Personality Tests—A Waste or a Resource?
Most of us have taken at least one personality test over the course of our lifetime. Some prefer StrengthsFinder, others appreciate Myers–Briggs, but each with the same objective: to better understand who we are and what we should do.
The popularity of these tests has only skyrocketed in recent years. Thousands of companies use them as recruiting tools and countless individuals use them as a means to answer some of life’s big questions.
And these tests (or inventories) appeal to a part of us because we sense a certain longing to know why we’re here and, most importantly, what exactly we were placed on earth to accomplish.
We Are Made for a Purpose
As Christians, we know that the time and circumstances of our birth were not arbitrarily selected or the product of random chance. We worship a God who, before our birth, knew us in the womb and took the time to know each of us intimately. As scripture reminds us, “Even the very hairs on our heads were carefully numbered.” Everything we are and anything we dare to do is ultimately a gift from our Creator.
These truths—that God created and intimately knows each and every one of us—are certainly the starting point to any fruitful journey of ‘self-discovery,’ but by no means should we stop there. Although many skeptics might disagree, I see personality tests as helpful tools we can use to keep the conversation going as we seek to better understand the gifts and abilities that the Lord has so generously given us.
While the old maxim ‘to each his own’ rings true, I have personally found Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator helpful over the years. And as it turns out, so do around 10,000 companies, 2,500 colleges and universities, and 200 government agencies.
Discovering Our Strengths and Weaknesses
Each person receives four letters—mine are ENTJ—with each serving as a specific descriptor of the individual’s personality. There are eight total, making for 16 possible personality types. ‘E,’ for example, stands for extrovert; it means being around and working with other people gives me energy. Others are classified as introverts, meaning alone time and quiet contemplation are most helpful for them. Going down the line, ‘N’ stands for intuitive and its counterpart is ‘S’ for sensing. The next category is ‘T’ for thinking or ‘F’ for feeling and the last is either ‘J’ for judging or ‘P’ for perceiving.
While no one person fits a descriptor perfectly, I’ve found the ENTJ descriptor to be a helpful guide over the years. Donna, my wife, and I have been able to compare results and learn that we are opposites across all spectrums. As we understand ourselves better, we can learn as families, churches, and communities to lean into our strengths and come to appreciate the gifts God has given us to use as his laborers in this world.
But although each of our personalities comes with certain strengths, so too the weaknesses and blind spots are worth noting. Being honest about the things we struggle with most not only makes us better people, it generally makes us better leaders, family members, and disciples of Christ.
Most ENTJs like myself are known for their bold leadership, decisiveness, initiation, and honest communication with others. These are positive traits, don’t get me wrong. But when mishandled or poorly applied in any setting, they prevent me from loving others well.
Donna and I are polar opposites—our areas of strength and weakness are completely different. She would never have to worry about being merciful enough or not going too hard on others, because exhibiting compassion and understanding come more naturally for her.
While I’m caught up in trying to attend to the big picture by leading a team or organizing a large-scale event, she would feel called to attend to the individualized needs of those involved, making sure they feel cared for. Thankfully, knowing these truths about ourselves, we can work diligently to make sure our weaknesses don’t overtake our strengths.
Always in the Remodeling Process
Now, our personality is not our destiny.
We can, should, and must change and grow.
God loves us and made us as we are, but he doesn’t intend to let us stay the same. As God promised Ezekiel so long ago, we know that he intends to give us new hearts and place new spirits within us. Better yet, he says he will “remove the heart of stone” in our bodies and leave in its place a “heart of flesh.”
So, that includes a regenerated heart, and that should impact our personality.
Whether you are hoping to be more compassionate or generous, faithful or quick to understanding, know this: God is a great carpenter. He is in the business of rebuilding our broken hearts and battered lives, transforming us each and every day into people that look more and more like him.
So, we can change. God changes us. He makes us a spirit-filled version of how He made us to start.
The process is long, hard, and seldom simple. But, knowing who we are can help us understand better who He wants to make us be.
Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, is executive director of the Billy Graham Center, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group.