The Enneagram for Pastors
My husband, Joe, is a pastor. In other words, he is teacher, public speaker, counselor, children’s story teller, youth leader, HR director, master of ceremonies, facilities coordinator, volunteer coordinator, mission trip coordinator, hospital chaplain, creative designer, office equipment technician, mediator, fundraiser, finance officer, funeral director, father, and grandfather.
Does he excel at every one of those tasks? How could anyone? He thrives in some parts of the ministry, and in other areas he merely gets by. For 2,000 years, men and women have tried to discern a call and find their way in the ministry, only to find a world of expectations that cannot be met.
Through his 40-plus years of pastoral ministry, Joe has found a number of tools to manage the range of expectations that come with ministry. None have been as helpful to him as the Enneagram. The Enneagram is a tool that helps us identify ourselves as belonging to one of nine personality types. Those types aren’t so much about what we do, as they are about our motivation for doing the things we do.
The Enneagram explains the differences in those who have filled the pews in the churches we were appointed to serve. It has helped us become aware of how we all see the world differently, how we respond differently to what we see, and the specific steps we can take to become more like Christ.
Of course, like any self-assessment tool or personality test, there is a danger in making the Enneagram more than it is. It is simply one helpful tool as we journey toward understanding who we are, who God is, and who we are in relation to God. By itself, the Enneagram doesn’t have much to offer, but when combined with prayer, Bible study, and other spiritual practices, it can be extremely helpful.
Below are descriptions of the nine Enneagram types, as well as some advice for those who find themselves in those descriptions, applied to the pastoral role. You might be tempted to think of others who fit each description. That’s an understandable impulse, but the healthiest way to use the Enneagram is by focusing on self-awareness, not diagnosing others. Try to discern where you land and consider how growing in this kind of self-awareness might help you in your life and ministry.
If you have no idea which number you are, take this quick assessment.
One – The “Perfect” Pastor
You do your work with a commitment to giving the best you have to offer. You take your role as pastor seriously and have a perpetual to-do list. You probably notice error—in thought, word, and deed—that others don’t see, and you may feel a personal responsibility to correct it. You assume the first thing people see as they walk into your sanctuary are the burned-out light bulbs or the crooked table cloth.
You are personable, but your constant inner critic finds fault with everything you do. As a result, you may struggle to believe that you are good or worthy enough to lead your church or ministry. Your judging and comparing mind can make you feel like you fall short of what is required. As a result, others may seem better suited for ministry than you.
The path forward: Instead of seeking perfection in every area of ministry, work to allow a few things to be “good enough.” Perhaps your benediction doesn’t need a four-point alliteration, or perhaps your board would be fine with unstapled agendas at a meeting.
Two – The Generous Pastor
You know what your parishioners feel and need, and you’re anxious to be helpful. People in your church feel loved, accepted, and wanted by you; that’s probably because they are.
Being a pastor seems right—you want to be needed. You give and give, building relationships with almost everyone you encounter. That impulse can also be exhausting. Sometimes you return home feeling taken for granted or even feeling annoyed. There are times when you struggle with the business of ministry. Hospital visitation may feel more important than clarifying the interest rate of the endowment, but both are important for the church.
The path forward: It is a gift when pastors find some balance between thinking, feeling, and doing. Since you easily pick up the feelings of your parishioners and you know almost immediately how to best respond to those feelings, it would serve you well to ask some hard questions about your impulses: Why do I feel like I need to move toward this person and see what they might need from me? If I do offer my help, do I expect to get anything like appreciation, affection, or loyalty in return? Does this person really want or need my help? It might be good to think before feeling and doing.
Three – The High Performance Pastor
You are known for being enterprising, motivating your parishioners to help execute whatever plan you may have for your church. You are good at setting and achieving short and long-term goals and helping your congregation move forward. You focus on ministry metrics, quickly identifying inefficient or ineffective people and processes, sometimes to a fault. At times you focus too much on the goal and not enough on the spiritual and emotional health of your parishioners. Your determination to put a good face on things makes you a master at hiding anger, fear, sadness, disappointment, and embarrassment.
The path forward: Eugene Peterson calls the Christian life a long obedience in the same direction. Keep in mind that the quickest, more efficient route isn’t necessarily the best for the spiritual development of your congregation or yourself.
Four – The Empathetic Pastor
You have some gifts for ministry that are unparalleled. You can bear witness to pain without having to fix it, and your ideas are best expressed though stories and symbols and liturgy. You have a need to be authentic and unique, and you live with the idea that something is missing in your life—that you won’t be complete until you find it. You are comfortable with a melancholy mood that others often misidentify as depression.
