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Thursday, May 25, 2006

Personality

One of the things God has been teaching our team lately is that personality matters. No, I'm not talking about the mega-churches in the United States that seem to be built entirely upon the charismatic and inspirational personality of its pastor. Strangely enough, it is just occurring to us that God may have given us our personalities on purpose.

See, I grew up in a very ministry-minded church environment. Everyone was encouraged to think of others first. To us, being a minister meant ignoring your "self" and intentionally becoming a servant; something that was not natural to any of us. We loved the idea of getting out of our comfort zones and being stretched and challenged in new ways. I'm very thankful for that church family.

I'm pretty sure Jesus had a personality. He was harsh about certain things, had compassion toward needy people, and ran away from his parents at least once (ok, so maybe what He did was nothing like the time I packed up my G.I. Joe backpack and "ran away" to the back yard when I was six, but you know what I mean). But can we say that there is a "Christian" personality?

With our practice of that good theology ("Be like Jesus") also came a subtle, implied message: "It doesn't matter who you are." If you were an impulsive, gregarious person, you needed to cut it out so as to maintain self-control. Shyness was the opposite of boldness, which is something all believer must have, so the timid folks needed to get over their inhibitions. The stoic or melancholy needed to have joy, the dreamers needed to keep their feet on the ground. What we ended up with was a bunch of people who knew a lot about the fruit of the Spirit, but knew nothing about themselves. Ultimately, we couldn't relate to lost people at all. We had worked so hard to be more like who we thought Jesus was, that we had lost our personalities. We became boring people, with no interests, hobbies, or passions. We didn't even enjoy being around ourselves!

So now God is teaching us about personality. That it's ok for some of us to be risk-takers and others to be cautious. We need to class-clowns to keep things interesting and the sensitive ones to feel for us. The optimists, the pessimists, the intense, the cool; they are parts of a healthy and interesting community. The outspoken are as needed as the introspective. I think our personalities are tied to our Spiritual gifts. They are all needed for diversity and balance within the body of Christ.

Maybe God made us the way we are so that we'll have something in common with people who are like us.

I'm really interested to see how this plays out in church planting. We're working to plant churches within existing social structures. People are drawn to others like them, and that's where they are comfortable and have a sense of identity. But I think that's a good thing. Churches should have distinct personalities. The intellectuals meet on Thursdays at lunchtime and pour over theology. The sensitive ones spend a lot more time in worship and prayer than the rest, and are very sensitive to the needs around them. The outgoing and outspoken do a bit more preaching and evangelism, while the social butterflies have lots and lots of fellowships. Who knows? Maybe this would be a healthy alternative to denominationalism.

What if the balance we're so worried about maintaining is kept at the city-wide level as opposed to the local group level? While we cannot tolerate sin, heresy, or disunity, what about diversity in the ways we express our life in Christ?

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think you are on to something here, personality DOES matter. The problem is in a normal "christian" setting is we are taught that it needs to be the same or uniformed. Its like we are holding some icons up and saying be like this, dress like this, pray like this, share your faith like this, sing like this, get it right you are slipping. There is little to no room to be yourself, which for me, is very different than many 25 year-olds in my congregation.

The truth is theology is IMPORTANT but I am tiered of hering pastors say; this makes me feel, or in my life, its great to have examples but let's get real, I don't care how it makes someone feel as much as I want to know what Jesus says about it. What did Jesus do when He was here in the fleah? He radically changed the rules and I think He broke hinges on alot of squeeky doors so that we realized there is flexibility in faith.

On key issues there is no room for budging because Jesus requires that we don't, but this personality thing...Did Paul and Phillip act the same? Should we all be replicas of this grand desigh?

I watched Gattaca recently and the movie deals with alot of incredible scientific stuff and a great deception but one of the points of the movie was to say you had to be a perfect prototype to be accepted in life. You had to be the smartest, fastest, tallest, prettyest, without flaw person or you were not worthy of participating with the people who were.

This post just made me think of that movie and if you haven't watched it I would give it a strong recommendation in light of this post.

Theophilus said...

The Bible doesn't really address personality, per se; although it certainly reveals the different personalities of the heroes and anti-heroes of the Bible, warts and all. The Bible has a lot more to say about each of us having different gifts and that we are to use these gifts "according to the grace given us" for the benefit of the Church. (See, for example, Romans 12:3-8).
Oswald Chambers said that "indivuality counterfeits personality as lust counterfeits love." Read his Dec 11 & 12 entries on personality. I'm sure "My Utmost for His Highest" is on-line somewhere.
Is it a stretched to say indivuality is a very modern concept and that community is post-modern or at least missional?

David Rogers said...

Stepchild,

Where do you come up with all these interesting and relevant topics? Once again, you've drawn me into the conversation...

I think you make some insightful observations regarding personality. Indeed, God did make all of us different, and we each are to strive to be the best we can possibly be at being us, just as God made us.

