ASKED: Should my personality influence my ministry?

Hands Raised

“Should my personality influence my ministry?” A female student recently asked this question in a discussion about counseling, but it applies to any responsibility a person might hold. Whether leading, managing, preaching, organizing, parenting, or discipling, we often wonder how our personalities should affect our Christian responsibilities. The longer we live, the more we see that our personalities do affect every part of our lives, along with every person whose lives we touch. But should they? If so, how?

A thoughtful answer, from a Christian worldview, must be uniquely Christian.

We should first acknowledge that the word “personality” is a constellational term playing host to a cluster of ideas. Google defines  “personality” as “the combination of characteristics or qualities that form an individual’s distinctive character.” We all basically know what we mean by the term, but even Scripture itself illustrates this multi-layered concept. Look no further than the differences between Jacob and Esau, the savvy mama’s boy and his rugged hunter of a twin. Or compare Peter and John, the foot-in-mouth-disciple turned gospel-proclaiming apostle alongside the apostle of love whom Jesus himself loved. The Scriptures themselves (not to mention church history) illustrate personality differences — sometimes vast — among key figures in God’s redemptive plan.

These elements of personality, though, are not simply psychological neutralities. No human’s personality escapes the light and darkness of biblical anthropology, so no human’s personality is wholly righteous or wholly wretched. No matter how twisted our personalities, we’re still made in the image of God, and we reflect him in the ways intended by his design; and no matter how lovely our personalities, we’re still soiled and marred at the deepest levels because we’ve chosen autonomy over trust and transgression over obedience. Thus the special characteristics and unique qualities that mark our personalities refract the colorful rays of divine design while also clouding and distorting (through our sinfulness) the divine image. All of our personalities stand as evidence of God’s image in man, but all of our personalities are also corrupted and convoluted by sin.

Each of us is an individual, too, with an individual personality. Just have a few kids, and you’ll see just how different we can be, even when sourced and raised (like siblings) with the same factors at play in our lives from the earliest years.

So how do we become who we are? No one but the omniscient God himself can answer that question infallibly for any given person, but observation, experience, and wisdom confirm what Scripture clearly shows: Every individual’s personality is a creative and unique integration of inborn characteristics and external forces. In just one example, we watch Jacob, at birth, reach for his brother’s heel, and we also see his mother Rebekah’s conniving ways encouraging and shaping Jacob’s approach to his place in the family. Seen from a Christian worldview, nature and nurture both are involved in the formation of the personality, with our traits springing (to some degree) from the mysterious ground of God’s custom design for our bodies and souls, and cultivated (to some degree) by the many environmental factors he’s using to shape us along the way.

Thankfully, though, this blend of intrinsic traits and external shaping is not the end of the story.

The direct and dramatic acts of God in the gospel renew the image of God in us by resurrecting us in the image of Christ. No aspect of our personhood, including our personality, is left unscathed. Through faith our whole being dies and rises with Christ, including those unique qualities and characteristics that make us us. As we rise with him, even our personalities are redeemed and regenerated and renewed and reformatted. How obvious this renewal is depends on how blatantly and observably our personalities have been hijacked by sin. Either way, our personalities are then yielded to the Holy Spirit as we seek to obey our new Lord and Master with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

That being said, in conversion and in sanctification, God does not press our personalities through a single-shaped funnel that distorts the real us. Rather, he brings us alive by birthing Christ in us, reshaping us from the inside out and expressing the abundant life and holy love of his Spirit through the contours of our God-given personalities. God’s salvation does not dehumanize us but rehumanizes us.

Compelled by the holy love of Christ’s Spirit, our personalities, like the rest of us, freely enlist in the glad service of love. No longer do we follow mantras like you do you or just be yourself. Instead, our personalities mature and grow, with the gospel energy of our regenerate life pressing our temperaments into a cruciform shape and coloring our hearts with a new creation hue. We grow into a vibrant, joyful life of sacrifice, following the promptings of love and happily laying aside even those aspects of our personality or preferences that are uniquely comfortable to us.

