and people like Bob Jackson have been trying to waft the coffee under people's noses for over a decade. The fact is that if the church continues to decline, we simply won't have the capacity to do any of the other stuff about social issues.

    What you say about chaplaincy I'm going to copy and pass on to someone from my church who is a deacon in training. This sounds very much like what she feels called to, a role on the edge of church, based in the community, rather than running the institution. Thankyou, helpful comments.

  7. Well, first of all Myers-Briggs isn't scientifically validated.

    Often these tests relate to how we feel on the day or in the context and each of us can become a multiplicity of different people in different circumstances. None of us should be branded by a series of letters. We are all beloved of God and intricately knit together - children, students, spouses, parents, colleagues, partners, hermits, missionaries, evangelists, salespeople, poets, artists. All in one person. None of us are our MB definition.

    But even then most introvert clergy manage to perform perfectly adequately in public settings and more often become performing extroverts - in other words, although they may intrinsically be introverted, they can operate with an external focus to bring new people into the church, preach, engage and what have you. It might be a good thing to ask whether vicars are people-persons - seems to me that is a bigger issue. If you dont actually like people, you arent going to see growth.

    But as long as we base our psychological assessment on MB, I'm afraid I remain dubious.

  8. Please excuse me for butting in uninvited and adding my 2c, but how does God fit into this equation?

  9. A few thoughts:

    1. What does being extraverted have to do with blogging? I am a fairly extreme introvert (INTJ) and, when I have had the time, I have been known to blog up to 30,000 words in a week. :-)

    2. The word ‘growth’ really isn’t being used critically enough. The biblical measure of church growth is not primarily numbers but Christ, into whose form of life we are to mature (Ephesians 4:11-16). This doesn’t mean that the apostles didn’t care about numbers, but they are not primary. Also, not all growth is healthy: some growth is disordered, cancerous, growth, where one part of the body grows without reference to the rest or in a way that doesn’t edify the whole. Growth in some contexts may be resulting from a breakdown in the church’s healthy self-definition.

    3. I’m not sure that the focus on Myers-Briggs is either helpful, or scientifically well-grounded. While it may have a sort of heuristic usefulness in some situations, I am not sure how much weight we can put upon it.

    4. I’m wondering whether this research seems to work on the implicit assumption that each church has only one leadership style, one dominant personality type—and one leader—in operation. Is such a situation entirely healthy? Is there a rather strong form of clericalism here?

    5. The word and concept of ‘leadership’ seems to have been flattened out in many quarters, perhaps especially in debates about ‘women in leadership’. The different modes and offices of leadership are treated as if they were all much the same sort of thing. Also, that ‘leadership’ is the only way that a person’s gifts can be recognized and honoured within the life of the church. There is also a popular but unhelpful criterion of inclusion, which presumes that different sorts of persons should all be equally represented in each sort of leadership. If a certain personality type—say, extroverts, or perhaps less empathetic individuals—does priestly leadership better then we should encourage them to serve the church in such a manner and encourage others to use their gifts in other callings more suited to them.

    6. Some of the people in the conversation around this post are employing distinctions such as ‘pastoral’ and ‘missional’. One thing that frustrates me is the degree to which modern romantic images of the shepherd shape our concept of ‘pastoral’ leadership, quite in contrast to the image of the fighting shepherd that we encounter in the Bible. The biblical shepherd is a far more dynamic and ‘missional’ figure than we might think.

  10. A few comments
    1. Agreed, MBTI is a blunt instrument. But at least we are talking about personality type and styles of leadership. If there is a better indicator, lets use that, rather than not using anything.

    2. Character is more important than personality - to be prayerful, loving, servant-hearted, courageous etc. these are the things that Jesus and scripture commend more than whether you tend to think out loud, or like to write lists.

    3. But we do have 2 big issues to face: a) a prevailing culture in the CofE of identifying certain personality traits with suitability for ministry. See my comment in the post about the senior clergyman who told me I wasn't cut out to be an Anglican vicar b) the long-term decline of the CofE. I take the point about various types of growth, but we have to stop using that as an excuse for not facing up to numerical decline. Yes this is uncomfortable, because most vicars are leading shrinking churches, and most bishops are leading shrinking Dioceses. But we have to face the inconvenient truth if we are going to be faithful to God's call as His church.

