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Planting a range of personalities

08 July 2016

Leslie J. Francis and Greg Smith apply psychological theory to the Church of England’s selection process

Chrys Tremththanmor

Many gifts, one Spirit: the Church recruits a range of personality types for ordained ministry

Many gifts, one Spirit: the Church recruits a range of personality types for ordained ministry

AS FAR as we are aware, the Church of England has never used “psychological type theory” or “psychological temperament theory” (our area of academic research) in the selection process for ordained ministry. Nor are we suggesting that it should do so. But we do commend taking the insights from this field seriously.

We ground our interest in these theories in a theology of individual difference which is rooted in a doctrine of creation consistent with the vision of Genesis 1.27, in which God creates both male and female to reflect the divine image. No one type of psychological type is more perfectly created in the image of God — there is no room in this theology to see introverts as failed extraverts, or vice versa.

But it is precisely here that empirical evidence proves a potential embarrassment. Research we published in 2007 which in­­volved 626 Church of England clergymen and 237 clergywomen demonstrated that the Church recruited, compared with the popula­tion, a disproportionately high number of introverts. Two further studies in 2010 and 2011 found the same tendencies.

Now, introverts bring lots of good gifts to ministry, but is the church missing out on the different gifts of extraverts? Indeed, a report published in 2014 by David Voas as part of the Church Growth Research Programme, From Anecdote to Evidence, found that one of the strongest predictors of church growth was leadership by extraverts (Feature, 7 February 2014).


PSYCHOLOGICAL type theory, however, is not just about introversion and extraversion. It is also about three other key dif­ferences, concerned with how we perceive, how we evaluate, and how we relate to the world.

The two “perceiving functions” (sensing and intuition) describe ways in which we take in information. “Sensing” types are practical people who prefer facts. “Intuitive” types are imaginative people who prefer ideas. Our earlier study of 2007 found a clear emphasis on intuition in Church of England clergy.

The two “evaluating functions” (feeling and thinking) describe ways in which we evaluate information and how we make decisions. Thinking types prioritise structures, and strive for truth and justice. Feeling types prioritise people, and strive for harmony and peace. Our study of clergy found they are more likely to prioritise feeling.

The two ways of relating to the outer world (judging and perceiving) describe how people live their lives. “Perceiving” types live more flexibly and spontaneously. We found that Church of England clergy, however, were more likely to be “judging” types, those who lived much more organised lives.

But, fascinatingly, our most recent research showed a change in Church of England recruit­­ment: we are selecting a different type of clergy for a different type of Church. The study looked at 90 new curates all under the age of 40: these are the leaders who may be with us for some time.

While the church still prefers introverts, feeling types, and judging types, we found that it has changed its mind about intuitive types. The balance has swung to sensing types who make decisions based on facts and figures. This may be a good strategy for a weakened Church; in these challenging times, these men and women may manage the institution more carefully. But may they also lead it less inspirationally?

Our study then went further and looked at psychological temperament theory, as mapped out by Oswald and Kroeger in their seminal book Personality Type and Religious Leadership (Rowman & Littlefield, 1988). The theory puts the building-blocks of psy­­cho­­logical “types” together to profile certain clergy “temperaments”.

We found that the number of NF (intuitive–feeling) temperaments ­— also described as “the authenticity-seeking relationship-orientated pastor” — had fallen from 35 per cent to 19 per cent. Moreover, the SJ (sensing-judging) temperament ­— de­­scribed as “the conserving, serving pastor” — had risen from 31 per cent to 52 per cent.

These shifts in psychological temperament may promise a Church for the future which is more tightly managed, but perhaps less inspirational and responsive. A further problem resides in the tendency for church leaders to collect around themselves like-minded people who operate in the same way as they do. The more people we have with the same temperament running a local church, the more other temperaments may be squeezed out.

We suggest that a core objective for the professional development of this new brand of church leaders may involve opening their hearts and minds to welcoming a diversity of gifts and a diversity of psychological profiles among an emerging pool of self-supporting ministries, lay and ordained. If these leaders see the point and are willing to take the risk, they are well placed to integrate such richness and diversity within the local church.


The Revd Dr Leslie J. Francis is Professor of Religions and Education at the University of Warwick. The Revd Greg Smith is a parish priest in the diocese of Coventry.

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