Still, all along the way, the unique gifts of the Holy Spirit are channeled through our personalities, with our redeemed personalities being one expression of the spiritual gifts God stewards through us. Even the God-ordained proportions of the Spirit’s diverse fruits are measured out through the instrument of our personalities.

Indeed, the diversity of the many-membered body of Christ consists of more than our differences in personality, but certainly not less. Our spiritual gifts, according to the New Testament, are often marked by dispositional differences as varied as administration and generosity, zeal and mercy, teaching and tenderness (e.g., Romans 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 12:28). The full-bodied church of Jesus Christ is full-bodied not because we all cast off our personalities and recast ourselves in the perfect personality of the God-man, but because we embrace the God-man by faith and seek to channel the strong current of his holy love through the God-given banks of our personalities. We are the body of Christ best “when each part is working properly,” because the body is “joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped” (Ephesians 4:15-16).

None of these robust theological realities are reasons to view our personalities as sacred, to protect them at all costs, or to defend our dispositional weaknesses with lazy ideas about how we just need to “be ourselves.” Our personalities should not be lionized or demonized. There is a more excellent way: We become more faithful sheep in God’s pasture when we allow the good shepherd to pastor our personalities and shape our dispositions.

Thus your personality should be a flavor of your ministry, but never the meal. If you laugh easily, seeing the more humorous side of life, then you will (and should) laugh regularly in your ministry. If you’re analytical about life, lingering over the stats and details and nuances, don’t shut off your analytical mindset which God will use to reveal life’s textures and solve life’s problems. If you’re a teacher at heart, running everything through pedagogical grids and lurching at teachable moments, know that God will use your instructional bent as a blessing to many.

But also beware that your weaknesses are the dark side of your strengths. The teacher can overtalk and the verbose counselor or parent can lose their audience through misplaced lectures. The rich analysis, as we all know, can become a paralysis of indecision, or perhaps worse, a warhorse and chariot that you come to trust more than the Lord your God. And the humor and wit and satire, rich though they may be, can lose you conversational traction and relational capital through misuse or overuse.

Thus personality should touch your ministry but never torch it, just as pepper is a wonderful spice but a terrible meal. Every pastor must preach through his personality, but he must be careful not to preach his personality. Every counselor must counsel through his personality, but he must beware not to counsel his personality. Every mother must parent through her personality, but it is her torah — her actual instruction — that Solomon urges his son to follow (Proverbs 1:8).

So what does all of this mean for life and ministry? How does being natural relate to being spiritual? How does being yourself relate to being in Christ? It means that the maturing Christian does not unthinkingly embrace her personality or ashamedly reject her personality but discerningly renews her personality by submitting herself to the daily cross of Christian living, directing her soul by the signposts of Christian love, and living her life through the Christ who is making all things new.

If you want to use your personality Christianly, the path starts here: Walk in union with Christ, each day being the newest person you’ve become as God continues sanctifying you. Marinate your personality in his life, death, resurrection, Spirit, and Word. And then go, with all the intricacies and idiosyncrasies of your personality, and do this one thing all day long:

Be your in-Christ self.

 


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7 thoughts on “ASKED: Should my personality influence my ministry?

  1. Caressa: Thanks for clarifying your situation, and for the important work you’re doing. I’ll just share a few ideas in case there’s any spark of relevance they might have for your situation: (1) you might see if there’s a way to get a young lady out there to homeschool your kids for you or with you for a year; (2) you might reach out to a core group of people back home for the best curriculum recommendations and see if there are some you’re not aware of; (3) you might re-evaluate your expectations and unspoken metrics for success and see if your expectations are off at all; (4) you might see if you can team up with any other “units” in the city who are seeking schooling for their own children; (5) you might run this issue past your organization’s board and see if they would recommend switching locations or finding a creative solution; (6) you might evaluate your and your husband’s gifting and see how you might customize your homeschooling approach in a way that allows you to partner together, maximize your strengths, and minimize your weaknesses; (7) you might evaluate your different kids and your curriculum and see if there are particular kids or subjects that are uniquely challenging. You could look to those areas first in terms of making changes.