    4. I've only picked out one aspect of the research - follow the links to the main report to see the others. They include full involvement of lay members, a deliberate focus on discipleship, willingness to reflect and change, and a clear purpose and mission. I blogged on this because it was one of the factors that hadn't been so widely reported, and the response in the last 24 hours has been remarkable. It is clearly a debate worth having.

    Finally - Mike, God fits into this equation on all sorts of levels. Two for the moment: a) the CofE exists because of God's call to make disciples of all people. We say we're the Church of England, but we're failing to reach England with the message of Christ. As long as it doesn't turn into navel gazing, it's good to discuss how we can do that better. The early church had those conversations (Acts 6) and so should we b) Part of that discussion needs to focus on leadership selection. If God has gifted and called people into ordained ministry, or other leadership positions, but the CofE is screening some of them out because they are 'too confident' (Twitter comment yesterday) or don't fit the mould of the Introvert/Feeling type (both strongly represented among clergy, much more than in the wider population), then we are quenching the Holy Spirit.

    1. I don't think that there is anything wrong in principle in having a priesthood in which certain personality types tend to be selected for. The question is whether the traits that are being selected for are ones that produce strong and robust leadership.

      One of the interesting things to observe is that the leaders chosen in Scripture typically seem to act as people who, while capable of showing a great concern for others, were quite able to do radical deeds without pity, to show a strength of nerve to withstand great resistance, and to have the capacity to oppose others quite directly (to the extent that a number were probably principled psychopaths).

      Some examples: 1. The tribe of Levi (a tribe already renowned for violence), set apart for ministry after killing 3,000 of their brethren in Exodus 32; 2. Moses is first introduced to us as someone prepared to take an Egyptian's life as a vigilante; 3. Phinehas, who is given a covenant of priesthood in Numbers 25, after plunging a spear through a copulating couple; 4. Samuel, who hacks Agag to pieces before the Lord; 5. The chief three apostles: James and John the sons of thunder who would call down fire and Peter, who hacked off the high priest's servant's ear and would later condemn Ananias and Sapphira to death for lying to the Holy Spirit; 6. Paul, who is introduced to us as another man of zeal, murderously persecuting the early church. These are extreme cases and obviously not all of these actions were praiseworthy, but these were the sort of personalities that God selected for.

      The priestly office had more of a military character in the Old Testament, where they were a sort of spiritual standing army and the Praetorian Guard of God's tabernacle. Elements of that are carried over into the new. The priests are to be those who symbolize God's authority and rule within his church, those who lay the foundations, who guard the boundaries, and ensure that God's order is maintained. The priests are to be the backbone of the church. This really isn't a job for everyone. The priesthood isn't defined primarily by its head (theological knowledge and intellectual brilliance) or its heart (empathy and the like), but by its 'chest' (virtues of fortitude, commitment, whole-heartedness, loyalty, resolve, valour, nerve, courage, a love that isn't sentimental, etc.). Unfortunately, we tend to select for the head and/or the heart and miss the importance of the chest. The result is weak and ineffectual leadership.

      The pastoral/missional divide seems to miss the primary task of the priest, which is to function as the immune system of the church and the one who establishes, nurtures, and upholds the church's Christ-shaped identity against external attacks and internal resistance. The ability to symbolize authority effectively is fairly crucial to this task.

      When this is neglected 'pastoral' ministry tends to collapse into empathy without authority and the church starts to become disordered as a body and lacking in a clear identity. When it is neglected 'missional' ministry tends to lack the capacity to make a very clear and distinct 'impression' upon society and especially upon its most powerful members: it cannot get society to follow its lead, rather than conforming to the culture in order to win it over.

    2. It also seems to me that priestly ministry is far too often presented from the perspective of ordinands, rather than from the perspective of the church itself. When the priesthood increasingly comes to be framed as a matter of recognizing the gifts of ordinands, making them feel valued and included, whether as individuals or members of a class of people, and providing for their vocational aspirations, the priesthood itself loses authority.

