Critical Reflection on Personality and Spiritual Gift Tests
Apparently I am not supposed to become a pastor. At least that is what the 16PF and its subsequent interpretation told me in no unmistakable language. I guess in some ways this is comforting, knowing that I should pursue interests which better match my own giftings and temperament will help me focus my time more effectively. However, with this is that same gnawing drive, that same feeling in the pit of my gut, and that sense of pushing and prodding which initially prompted me to change my career plans and enter into seminary. How God is planning to use me and my time here certainly is not clear, despite two quarters of dialogue with others in the same position. Yet, what is still clear is that God is planning to use me and my time here at Fuller Seminary. In this brief reflection paper I will seek to examine the role, usefulness and weaknesses of understanding one’s personality and disposition better, especially in the form of test results. I will also briefly discuss the role, usefulness, and weakness of taking a spiritual gifts “test” and in doing so work through some of my own personal issues and issues which will better aid me in my own church work.
It was a shocking moment to open the envelope which contained my enumerated personality. Fortunately, my MMPI did not reflect any major personality or emotional problems, but it seems that my 16PF might have. In opening the envelope I saw that on a scale of 1 to 10 of personal warmth I scored a 1. A one! I’m apparently a relational iceberg. Needless to say, that while my introversion itself was not a surprise, the extent of how I compare to others was. As the class session went on, as the professor discussed each of the major points and how a “typical” pastor would score, I found that in all but three areas I simply did not make the match. If a computer were using my scores to determine my future plans, I would certainly not be placed in the pastor’s track. Indeed in some areas I fell on the other side of the spectrum. This fact made me rather distraught. However, as I thought I realized that this information was not really new to me, but rather confirmed my own impressions. These impressions did not point me away from a possible pastoral career, however, but made me realize that I had gifts which could be used in specific, rather than broad, settings.
The goal of a personality test such as the 16PF or the more popular Myers-Briggs personality sorter is to gain an appreciation for and understanding of the various components of each person’s personality and how such personality’s tend to relate to the world and understand how the world is relating to them. Having taken the Myers-Briggs several times in my life (consisting finding myself a strong INTJ) I can honestly say that such tests are enormously useful, especially to one like me who tends to fall in the 1% portion of the wider community. To have a descriptive of my personality and how I understand the world was very useful for my own personal growth, and understanding that I am not just an oddball in some areas. It pointed to my strengths as well as my weaknesses, and helped me to adapt some of my weaknesses while best utilizing my strengths.
The 16PF as well as the Myers-Briggs told me a great deal, but certainly would not point me in a direction of a pastoral vocation. Rather I have found that had I gone into the sciences or other research oriented area I would be quite happy. So, with this idea comes part of my own vocational wrestling. In coming to seminary I was equally split between continuing on to full-time ministry or continuing on to a PhD and an academic vocation. It seems that my personality tests would point to the latter. However, these tests do not express a passion. I have found that few things get me more excited or motivated than helping others to grow in their love and knowledge of Christ. Teaching those who are genuinely seeking and giving counsel to those in need is enormously satisfying, much more than spending time in the library. So, while my personality tests informed me, they did not dissuade me from what I feel called to continue to pursue.
However, with this said, the 16PF did point out a major weakness. Part of pastoral work is the warmth and personal touch. If in some areas I have great strengths I also have great weaknesses, which means that a position in which I am the sole pastor in a small size church is probably not where I can find any sort of satisfaction or success. Rather, in looking at a future in pastoral work I need to be aware that my best work could be done only in a team type setting where my extremes balance out someone else’s extremes. While a single lead pastor should have this balance in him or herself, I need others to provide that balance. I feel though, that if this situation is found, great things could be accomplished. The personality tests essentially confirmed my own impressions that I can not simply fall into any situation. Rather, because of how God has designed me and led me I have a unique set of traits which are not typical for pastoral work, but do not certainly rule out this vocation. I need to be aware that if this is the direction that God intends for me he will open up the doors for a position that is perfectly suited, and that I need to continue to pray and seek his guidance for whatever he will bring.
The personality tests gave me insights, but did not give me direction. It may in fact be because of my weaknesses that God will use me in a profound way, and it may be my own perspective on the world will give me a unique role in ministerial work. It is important that I do not let these tests discourage my pursuits, but rather let them shape some of my own understanding of the specifics of how and where I am called. God has designed me and God has seemed to lead me, so I must continue to trust that he knows what he is doing in making me the way I am and pushing me in the direction which he has.
If personality tests are attempting to discover how God has made us, Spiritual gift tests and questions are seeking to understand how God has used, is using, or will use us. They point to those specific talents or traits which we have already found to be useful in the church or in our community at large. Or they point to parts of our personality which seem to be specifically useful in some type of ministry setting. Basically, each person has been given specific tasks within the church, and we need to understand these roles and gifts so that as a church we can also fully be a body of equal members doing separate tasks. It is my firm conviction that one of the weakest areas of the Church over its history has been the exclusion, whether intentional or not, of the broader Christian community in important roles within the church mission. We have created a professional workforce in our pastors and priests which while useful, were not meant to shoulder the burden they are. Spiritual gift tests are a great way to point out how we can begin to rectify this situation and how each person can be best utilized in the local community whether vocational or not.
By understanding how we test or how others perceive us, we can come to a greater realization of how we can truly be a part of what God is doing. Spiritual gifts which are properly used get us excited about being part of God’s people, and help us to spur others on and help them grow in their own gifts. It can be argued that part of the main mission of the church is to edify others so that increasing each of us is using our gift as God designed us (cf. 1 Cor. 12ff.). By using various tests, we can begin this process in a way which really does spur people on to pursue the area which they seem to best fit.
However, I do say seem to fit. The big weakness of any kind of spiritual test, whether from our own insights or from others, is that in some ways this appears to lock us into certain categories which we may not necessarily be locked into by God. A big initial danger is to seek counsel from those who either do not know us, or do not have a broad and deep enough understanding of how God works. Another danger is to trust that our limited experiences can give us a proper perspective. The story is told of John Wesley beginning his ministry primarily in small group situations, encouraging those to increase their passions through active daily and community disciplines. He excelled at this. However, he did not feel himself to be talented at speaking in general. His friend George Whitefield, however, excelled in public preaching and teaching as much as anyone in history. One day Whitefield was called away to another engagement and asked John to finish his current speaking engagement. Though John initially balked he did eventually acquiesce to George’s convincing. Though Wesley did not think he had the gift, by speaking at the right time either he found a true gift or was given a new gift that helped to revolutionize the Christian world. He eventually traveled and spoke more than anyone of his generation. Spiritual gifts can be identified, but they also can be found in simply trying out new experiences, exposure to new situations, and simply by allowing oneself to be used by God at the right time and the right setting. So, again, while these are useful for insight, these can not be seen as necessarily giving guidance or direction.
Overall both of these types of tests are extremely useful for gauging strengths and weaknesses. What I have not mentioned is the usefulness of the MMPI for future pastors. This it seems is a crucial step to take, in that it is vital that those who are going to be counselors, spiritual or otherwise, and mentors must have an understanding of any possible areas which require counseling or other kinds of help for themselves. Great damage can be done by those who are not aware of possible areas of distress in their own lives helping others in distress. All of these tests help to give insight and provide information that could be hidden. However, it is vital that we not be walled in by our “numbers”, but in understanding how we seem to be in a better way still seek to find out how God will use us. He can, has, and will use people we do not expect for roles we would not have guessed would be fitting. This can include ourselves. As tools in our personal workshop these tests are invaluable but they are not the sum of who we are, what we can become, or what we are to do.