    No matter what, I’d definitely advocate getting personal counsel from those who share your values and know you best. I’m a stranger, so my insights will necessarily be generic and impersonal. But I commend you for your work!

    1. Thank you, David. It is rather affirming to know we are doing or pursuing the possibilities for all of those suggestions. We haven’t been able to mobilize anyone here yet, I have a whole group of mentoring older home school mom’s that I go to for counsel and who have known me for a decade and I am seeking their advice continually on curriculum etc. our org is not very helpful, unfortunately, but our elders are great at our sending body and we are pursing their guidance. We just want to be super careful and I wondered “how much room does personality have in effecting ministry!” “How much is Gods intentional design vs my sin/selfishness?”

      Thanks for being to help a stranger in the Body work through that a bit.

  2. Hi there, how much should personality sway us in our desicions for our ministry focus, jobs and parenting? I.E. Is it wise for an ENFP to steer clear of administrative tasks, or send their kids to school rather than home school; or, should they seek to fill the role, even if they don’t suit it, because it’s neede or seems more loving? I’ve been home schooling my children for several years but because of the repetition and monotony and structured required for this role, I feel as though I am ill equipped to do this role and that I should send them to school (my husband agrees) but I am battling guilt that I should be able to fulfill the practivality of this task and yet, try as I might, my kids are obviously not getting what they need educationally because I can trust seem to maintain the details and organizational structures required long term.

    1. Hi Caressa,

      I think your question is more common than we often verbalize, so I thank you for bringing it up. I wouldn’t want to speak to your decision specifically since I don’t know your personality, family, or situation. But there are some principles that come to mind.

      1. We should never use our personalities as reasons to avoid clear God-assigned tasks, such as parenting responsibilities and gender roles in marriage.

      2. But our personalities will certainly shape and flavor how we go about those tasks, including (a) how we ourselves tangibly fulfill those responsibilities and (b) when we commission others to fulfill them under our guidance and ultimate responsibility.

      3. In addition, we have to be careful about viewing certain tasks (like the comprehensive education of our children) as assigned to one particular person (the mother, for instance) when Scripture never explicitly says that. We’re responsible to raise and train our children in a covenantal context saturated with the love and truth of Christ, but that doesn’t mean providing them with a wholesale liberal arts education under our own roof when we may not be capable of providing that.

      4. I would suggest that if (a) you’ve tried homeschooling due to your convictions, (b) you and your husband agree it’s not a good fit for your family, (c) you’ve considered what seems wisest for each child, (d) there are good schooling options in your location, (e) you’ve sought counsel from church leaders and wise friends to make sure you’re hearing outside perspectives, and (f) you’re ready to provide guidance and spiritual investment in your kids’ ongoing development even though their formal education will be outside your home — then it seems like a wise choice to choose a different schooling option with no guilt whatsoever. You can then monitor that option as you go through it, making sure you’re supplementing whatever your kids may not get from that new educational environment. If the new situation doesn’t work well either, that’s OK — this year’s schooling decisions don’t have to be forever, and you can make future adjustments as needed.

      I hope this helps!

      1. Hi David, Thank you so much for taking the time to reply and to so in such a thoughtful and clearly articulated way. So, in our current situation, we are cross-cultural servants in an Unreached area with millions of Unreached and just 6 “units” (unit= a single or a family) in our city. Getting a visa here is very difficult. Three years in, my husband and I realize that I am. Or suited for home schooling our children AND that I am not being used in the way he and I believe that I am made and gifted, to walk along side the local women, and evangelize through life discipleship. Not only am I not good at home schooling, but, I am unable to do what I am “good” at and thrive in, by his grace, because of the current need to educate my children. If I could educate my children well, I think we would continue to weather the season and wait for the time when being with locals more of my time could happen. However, because we want to be here with these people and believe in what we are doing, we both feel quite torn. We wonder if we need to move to a strategic location that allows us ur children to go to an international school while continuing to serve the Unreached (we have one in mind), or if we need to just keep going as it is – which just seems wrong. I know you can’t tell us God’s will, but your insight on this matter is valuable as we prayerfully seek what to do. Thank you!

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