Event Name Sermon given at Matins on the Third Sunday before Advent 2016
Start Date 6th Nov 2016 10:00am

The Reverend David Stanton, Canon in Residence

My sermons at Matins this month will attempt to make connections between our personality type and how we approach our faith and discipleship.

On the one hand a contemplative person may focus on the times Jesus withdrew from the crowds for prayer and reflection; on the other someone with a more extrovert personality may concentrate more on Jesus as a man of action. The contemplative person may love silent retreats, while the more outgoing may see spirituality as doing things for other people.

You’re so loud. No, I’m not. I’m engaging. You’re just domineering and obtrusive. So which is it? loud or engaging? We’ve heard it both ways.

The thing is, the vast majority of us look at the world through the lens of our own personality style. And since most of us have a self-affirming bias, we tend to value characteristics that we perceive in ourselves.

If I’m organized, I tend to see it as a valuable thing. If I’m not it tends to come far lower down the agenda. We tend to value the sort of people we are.

In the realm of personality type, as measured in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator,
personality preferences are characterized and understood by categories of  complementary opposites. For example a judging approach to life as opposed to a perceiving approach.

During this month I’m going to reflect on three classic opposites: Extrovert or introvert. Thinking or feeling. Judging or perceiving. This morning: Extrovert or introvert. When we talk about ‘extraverts’ and ‘introverts’, we’re distinguishing between the two worlds in which all of us live.

There’s a world inside ourselves, and a world outside ourselves. When we are dealing with the world outside of ourself, we are naturally more extravert. When we are inside our own minds, we are naturally more introvert.

We’re more extravert when we talk to other people, listen to what someone is saying,
do something practical. We’re more introvert when we quietly say the morning Office,
read a book, or reflect on a problem from all angles.

The important distinction is which world we live in more often? Do we define our life's direction externally or internally? Which world gives us our energy, and which do we perhaps find draining?

In his book Who we are is how we pray, Charles Keating suggests that our relationship with Christ is shaped by our personality. Using Myers-Briggs personality types, he suggests that in Matthew's Gospel Jesus is an introvert, in Mark a sensing personality, in Luke an extrovert thinker, whilst in John Jesus is more naturally intuitive.

Keating also suggests that each of the Myers-Briggs personality types approaches the way in which disciples are formed differently. Extroverts need to exercise discipleship through external structures, visible works and practical activities. Introverts need space for rumination, exploring possibilities and inner reflection.

Last Friday I had lunch with the Director for Church Planting at Holy Trinity, Brompton. This church has a particular, extravagant and outward vision for helping re-vitalise vulnerable churches with dwindling congregations by sending in teams of dynamic leaders, to revitalise and transform churches, it could be described as corporately extrovert.

Also last week Fr George Guiver, the Superior of the Community of the Resurrection at Mirfield, gave a keynote speech at the annual conference of Anglican Religious Communities. He argued strongly that a Church anxious about numerical decline must turn its attention to its inner life, emphasising that ‘new life is going to come from within, from the heart’.

On the surface two quite different approaches to the common dilemma of church renewal. But like most things in life, they are not mutually exclusive. Although rather different in approach, they hold distinct similarities, and certainly hold the same goal of re-kindling faith in our nation.

Firstly, as religious communities tend to prefer to concentrate on the inner world of ideas, they are primarily energised by reflection and value solitude as one of our primary Christian gifts. Secondly overtly evangelical churches tend to be more energised by the outer world of relationships and conversion, generally preferring action or discussion to reflection or solitude.

And yet over recent years these traditional distinctions have blurred. Its healthy for all of us to be spiritually stretched by others who are different from ourselves. A natural extrovert may be inspired and helped by a contemplative person to spend more time in prayer, whilst a more reflective person may be encouraged by an extrovert to develop a more practical side to their faith. It would be very boring if we were all the same and it would be sad if we couldn't learn from each other.

In today's culture, which overtly celebrates diversity, people are far more attuned to individual differences than in the past. I suspect that discipleship today, the whole Renewal and reform agenda, could well be more effective if we took variations in temperament into account. In particular breaking out of set and strictly defined approaches to spirituality.

Malcolm Goldsmith, in his book, ‘Knowing Me, Knowing God’, gives us an easy-to-follow introduction to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator in relation to the spiritual life.

The heart of this book is a spirituality questionnaire, coupled with how the results may be seen in relation to conventional spirituality.

Its all about exploring ways in which we can best open our hearts and minds to God, but its also a useful tool in coming to understand the functioning life of the Church. Why people have different ways of responding to God, both emotionally and intellectually; why some are attracted to a particular kind of church; why some prefer to pray in one way and not in others.

It was Jung who noted that although some people are more outgoing and some more withdrawn, its not a matter of shyness. Its just that some prefer one way of being over the other. In other words, how people preferred to be energised and uplifted.

He noted that extraverts become energized by being with people and being stimulated by the outer world, and that introverts, drained by being in the outer world, need to draw within themselves to become re-vitlaised.

At the end of the day, we all need to remember that the God of creation is the God of grace. In gracious creativity God has blessed us all with an array of personality types. Our different personalities are gifts to one another.

Over the years I have become convinced that personality types play a major part in determining how our theology and spirituality are formed. Different personalities warm to different aspects of the Christian story and different ways of expressing spirituality.

These different emphases are gifts to the body of Christ. Our Christian community is enriched when contemplative and outgoing people make their contributions alongside each other, complementing one another in the building up of God’s kingdom.

I finish by asking you the question: Have you made a connection between your own personality type and the way you live out your faith?

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