      If, instead of focusing on ordination as a matter of validating individuals' gifts and started to ask serious questions about whether candidates can effectively symbolize the authority of God within the church and to the wider world, while we would have a priesthood that was considerably less representative of the wider population within itself, the church would have a stronger and more defined identity and would be taken much more seriously by the society around. Making ordinands feel valued and included and validating and supporting their individual sense of vocation, whatever their personality type, identity, or background, is a concern that should take a back seat to the concern to provide the church with the exceptional priestly ministry that it needs.

  11. Very interesting and worth thought - but given that the survey is based on leaders' perceptions of growth, were the compilers satisfied that E/N types weren't naturally more optimistic? Not rubbishing the survey, but this seems a fairly important factor to have clear before lessons are drawn.

  12. Very interesting article David, and some fascinating responses. A few insights (not answers) that might be useful:

    1) MBTI is extensively tested and validated. There is also extensive research on the connection with our neurology (brain wiring), stress factors, and so on. To say (as come commenters do) that it is not 'scientifically validated' sounds like a lack of awareness.

    2) Apart from that, it is ONLY a questionnaire. The *underlying model* is what is really useful. I have seen the MBTI widely mis-used in business and in church. If you were just handed a result without a chance to clarify if it *really* fits you personally (the whole you and not just your current survival mask), it's no wonder there is loads of confusion. Statistically, around 30% of reported results will not be a good fit, and a further exploration is needed to find the *best* fit. Research shows that if taken in a work context (which I would suggest clergy training is) the 'error rate' is higher. When one's 'best fit' is found, there is such a wealth of value to be found in understanding what it means. Type is our raw material; Character is then what we develop as we mature.

    3) Management everywhere tend to 'clone' themselves, and that probably includes the church. I'm not involved with clergy selection, but I imagine every selection team is not identical, and there may be a tendency of some to exclude or include extraverts because they think that's what's right to do, by their experience. One particular experience is not the general truth, and general truth does not define one's particular experience.

    4) No one or two types are the 'ideal', generically. God knows who He wants in this place or that. And He also allows disappointment as part of our individual journey and our personal growth.

    5) Remember that self-selected responses (eg the ones on church growth) can skew the results. Either the context of the survey (conference or whatever) was one which attracts Extroversion and Intuition, or their inclination to speak up meant a higher response rate from Extraverts, the fact it is unrepresentative of the wider picture is not surprising. And Andrew's point about natural optimism is also relevant.

    6) Yes, ALL types can do ALL things - but not with equal ease. One's best-fit type is very helpful for understanding the stresses of a situation, and how to balance them. We don't all have the same needs, or gifts, or stressors - nor do we all face the same situations. Type is one tool that can help us find some of the patterns and deal with them constructively.

    7) Did you know there is extensive research going on (10 years and counting) that shows the way our Anglican congregations have a different profile of types than the population as a whole? And that the clergy are different from the average congregation (as well as the general population)? Of course, though informative, we actually need to work with the fact God calls individuals (of all types) to minister in specific congregations (with their own individual mix). Understanding Type principles can go some way to assisting in specific realities.

    8) Last point (I think, for now ;-) there seem to be two approaches around, to involving people in churches: the more common one looks for people who are willing (with or without gifting) to fill the jobs and do the tasks. The other (more rare) approach tries to understand the gifts within the congregation, and then seek how those gifts can be used. (There are some Type implications here) It would be interesting to know if there is any correllation between those approaches and the matter of church (numerical? spiritual?) growth. I imagine that there will be times of inward focus and spiritual growth and character development, and times of outward focus and numerical growth, for churches. Just as there is for individuals. Our journey is not uniform, nor should it be.

    1. Interesting following all you learned bods in here. I just wanted to comment on the last point here - Warren's Purpose Driven Church suggests this model - let people serve where they have a passion and let them change over time. Pragmatic and probably a good way of determining gifting.
      For the record - my credentials are on the job learning in independent international English speaking churches in Europe (presently a lay church). No formal theological or church training, but still trying to serve.