The path forward: There are times in ministry when people in your parish need to experience you as light-hearted and fun loving. It may seem shallow, but make yourself available for “small talk” about football, fishing, or music. Your comfort with pain has the potential to limit your relationships. Most people benefit from times with their minister when conversations aren’t so weighty and they can forget that he or she is a pastor.
Five – The Well-Studied Pastor
You are well read and well informed—a wonderful source of knowledge for your parishioners. If you don’t know the answers to their questions, you’ll find the answers. You have a limited amount of energy for personal encounters, so you spend most of your day in your study and schedule your days to allow for study and sermon preparation.
You don’t love committees and probably think of them as the unwilling asked by the unable to do the unnecessary. Your tendency is likely to observe, but it is a great gift to the congregation when you really engage. Many people, if not most, thrive on participation. At times when you can walk beside them in the ordinary business of making decisions for the church, it’s good for everyone.
You can emotionally detach, which means you can have feelings and let them go. This can be both a strength and a weakness in ministry. Detaching from your own emotions can leave you with a clear enough head to lead a beautiful funeral service for a longtime member, but prolonged emotional detachment can lessen your empathy.
The path forward: Thomas Merton’s writing is published in every known language on the globe. That’s probably because he was able to combine head and heart in his work. If you rely heavily on mental acuity, it would be good to add some expression of feelings to that.
Six – The Reliable Pastor
You are loyal, steadfast, and concerned about the common good. You are aware that we live in a world full of threat, and you have a lot of anxiety about possible future events. As a result, you appreciate structure and rules. Be mindful that too much structure can prevent creativity, and many “church rules” have not been reconsidered for years. You are respectful of the fear and anxiety we often find in churches, so you would be good at leading parishioners through an examination of how things have always been done and how that might need to change. You appreciate the need for group projects and committees. You like always to have a plan, and you try to use your gifts to provide safety for your parishioners.
The path forward: There is a time and place for concern about possible future events. When people are in that mindset, it’s good to be both present and patient with their concerns. At the same time, as the leader of the congregation it’s good when you can model the peace you have in believing that God is always faithful.
Seven – The Popular Pastor
You like the variety and spontaneity of ministry. You relate well to all ages, and you’re probably popular with most of the parishioners. If it doesn’t require too much preparation time, you really enjoy preaching and leading worship. You prefer to dwell in the happy half of life, so the emotional demands for dealing with tragedy, sadness, illness, and death requires extra effort. You can be creative and capable in dealing with conflict, yet struggle with problems that can’t be solved in a “reasonable” amount of time.
The path forward: Tender, holy moments are often found on the margins of life—both in great joy and in deep pain. Instead of immediately dismissing or reframing the painful parts of life, work to stay in those holy moments if even just for a minute or two longer.
Eight – The Visionary Pastor
You are a strong leader and an independent thinker. You are good at mobilizing your people to actively participate in protests, or evangelistic missions as the case may require. Your passion tends to be contagious, no matter the topic. Anger is your emotion of choice but it is almost always directed at injustice, and it never lasts long. It’s important for you to pay attention to the effect you have on other people.
The path forward: If you slow down enough to deal with your parishioner’s feelings, questions, and concerns, and make the effort to relate to them on an emotional level, your people will be as excited about your vision as you are.
Nine – The Peace-loving Pastor
You are a peacemaker. You always see at least two sides to everything, and you don’t take a strong stand unless it’s about something that involves integrity or morality. You sometimes set aside your own thoughts or desires while merging with other people’s plans or ideas.
You lead by consensus—something that is both a gift and a problem in church leadership. It is a gift when everyone in a congregation believes they have a voice. However, it is difficult to make time and provide room for people who spend a fraction of their week at the church to have a say in most of what occurs in the life of the church. You sometimes take too long to assert yourself as pastor and leader of the congregation.
The path forward: It is a gift that you are able to take in and often merge with the ideas of other people, but you are the leader, and your parishioners often need you to take a stand. So, when it’s time, make a decision. You can always change your mind later.
My hope is that we can use this knowledge and wisdom from the Enneagram to love one another better, understand one another better, and bridge the differences that separate us. For this is our desire: to grow more like the One we follow, Jesus the Christ.
Suzanne Stabile is the cofounder and co-director of Life in the Trinity Ministries at the Micah Center in Dallas, Texas. Her first book, The Road Back to You (coathored with Ian Morgan Cron), is an Enneagram primer while her second, The Path Between Us (out April 2018), uses Enneagram wisdom to build healthier relationships. Her weekly podcast, “The Enneagram Journey,” seeks to help listeners fully understand themselves and those they share life with.