How Spiritual Temperaments Influence Church Life

Did you know that you have a spiritual temperament? This means some activities help you feel closer to God than what you do otherwise. And people have different spiritual temperaments. So, if you want to be drawn closer to God spend more time on the spiritual pathways that work best for you.

These are insights from a new branch of psychology associated with the names Myers and Briggs. The Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory is the most-used testing instrument in business human resource management. One familiar distinction from their work is between introverts and extroverts.

I first ran into the insights on spiritual temperaments reading the book Who You Are Is How You Pray, by Charles Keating. He applied the Myers and Briggs Personality Types to members of religious orders to help candidates find the one that fits them best. He highlighted the view of Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, who urged those seeking to be closer to God to try out different approaches and disciplines to find the one that is “sweet” for each. Don’t just imitate what someone else does. Had I been born Catholic, I probably would have become a Jesuit. One of the biggest blessings in my life is that I was born and raised in a vibrant Lutheran community.

Do you feel closer to God when you are hiking in nature? Or when you are caring for others? Or when you are alone thinking about God? Or when you are with other believers praising God with high emotions? Or when you are out crusading for peace and justice? Or when you are worshiping in a building with lots of symbols using special rituals? Or when you are pondering God’s word? These questions reflect types of spiritual temperaments recognized by Gary Thomas in his book Sacred Pathways: Discover Your Soul’s Pathway to God.

I can make the most sense out of my spiritual journey as traveling the pathway of loving God with the mind. Thomas calls this the way of the intellectual. I am also an Activist who likes to try things out to see which way the Spirit is leading. But these pathways are very different from what works for most others, especially the Enthusiasts and Caregivers.

Yet unfortunately, it is the Intellectuals who have provided most of the leadership in traditional church bodies. Martin Luther was a university professor and John Calvin a highly sophisticated lawyer. Their church bodies have little room for Enthusiasts, Caregivers and Contemplatives. Lutherans in recent decades doubled down on liturgical ritual and symbols. At a time when we should be reaching out to a broader spectrum of Americans, we have actually narrowed our appeal to focus on one small segment of the general population.

When I was on the chapel staff at Valparaiso University, those who attended the high liturgy on Sunday morning were mostly adults. The students overcrowded the small contemporary service in the chapel on Sunday evenings. When I attended twenty-five years later, the pews in the cathedral were rearranged in a square in the back third of the building. Many were empty. Most of the worshippers were middle-aged and up. Many were professors.

My-son-in-law is a professor at a university in Richmond, VA. My daughter also has a Ph.D. For a number of years, they were deeply involved in a neighborhood community church co-pastored by a white Presbyterian and an African-American Pentecostal. Six years later they moved on to the historic Lutheran church close to the university. Their three boys are the only children who attend regularly. I do think there is a relationship between people with graduate degrees and the desire for the symbolism and formality of liturgical worship. Note, however, that intellectuals represent a very narrow slice of the general American population.

Much of the loss of Lutherans in the 1960s and 70s can be attributed to Baby Boomers who left to find churches that were a better fit for their spiritual temperament.

For those who want to get closer to God, the usual encouragement is to set aside time for devotion and prayer in the early morning.

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