Monday, April 09, 2012

Church and Temperament

What is it that makes someone choose to belong to a certain church or congregation?

In part, it seems to relate to our upbringing and culture. If we're brought up in a Christian home, we get used to the kind of church service that our parents introduced us to. We might adopt it as our own, or we might reject it as 'boring' or 'old-fashioned' or 'too touchy-feely' - again, at least partly depending on our temperament. Equally, someone might reject their parents' denomination simply because they are rejecting the whole package of their childhood and upbringing.

But recent discussions about the church in general, both locally in 'real life' and around the blogging and social networking world in general, have begun to make me realise that perhaps David Keirsey was right when he talked about the four temperaments leading to the primary motivations in people's lives. He labelled the temperaments as Artisan, Guardian, Idealist and Rational; in Myers-Briggs terms, those refer to the groupings who include the letters SP, SJ, NF and NT respectively.

Much has been written about how the different denominations and styles of Christian worship appeal to people of different temperaments. Some of it makes sense: Guardians, who particularly value tradition, belonging and loyalty, may well choose to attend structured churches where long-standing traditions are upheld, where they know from week to week roughly what to expect. Artisans, by contrast, who tend to be relaxed and spontaneous are likely to enjoy church services that encourage those traits - stereotypically, the more charismatic ones.

Within any local congregation, there are likely to be people of all four temperaments. Artisans and/or Guardians will almost certainly be in the majority, just because there are more of them in the world in general. But there will probably be people of other temperaments there too; indeed, there probably should be, since a living, growing body comprises many different parts.

What I have realised is that people's needs within the Church congregation (of whatever style) are in line with their temperament needs. Worryingly, we all tend to assume that our own personal needs are the most important - or, at least, that they are true for everyone else. It's not surprising. I sometimes find it very difficult, even after years of studying and discussing these theories, to believe, truly, that all four sets of values and needs really are equivalent.

Most of the leaders of any congregation are likely to be Guardians. They are the ones who most like structure, after all. They are good at creating guidelines and rules, and ensuring they are kept. That doesn't mean they are rigid or controlling (although they may be) - just that they are likely to be skilled in administration, and logistics in general. They will care about church policy, and legal issues, and hierarchies within church groups. They may take care of the fabric of the church, too. Guardians are usually reliable, responsible people who can solve problems and take care of what needs to be done.

The problem arises because, to a Guardian, it's very important to belong to a group; a local church congregation is just such a group, so a Guardian leader, and the many Guardian members of his church will be naturally be loyal to it. This may sometimes be at the expense of other churches nearby; however they may well attempt church unity, and joint social events, so as to be part of a wider group. Co-operation is important to Guardians, so they will encourage others to take part in as many activities as possible.

But, most of all, Guardians will tend to see the Sunday services as the lynch-pin of the Christian life. That's where people get together to worship, to hear the Word of God, to pray, and to socialise over coffee. That - according to many Guardians I know - is where the Body of Christ stands firm, and where we can all show our loyalty to each other and to God. Moreover, Guardians tend to like to keep the status quo. They will often be suspicious of too much change, although they may approve small changes which they see as positive.

What of Artisans? They are perhaps less likely to belong to very structured churches, since their primary needs are for freedom to act, and to follow their impulses. Artisans live very much in the moment; they like to hear God speaking, to meet needs as they occur, and are often extremely generous. Charismatic churches leaders might well be Artisans, open to the movement of the Holy Spirit, able to express their worship in movement, or art, as well as song. Some of the 'emerging' churches may also have a significant number of Artisans, who want to explore use of the senses, and different tools and art forms in the context of Christian worship.

Can Artisans and Guardians co-exist? Certainly. If they don't, then a congregation becomes unbalanced. The Artisans can push the Guardians a little way out of their comfort zones, questioning unhelpful traditions, showing what God is actually doing now, as well as discussing what He did thousands of years ago. Then the Guardians can help the Artisans live in the real world, investing wisely, taking care of their buildings, and ensuring their missionaries are supported. A Guardian-only church could be rather dry; an Artisan-only church could seem decidedly flaky.

But what of those minority temperaments, the Rationals and the Idealists?

In recent years, there has been an increasing number of people around the world who call themselves believers, who love Jesus, but who find church services - and church attendance in general - to be alien, uncomfortable, pointless. Amongst our close friends there are at least half a dozen people, in addition to ourselves, who feel (or have felt) this way.

It was something of an 'aha' moment when I realised that almost all of us in this group are either Idealists or Rationals. In any random group, we would expect to find around 12% of each.  Perhaps like-minded people tend to be drawn to each other; yet when I look at our Christmas card list, or consider all the people I  count as friends around the world, there are people of all four temperaments. We have a lot of Guardian friends; those of them who are Christians are almost all committed, one way or another, to their local church congregations.

I suppose about a quarter of our Christian friends are likely to be Idealists or Rationals. That fits, roughly, with what one would expect.  A few of them are also a comfortable part of a local congregation. But not all of them. And here's the lightbulb moment - the majority of our NT/NF Christian friends are not currently part of an organised church.

When I look at the books written on the topic of  'not attending church' - and there are quite a few - the feel of them all is somewhat abstract, sometimes academic, and very much concerned with people. Primarily, it would appear, Idealists. Yes, we who long for harmony, integrity and relationships are the ones who seem to find it most difficult to belong to a structured church.  The Rationals who are in a similar position are often those who feel that they want to learn more - that most sermons say nothing, most songs simply repeat what they know already.

Interactive Bible study can be a good way of learning for people of these types, as can reading books, taking part in online discussions, or even reading and writing blog posts (which inevitably involves some research). But not, it would seem for many, most organised church services.

I don't know where this leaves us. I find it sad that there is no local congregation where I can fully be myself, where I can relate with integrity to others, and see the building up of harmonious relationships. Sermons I have heard in the past ten or fifteen years mostly seem to repeat 'basics' which I have heard countless times before. Worse, for me as an Idealist, too many church groups seem full of strife rather than supportive. When someone is in need - perhaps a serious illness, or bereavement - church leaders and counsellors may be of great help; but in the day-to-day concerns of an ordinary life, they seem barely to be interested.

And yet when we meet with other believers in small gatherings to eat, or play games, or chat, we can (and do) build each other up, and meet each other's needs. Discussions arise naturally, we refer to the Bible and other reference books when necessary. My need for harmonious relationships can be met again and again in small gatherings; those who want to learn can ask questions or introduce discussions topics. We're not very good at structure, and our groups don't look anything like 'church' to those who are committed to a regular Sunday service, and a particular style of worship.  But Jesus said that when even two or three people gather in His name, He is there too.  When we do something for the least of His people, we do it for Him.

Far too often Paul's injunction that we should not stop meeting with other believers is taken to refer to Sunday morning services - but those did not happen in Paul's day. Believers met frequently for meals, and socialising, and learning about Jesus, and discussing doctrine. All of which we do, and enjoy very much. I do also attend some church services from time to time, but it's quite freeing not to belong to only one congregation. The Body of Christ in our town consists of all believers - all who follow Jesus as Messiah - and I can't find any Biblical or other reason to 'join' any one of them and (by implication) reject the others. I prefer to be in fellowship with all parts of the Body if I possibly can.