For the Bookshelf: Personality Type and Religious Leadership

By Israel Galindo, Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning

A seminary professor friend recently posted on Facebook the question, “What were Jesus’ Myers-Brigg letters?” It’s a playful question that comes up every once in a while, resulting in speculation and enthusiastic (biased) claims for one type over another. The banter brought to mind the book, Personality Type and Religious Leadership, by Oswald and Kroeger.

Personality Type and Religious Leadership reports the result of research done by Roy M. Oswald and Otto Kroeger at the former Alban Institute. Around 1983 Oswald began using the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) to help church professionals across denominations understand better themselves, their ministries and the people they serve. The first chapter of the book sets the stage for understanding why understanding type is important. The chapter includes a Rashomon-type story in which four ministers in a car on the way home from a three day seminar, share different reactions and different understandings of their ministries. The story makes the point that understanding our own personality type, as well as the types of those we work with, is important to our effectiveness as ministers.

The book reviews the MBTI framework, describing each of the MBTI letters and continuums: E-I (Extroversion – Introversion), S-N (Sensing – iNtuition), T-F (Thinking – Feeling), and J-P (Judging – Perceiving); as well as the Four Keirsey Temperaments based on the MBTI. The chapter also includes percentages for each letter and continuum within the general population in the U.S. The authors apply the theoretical framework as it relates it to the research which surveyed 1319 clergy in a wide array of denominations.

The main focus of the book examines how each of the MBTI continuums, and the Keirsey Temperaments, related to four ministry-oriented perspectives in the survey responses: (1) approaches to the pastoral role; (2) approaches to the pastoral functions of preaching, administration and teaching; (3) the practices prayer and the experience of prayer; and (4) the respondent’s approaches to spirituality. Each chapter includes affirmations of what each type/temperament brings to the ministry as well as identifies potential difficulties. For example, the authors review how each type can contribute to pitfalls in ministry, including issues of heresy and sexual impropriety.

The book remains a helpful introduction to the M-B typology and is worthy of consideration, though a duplication of the survey would be worth doing, if only to uncover any differences between contemporary clergy responses to those of over two decades ago (the book was published in 1988).

By the way, the best answer to my colleague’s playful question about Jesus’ typology was “YHWH.”

Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning at the Columbia Theological Seminary. Formerly, he was Dean at the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. He is the author of the bestseller, The Hidden Lives of Congregations (Alban), Perspectives on Congregational Leadership (Educational Consultants), and A Family Genogram Workbook (Educational Consultants), with Elaine Boomer and Don Reagan.

His books on Christian education include The Craft of Christian Teaching (Judson), How to be the Best Christian Study Group Leader (Judson), Planning for Christian Education Formation (Chalice), and A Christian Educator’s Book of Lists (S&H).

Galindo contributes to the Wabash Center’s blog for theological school deans

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