The Church for Tomorrow: Personality Types of the Leaders of the Church

I was reading Lesley J. Francis and Greg Smith’s ‘Changing Patterns in Recruitment to Stipendiary Ministry: A Study in Psychological Profiling’ in the July/August edition of Theology (Vol. 121, No. 4) this weekend, when I had an hour to myself.

Having read a small but not insignificant amount about personality testing when I took on my present role (the Year 11 Retreat that I now facilitate has a session on personality types, so I wanted to see where the research was at), I am aware of the shortcomings of such testing, and yet I understand the benefits of self-awareness, and have seen experientially the impact the test has on young people, when they begin to understand themselves and others better by recognising certain traits, with their positive and challenging sides.

I was curious as to what personality types the ‘young’ (under 40) clergy of the Anglican Church in the UK are, but more interestingly, what analysis was made of this. The primary analysis in the article was of the male clergy, of whom more than 50% had a so-called ‘Epimethean’ temperament: they are ‘SJ’ personality types. In Francis and Smith’s words, they are “people who long to be dutiful and exist primarily to be useful to the social units to which they belong.” They are the conservative people who hold to tradition, and maintain stability.  They “can be trusted for their reliability, punctuality and efficiency.” Let me park that bus there, for just a moment.

Those who know me well will not be surprised to learn that every time I do this personality test on Year 11 Retreat, I come out with the results INTJ. This is one type of what Keirsey and Bates call the Promethean temperament (NT).  People who have the ‘NT’ profile “want to understand, explain and shape their environment, and prize their personal competence.” For Francis and Smith, clergy of this type are “the intellectual, competence-seeking pastor.”

I make no apology, I’m going to quote them at length describing the traits of the NT profile, with, I think, good reason: “NT clergy are the most academically and intellectually grounded of all clergy temperaments, motivated by the search for meaning, for truth, and for possibilities. They are visionaries who need to excel in all they do, and they tend to push their congregations to excel as well. They enjoy the academic study and analysis of the faith, and they make great teachers, preachers, and advocates for social justice. They see the value of opposing views and strive to allow alternative visions to be heard. They are more concerned with finding truth than with engineering harmony and compromise. NT clergy need to be challenged in their ministry and to be able to move from one challenge to the next.”

Now, being a female in the Catholic Church, I am currently excluded from the title of ‘clergy’. However, as a ‘leader’ in the sense of academic theologian and teacher of our young people in the Catholic school context, the above applies quite well as far as I understand myself. I can see that we also need people who work hard to maintain tradition, especially where they are able to encourage a reimagining of it in the present content, as well as people who work hard for harmony and unity, if after all, we want to live up to the name of ‘catholic’, so I am not for a second suggesting that this personality type is the best type for leaders of the Church.

However, we have two types of personality presented above, which are quite different in style. And of the ‘young’ male clergy, more than half (52% in fact) have an Epimethean temperament. This is presented as a benefit to the (Anglican) Church by Francis and Smith: “Within a Church that is managing decline, and doing so with increasingly over-stretched resources, reliance on Epimethean temperament may be a wise and cautious strategy. Here are leaders who will not rock the boat and who will offer a sense of security during palliative care.”

Now, call me an optimist if you will, but I for one am not yet prepared to sound the death knell for the Church, Anglican, Catholic or otherwise. Nor do I think we should be looking to shore up and batten down the hatches at this moment in time when the Church can move forward in hope. I think the current situation of the Church presents an opportunity to take a risk going forwards prophetically, calling out the traditions that are now perceived to be harmful, and redeveloping them to suit the needs of the people. We should be throwing open the doors to young leaders who are innovative problem-solvers, not only those who want to maintain the status-quo. Surely there needs to be a diverse range of leaders within a Church, representative of the variety of human existence.

Moreover, prioritising a certain type of leader neglects the fruitfulness of dialogue and challenge in human relationships. It undermines the attempt to be inclusive as a community, and fails to cater for the wide-ranging needs of those who call themselves Christian. In short, we might as well abandon ship now if we are going to target and ‘recruit’ leaders for the Church (yes, I have managed to hold off on commenting on the use of this word) who are noted for their reliability, punctuality and efficiency at the expense of a search for truth at all costs.

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