Popular tools help leaders, volunteers identify strengths for more effective ministry

In recent years, Christians have sought to discern how they might best engage with and utilize personality tests. The volume of tests on the internet leaves many wondering about the differences and benefits.

In a recent survey of college students, 84% of respondents believe Christians should use personality test assessments; yet 85% said they have seen them misused in religious contexts.

When asked how Christians could use the tests properly, the respondents’ nearly unanimous answer was that they should be a tool rather than an identity.

Many personality assessments exist and the following is an overview of six of the most popular.

Enneagram

Due to the influential yet controversial writings of Suzanne Stiles, Ian Morgan Cron and Richard Rohr, the Enneagram currently stands as the most popular personality test in both Christian and secular circles. In the study, 78% of college students had taken the Enneagram test and found it helpful.

The Enneagram has nine dominant types numbered from 1 to 9 that are grouped together based on emotional centers like anger, shame and fear attempting to explain why people respond to stress in different ways.

Additionally, each type has two possible “wings,” which help explain the vast differences between people with the same type. A wing is a number on the scale to the left or right of your main number, which explains secondary motivations and emotional centers.

One part of the Enneagram is that it points out weaknesses and sin patterns within each person and helps Christians understand the motivations of fellow believers.

While the Enneagram points out weaknesses, Christians need to be careful not to allow it to define them or excuse sin patterns.

When sinful motivations are revealed, Christians ought to turn to the Lord in repentance, rather than excusing it as a trait of a certain personality type.

Myers-Briggs

Unlike the Enneagram, the Myers-Briggs test is based on four key questions. To complete it, you must ask yourself if you are introverted or extroverted, take in information through intuition or sensing, make decisions based on thinking or feeling and live your outer life by judging or perceiving.

The Myers-Briggs test identifies 16 different personality types, which allows for a wider variety of personalities and classifications than tests such as the Enneagram. While the latter may have nine dominant types, the Myers-Briggs test categorizes people according to only four criteria, which makes it less holistic.

Like the Enneagram, this test can be misused to assert that some people are exempt from certain sins or obeying certain commandments. While understanding that everyone’s role in ministry is different, there are particular practices like evangelism that all Christians have been called to do. However, the way in which they practice faith may be different.

Kolbe

The Kolbe test is the only one that focuses not only on the affective mind, but on the cognitive mind. According to the Kolbe Corporation, the test “evaluates the instinctive talents you were born with and identifies the way you take action.” In short, it is more focused on what you do than how you feel. The Kolbe test analyzes people based on their skills, such as gathering information, organizing, dealing with uncertainty and handling space.

The Kolbe test adds to the plethora of well-known tests that analyze cognitive and affective aspects of the human mind and provides a helpful, yet limited, framework for understanding the conative mind. While it is helpful, its impact is limited since it only looks at four skills.

Big Five

Most personality tests today are based on a type-model rather than a trait-model. This contrasts with The Big Five, which is the most prominent among the trait models. It assesses people based on five characteristics: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. Most of the characteristics are self-explanatory, but according to Truity.com, neuroticism “describes a person’s tendency to respond to stressors with negative emotions including fear, sadness, anxiety, guilt and shame.”

One strength of the Big Five is that it assesses people across a spectrum rather than attempting to categorize them into types. Despite this, it still focuses on the affective rather than the cognitive or conative mind.

The Big Five should not be viewed as the end-all, be-all, but it does help Christians understand each other based on these five criteria across a spectrum.

DiSC

The DiSC test presents four core personalities based on dominance, influence, steadiness and conscientiousness. Like the wings of the Enneagram that add nuance to the results, this has different styles that include a primary and secondary personality. Examples range from Di, which are primarily dominance-oriented and secondarily influence-oriented, to SC, which are primarily steadiness-oriented and secondarily conscientiousness-oriented.

The DiSC test has styles that are sub-groupings of the main framework. This provides eight unique personality types, which strengthens the assessment. The weakness is that these are based on a combination of characteristics and produce a type rather than examining the strengths and weaknesses of different traits.

One concern with the assessment is that the four categories fail to provide an in-depth examination of different skills or shortcomings. Nonetheless, these qualities can help Christians understand the personalities of others within their community.

Birkman

The Birkman test works differently than many of the others because it assesses people based on their interests, usual behavior and needs/stress behaviors along the “compass” of two qualities: introverted or extroverted, and task-focused or people-focused.

The Birkman test features four colors that make up the compass. In the top left quadrant, extroverted, task-focused people are categorized as red. The top right quadrant — the extroverted, people-focused — are categorized as green.

The bottom right quadrant, the introverted, people-focused, are categorized as blue. The bottom left quadrant, those who are introverted and task-focused, are categorized as yellow.

One strength of the Birkman test is that it uniquely views people on a compass with the vertical axis measuring extraversion and introversion, and the horizontal axis measuring orientation toward tasks or people. By doing this, the Birkman test is able to rightly assess the gifts and usual behavior of others.

The test does a good job of presenting the compass, but it should be used primarily in work contexts rather than relational. The Birkman test helps employers and ministry leaders assess employees and volunteers and place them where they can serve most effectively.

What you should know: An overview of personality assessments

Enneagram

The Enneagram has nine dominant types, grouped together based on emotional centers like anger, shame and fear, in an attempt to explain why people respond to stress in different ways.

One strength of the Enneagram is that it points out weaknesses and sin patterns and helps Christians understand the motivations of themselves and fellow church members.

While the Enneagram shows weaknesses, we need to be careful not to allow it to define us or excuse sin patterns.

Myers-Briggs

The Myers-Briggs test is based on four key questions: Are you introverted or extroverted? Do you take in information through intuition or sensing? Do you make decisions based on thinking or feeling? Do you live your outer life by judging or perceiving?

The Myers-Briggs test identifies 16 personality types, which allows for a wide variety of personalities and classifications.

The test can be misused to assert that some people are exempt from certain sins or obeying certain commandments God has given.

Kolbe

The Kolbe test is the only one that focuses not only on the affective mind but also on the cognitive and conative minds — what people do and how people think rather than how they feel.

The Kolbe test analyzes people based on their skills such as gathering information, organizing, dealing with uncertainty and handling space. While the Kolbe test is helpful, its impact is limited since it only looks at four skills.

Big Five

The Big Five assesses people based on five characteristics: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism.

A strength of the Big Five is that it assesses people across a spectrum rather than attempting to categorize them into different types.

The Big Five should not be viewed as the end-all, be-all, but it does help Christians understand themselves and each other based on these five criteria across a spectrum.

DiSC

The DiSC test presents four core personalities based on dominance, influence, steadiness and conscientiousness.

The DiSC test has styles that are sub-groupings of the main framework, providing eight unique personality types. The weakness is that these are based on a combination of the types rather than examining the strengths and weaknesses of different traits.

Some researchers are skeptical of these four categories because they fail to provide an in-depth examination of different skills or shortcomings.

Birkman

The Birkman test works differently than many  other personality tests because it assesses people based on their interests, usual behavior and needs/stress behaviors along the “compass” of two qualities: introverted or extroverted, and task-focused or people-focused.

A strength of the Birkman test is that it uniquely views people on a compass with the vertical axis measuring extraversion and introversion and the horizontal axis measuring orientation toward tasks or people.

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