“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.