I have thought a lot about the church planting implications, but honestly, have yet to come down decidedly on any one side of the question. In the Cell Church movement, for example, there are at least 2 schools of thought. One, the "homogeneous cell" concept. A lot of times, groups that organize themselves this way divide men from women, old people from young people, professionals from working class, etc. All in the name of making new people feel they fit in. Then there is what a pastor at a Cell Church seminar I went to once called the "slice of life" model. He was in favor of mixing the grandmas, the teenagers, the artists, and the accountants, all together in the same cell groups. His thesis was that God created us to live in families, and in the family context, we grow spiritually as we learn to relate to those different than us, and have our "rough edges" worn down. Of course, McGavran's Homogeneous Unit principle plays into all of this big-time as well.

My leaning as of now is to look for models in your particular context in which you get the best of both worlds. Perhaps, in the missional aspect of church, there is some merit towards targeting people according to personality or other particularities. But then, in the community aspect, we need to somehow work towards bringing everyone together.

I don't think there's probably any "cookie-cutter" model of how to best accomplish this. Each group would need to work that out in their own context.

Anonymous said...

You Know I Think it would be interesting to hear your thoughts in regards to the effect of Globalism on the local church,
should come up with some interesting church planting models.:)

cafeaddict said...

i use to have a quote by St Ignatius posted on my wall that said "the more i become like christ, the more i become myself." that may not be it word for word but that is the essence of it. personally i have found that the more i grow in christ, the more comfortable i am with who god has made me to be. (i am not talking about my sin nature, i am talking about personality) i feel free to be who god made me to be. an immature faith says that we have to conform to what the perfect christian looks like: how they dress, how they talk, what they watch etc. a mature faith rejoices and celebrates differences. there is no question in my mind that god made me the way he did 1) because i glorify him in a way that no one else can and 2) because who i am reaches a certain group of people. somewhere in the world are people who speak the same language i do and who better to share the gospel with them than me? i think those two reasons apply to church planting as a whole as well.

stepchild said...

David,
We're finding that by engaging existing social groups, the choice between homogenous cells and diverse ones is made for us by the community. This week, for example, a team member was invited to "hang out" with the chef of a restaurant. It turns out that this chef spends a considerable amount of time with the restaurant's kitchen staff both in and out of the workplace, and would consider that his relational group. We recognize it as such, and see it as a church waiting to happen. I think the necessary influence of older, wiser beleivers can be applied at the city or national network level (i.e.- a mature believer writing to a new church plant: "You don't know me, but..." or over coffee: "I'd like to warn your group about...").

I agree with you, a lot of these sorts of questions pretty much answer themselves when we get to know the culture.

anonymous,
I'll write about Globalization and its effect on the church sometime soon. Thanks for reading.

cafeaddict,
It's funny how much we confuse gifts/attitudes with personality. I agree that it has a lot to do with spiritual maturity. I just hate that so much division comes from believers requiring that we all be alike. Who was it that said "Unity does not require uniformity?"

David said...

Maybe as a modern church (used in this sense only to describe the church of today), we're not focusing enough on what the scriptures tell us. Isn't this the same idea as the body concept, one body, many parts...one church, many distinct functions?

I wonder, though, if the concept in the way you describe it would be too separatist. Doesn't the body really need to all function as a whole?

You seem somewhat against the idea of servanthood, at least in the way you describe it, but doesn't the eye "serve" the hand, the foot serve the eye, etc? Sure, our personalities and characteristics are what make us unique, but we're still only useful in context of how much health we bring back to the body. Maybe I'm rambling, I hope you understand what I'm saying.

stepchild said...

Wait, I'm against the idea of servanthood? When did this happen?

Maybe I wasn't clear. Of course we are supposed to be servents. We should serve Jesus, serve one another, and serve the community. I remember something about the least being the greatest, and taking on Jesus' attitude as He humbled Himself to the point of death. We are servants!

My question was this- does healthy church (including service) mean that we all look and act alike?

I'm not convinced that having small churches each with its own personality would require us to be seperatists. Is it enough to have the old lady Christians in our same town, or do we need to distrubute them evenly among each group? Why can't we be unified and not meet together every Sunday?

It's already happening at most mega-churches in the Sates anyway. You don't like my "each church with its own personality" idea, but five thousand people who are already plugged in to personalized Sunday School classes, cell groups, and Bible study fellowships attend one of seven different weekend worship services and somehow that is okay?

David said...

I actually do like your idea...I just wonder how it would actually unfold. Not being argumentative on purpose, just questioning.

In my small-to-midsized town, each church definitely has its' own personality. In fact, I'd say denominationalism adds to the particular personality of each church. So, In some ways I can see that varying church personalities WILL exist, I just wonder if there's a better way for them to cohesively coexist.

Dale Huckabay said...

I think you are on to something very important and that is definitely being missed. God created individuals; self-identifying groups based around their own particular interests came about because of sin. Jesus doesn't save groups of people (even Israel ends up being those who are declared righteous because of their faith). Jesus comes to each individual - hence every time Jesus talks to someone about being saved He presents in ways uniquely shaped for that person. There is neither Greek nor Barbarian, male nor female not because now we are all made the same rather because now we can begin to return to our individuality, leaving all the 'group characteristics' behind that were never us at all. One huge good that comes from this reality is that we can leave comparisons behind! Imagine how peace-enhancing that would be both in our selves and between us.
Love your topics and the insights,
thanks!