God and Myers-Briggs: The Science of Spiritual Gifts

My friends and I have adopted a new slogan of sorts that comes up during most social gatherings. Almost like clockwork, someone over by the salsa will drop the phrase “ESTJ,” at which point we’ll grin:

“It’s not a party until someone brings up Myers-Briggs.”

Lately, it seems to be a fair statement. Articles about introversion and 30-second tests to show left- or right-brained tendencies are popping up everywhere. The more psychologically-minded among us would probably comment that we’re really late to the party on this, too. People have been studying personalities for almost as long as people have had them.

My initial exposure to personality testing was a junior-high version of The Five Love Languages. It did little for me beyond confirming what I already knew—that I like presents. Later on, in my first semester of college, our required “Freshman Seminar” lumped StrengthsFinder in with its other life-discovery tools.

Which is how I found myself, at 18, awkwardly telling a new group of peers that I’d gotten “Woo” as my top strength.

“What does that even mean?” one boy demanded, face scrunched.

I blushed. “It’s like…ice-breaking and stuff.”

Yet even in that moment of wondering whether I would be branded “Woo Girl” forever, I saw a tiny bit into myself. And it was revolutionary.

Prior to that point, it hadn’t really dawned on me that I had any more of a knack for making people feel at ease than anyone else—or even that it was really a talent at all. Yet as I alternately relished and barely survived my next few semesters, I realized the truth: I could make friends very, very easily. Almost instantly. I could figure out the right thing to say to diffuse an awkward situation. And I began to regard it as almost a superpower.

This brings me to my current year-and-some of having a lovely roommate who is also a therapist. During the course of our time together—since we can’t just talk about boys all the time—we’ve had many conversations about personality tests.

It was she who first introduced me to Myers-Briggs.

To “diagnose” me, we started to talk through my tendencies: everything from my relationship with my friends, to my relationship with work, to my relationship with the dirty dishes. When she thought she had a good guess, she started reading through the personality profile. I generally agreed with what it said, but wasn’t fully convinced until she got to one line.

“The ENFP can talk her way in or out of anything.”

We exchanged amused, knowing looks. Guilty. Oh, so guilty.

Over the past year of constant conversations, I’ve become a big fan of the science of personality. Still, it sometimes feels like I’m talking about a glorified horoscope. Sure, these tests assess people individually, rather than making a sweeping judgment about everyone born in June—but there’s still that little part of me that recoils against saying anything close to, “All of Type X, will do Y.” Surely I must be more unique than that.

Plus, I’ve had multiple friends who took these tests and got wacked-out results. Why operate based on something that isn’t 100% accurate?

In the Apostle Paul’s discussion on spiritual gifts, he does a little personality-profiling of his own.

He gives the Romans a basic breakdown of ways to serve the body of Christ: teaching, giving, mercy, etc. It’s by no means meant to be an exhaustive list. (After all, including items like “tech support” and “Sunday School” would have done nothing but confuse the first-century church.) Yet in these simple classifications, Paul clues the Romans in to something that must have been weighing on quite a few hearts: “If I am to follow Christ, do I need to preach too?”

Of course I’m not going to lie to you and say that I’ve never wished for a personality trait I don’t have. My friend Jared and I commiserated a few weeks ago about the struggle of being creative people who have trouble staying focused. At one point he jokingly lamented, like some personality-deficient Tin Man, “If I only had a J!”

And so often, seeing more logistical brains at work, this is how I feel.

If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything?

 Our natural, sad human inclination is to find ways to make things about ourselves. We want to nail down our strengths so we can flaunt them in job interviews and on first dates. Paul doesn’t say that everyone is relegated to one gift, as though God passed out cards during Creation. He also doesn’t outline how to use these gifts to get rich and famous. His emphasis is on the fact that we will naturally find these gifts in our service together.

The Romans didn’t have online tests, but they did have each other and a whole lot of church-establishing to do.

I’ve always been fascinated with the way that our physical bodies are attuned to each different part. A blind person, for example, developing razor-sharp hearing and a heightened sense of touch to compensate. When one part of the body is lacking or hurting, even the parts with a completely different function band together to help the body as a whole continue on.

And so it should be with us.

I use my “Woo” on the hospitality team at church, but this does not give me a pass to say, “Oh, I’m sorry, I can’t come to Serve Day because only introverts should do things like vacuuming.” God is glorified in us both when we find an outlet for the gifts He gave us, and when we push past our natural tendencies in a way that only His strength could accomplish. Fishermen can preach, and they have.

Our personalities and gifts should only limit us enough that we remember that we can’t do the Christian life alone.

My pastor, Joseph, exhorted us on this topic by saying, “Think of yourself in regard to the good news of Christ, which shows you who you really are.”

And we know that God works all things (and personalities) together for good for the ones who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose.