A Generous Grace

ideas on practical spirituality and loving each other

Do our churches prefer certain personality types?

churches prefer personalitiesAlright, if it isn’t obvious already–I’ve never really been one of the cool cats. I will sheepishly admit to wearing pleated pants in high school. I had braces until I was a junior. It took years for me to learn to tame these crazy curls (not to mention the frizz and curly eyebrows that went with them). I was more than a little Anne of Green Gables-ish with all my melodramatic creativity. And as you could probably pick up from my blog–I am guilty of trying too hard. Which is woefully beyond any scope of cool in high school.

But in church circles? I have one of those personalities that’s easily accepted. I’m bubbly. I’m a married, creative mother (bonus!) with domestic-diva interests and a bleeding heart. I’m high-capacity in my time management, irreverent in the right ways, and–wait for it–I was a missionary. (I know! Cue the heavenly theme music!) So my gifts, talents, and temperament can lend me toward respect in these circles.

Yet what if I wasn’t?

Perhaps it was Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking which first woke me up to a bias in the evangelical world–though I’d been getting vibes from my husband, the frequently-misunderstood introvert. (We’ve seen people approach introverts and suggest they simply aren’t loving well by being so reserved.) Cain writes,

Introversion–along with its cousins sensitivity, seriousness, and shyness–is now a second-class personality trait, somewhere between a disappointment and a pathology. Introverts living in the Extrovert Ideal are like women in a man’s world, discounted because of a trait that goes to the core of who they are. Extroversion is an enormously appealing personality style, but we’ve turned it into an oppressive standard to which most of us feel we must conform.
How much more so in the church, where personality can actually be tied to our spirituality, our ability to love, our obedience?

Truth: There are hierarchies of gifts and personality types in our churches, just as there are hierarchies of careers in our churches. A woman recently told me how thrilled she was that all of her children were pastors–and I’m thrilled with her. But as a mom, I also heard a small voice whispering in the back of my skull: It’s so great to be a pastor. Unless your child is equipped to be, say, an architect, and not a pastor. Then he should be a really godly architect who creates beautiful buildings. Kind of like Jesus was a carpenter.  

I would even wager that we exalt various traits in different denominations, right? At the risk of stereotyping–there’s a chance that charismatic churches may welcome more emotional personalities. Intellectuals or conscientious personalities find an easier home in Reformed denominations, while quieter souls are more at home in contemplative circles. If your church is into social justice, strong or vocal or compassionate people may flourish.

But what about the opposite? If you’re conscientious but in a church that sees rules and clear boundaries as a form of legalism, you might be, as they say, up a creek without a paddle. If your church supports a plethora of programs but you’re more of a one-ring-circus type of guy or gal, you might be seen as not pulling your weight or having your priorities in order–or even as selfish, right? If you’re a strong woman in a church prizing submission, you might be struggling to know if you can please God at all.

So what can our takeaways be?

1) Our social experiences influence our spiritual experiences, and vice versa.

Though we all wish churches always held the higher standard of behavior, sometimes the problems we find in churches are the same problems we find elsewhere (say, at the lunch table in the cafeteria). But because of our expectations and the ways church members leverage the name of God in their weakness, the hurt can feel tremendously worse and more personal.

The way we see God is so often influenced by those around us (see this post on The God Face-Swap!). Read: If you’ve had some hard negative church experiences, feeling misunderstood in your personality–I want to affirm that Christ accepts you. You belong. No, he doesn’t leave us like he finds us. But as I told my son last night: God made you just right. And as you seek healing…and maybe even freedom from bitterness or loss…I pray you see him as he is.

2) Social skills are a form of loving and personal discipline, but are also gifts of grace. 

Not everyone is exposed to the same social training, or finds ease in the same situations. My husband is fond of saying,
If you can’t “get” how someone can’t just do what you do or just see what you see, that’s a sign it’s a strength for you. (And it’s a place to extend grace to others.)

Yet personality isn’t an excuse for loving poorly. If someone struggles to initiate relationally, or isn’t naturally kind, or isn’t well-organized, people are still affected when we don’t corral our weaknesses for the sake of love. We can still sin against them.

And personality is not a replacement for love. Being energetic or a clear leader can still be used for our own means, well-disguised in church culture.

As author Andree Seu so aptly states, “A lot of what I thought was my personality was just sin.”[1] 1 Corinthians 13 is pretty articulate in noting we might have every single one of those lauded gifts and resumes in the church–but if we’re missing love, we have nothing.

3) Be mindful of personality types that will naturally find themselves on the outskirts. 

It makes sense for us to ask, “Which personality types will find themselves less acceptable in my church?” And then–to extend those types special grace and kindness.

4) Always find the flipside of a weakness.I remember sliding to a seat on the floor, head in hands, when my youngest was no more than 18 months old. I quite clearly recall thinking, I have birthed the Tasmanian Devil. (Can’t remember if this is after he pulled over a stool and grabbed the drink mix packets on the toaster oven, and sprinkled them around the house like fairy dust…?) But I think it was God who reminded me, You have no idea the plans I have for him. I might need him strong and inventive so he can cross a jungle to an unreached people group. Or stand up in a courtroom for the unborn. Or corral a bunch of kids in an inner-city classroom. I just needed to allow God to put reins on that strength–not quash it. One of my mom’s go-to sayings: Your greatest strength is your greatest weakness. That person who seems unyielding? God may have given them such a great love for God’s law and for justice. That woman who never volunteers? She function at her max capacity–plus one.

5) Together, we reflect him fully. 

I wrote here–in this post on how I’m always tempted to rig my own personality assessment, and be someone different (!)–like spiritual gifts, God flourishes in the fullness our distinction not so that we can make much of ourselves, but much of Him. Remember Ephesians 2:10, where God reminds us that we’re his workmanship, created for good works he prepared beforehand? That word workmanship is the Greek poiema. Yep, it’s just what it looks like: Our root for poem. A poem expresses one part of its Creator. We need all of these expressions for the world to get a comprehensive picture of him. 1 Corinthians 12 echoes this:

It’s a tall order when God says, Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you (Romans 15–emphasis added). Rather than conformity and comparison, let us be advocates and cheerleaders (even quiet ones!) for the uniquenesses God’s artfully, strategically arranged among us.

 

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