The Minister and His Personality

Along with his gifts, calling, and ministry, the servant of God has to figure out how he is wired.   Many ministers, not knowing how God has wired them, have short-circuited and burned out in the ministry.  I discovered this just in time.  Our first two week vacation as a married couple occurred in the summer of 1982.  We drove from San Jose, CA, to Knoxville, TN, so that I could perform the wedding ceremony of a good college friend.

 We headed east on Highway 50 and dropped into the Tahoe Basin and, from there, into the Carson City area.  From there it was nothing but open roads and unmolested desert vistas.  As we hit the open highway, I thought to myself, “It sure feels good to be gone for a couple of weeks.”  About 50 miles down the road I again thought to myself, “It really feels good to be gone.  This is great – I don’t have the pressure of the pulpit or appointments with people.  This is wonderful.”  Another 50 miles had me thinking, “It sure feels good to be gone.  I feel like a heavy weight has been lifted from my shoulders.”  50 miles later I started feeling bad that I felt so relieved to be gone from the ministry for two weeks.  I began to analyze…

What was I doing in the ministry that it felt so good now that I didn’t have to do it for two weeks?  I must have been doing something wrong for it to feel so good to not be doing it anymore.  Here’s what the Lord ministered to me (and I believed it saved my ministry).

My parents raised me in the church (Christian Church/Church of Christ).  They were always good friends with the various pastors of the churches we attended and so I had the opportunity of being around the pastors more than others may have had.  These men were charismatic in their personalities (NOT their theology!) and were very outgoing and personable.  They were easy to be around.  They were the center of every conversation and everyone in the room deferred to them.  They were the center of attention and were smart and witty.  They carried themselves with great self-confidence and made people feel important when they paid attention to them.

So, when I was called into the pastoral ministry, these men were my role models and examples.  How they did ministry was how I thought ministry should be done.  How they moved among the people was how I needed to move among the people.  I thought it was incumbent upon me to be the center of attention, carry every conversation, be smart and witty, outgoing and personable.  And none of this was because of ego – it was just the way the ministry worked.  Right?  Well, it didn’t work for me.

Whereas my childhood pastors were charismatic in their personality and not in their theology, I turned out the other way.  I am charismatic in my theology, but not in my personality.  My chief joy is a cup of coffee, a quiet corner, a book – and then leave me alone!  I don’t know how to make chit-chat.  I don’t do small talk.  I still feel socially awkward at many times.  The worst time of the week for me was in the lobby after service was dismissed.  Like I said, I don’t chit-chat or do small talk (I’m not against it – I just don’t know how to do it).  Even today, if I’m in a line somewhere and the person in front of me makes an offhand remark to me, I don’t know what to say back – I just freeze.  I know what you’re thinking and you’re right – I’m pretty lame!

As I was driving through the desert on my way to Tennessee I realized that my childhood pastors were all Type A personalities – very driven and self-confident.  I think I am a Type C- personality – content to be a somewhat passive wallflower.  So here I was, a Type C- trying to be a Type A.  This was what was killing me.  This striving to be what I was not created nor intended to be was the weight on my shoulders and the unseen burden in my soul.

I recognized that God doesn’t intend to change my personality, but to work through the personality He gave me.  (He is out to change my character, but not my personality.)  I made the decision, driving through the desert, that when I got back to San Jose, I would be me and not strive to be somebody else.  If I’m not the center of attention, if I don’t carry every conversation, if I am not witty and funny and charming and personable – that’s OK.  I can’t bend and twist my personality into shapes God never intended.  If the people want a charming, witty, funny, center of attention pastor, well… they can go to your church!

Things aren’t so bad now as they were in the past.  I am older and have a greater sense of self-confidence.  I move among the people at church with a greater ease.  My thought is that if you’re here at the church I pastor, you’re on my turf and I can launch into substantive conversations and don’t have to keep talk at a chit-chat level.

I really do believe that had that desert experience not occurred at such a strategic time, I would be out of the ministry today.  I would have exhausted myself by contorting my personality into shapes that I thought the ministry demanded.  Without discerning how God had wired me, I would have short-circuited and burned out.

The wisdom of the sensible is to understand his way,   

But the foolishness of fools is deceit.  Proverbs 14:8

3 replies
  1. Kellen Criswell
    Kellen Criswell says:

    Encouraging article, Tim. I praise God for your humility and openness in this post. I think there’s a lot of pressure these days to fit a person or movements fine print definition of what a pastor looks like that can be really unhealthy. Not only are there different kinds of personalities under the skin of each pastor, but absolutely different spiritual gifts and emphasis of calling. I’ve felt the pressure to be someone else even in my limited years in the ministry, and as you noted, that’s a frustrating place to be.

    Do you think that becoming more of who YOU are in the Lord is something that just happens over time? Another random though that just hit: How do we square our perspective on this with statements like “Imitate me as I imitate Christ?” I suppose that’s more character than personality that Paul was going for, but what do you think?

  2. Tim Brown
    Tim Brown says:

    Hi, Kellen – the older we become, the more we become ourselves. But that’s the rub – we grow into how God has wired us in the midst of models and paradigms that either explicitly or implicitly communicate that we are to be a certain way. The prevailing model can either complement us or torment us. In grade school and Junior and Senior High there is such pressure to conform and we have no firm grasp of self. As we emerge from the pressure cooker of adolescence into adulthood, there develops a clearer understanding of who we are and how God has wired us. So yes, becoming who you are in the Lord just happens, in a sense, but if who you are in the Lord is different than who you are in your mind – you will experience a tension that you may not even know where it comes from and how to articulate it.

    I think you’re right – imitating Christ is character centered and not personality centered. I believe that God would have me do something against my will, but not against my personality. For example, suppose the Lord says to me – “Tim, go tell that man sitting on the bench over there that I love him.” Well, I really don’t want to do this. Because of my personality I am uncomfortable going up to a complete stranger with such a message. But, I want to be obedient to the Lord. My personality will determine how I carry out my obedience. An A type personality might go over, interrupt what the man is doing, and say with boldness and self confidence, “God loves you – what prevents you from coming to Jesus?” That’s not me! I would go and sit next to him and wait for an appropriate moment and gently say something like, “I just feel impressed to let you know of God’ great love for you.” I used to think that the bombastic, bold approach was Spirit filled and the more gentle approach was wimpy. I’ve grown out of that fallacy.

    When we serve the Lord in a way that doesn’t fit how He wired us, we overheat. At least I do. God bless you, Kellen.

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