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Clergy ‘less intuitive, more conventional’

28 June 2018

Psychological survey suggests that the clergy type is changing


THE Church of the future may be “more tightly managed” and “less inspirational”, led by conventional clergy who “do not rock the boat”, a study of clergy psychological profiles has suggested.

The research, Changing Patterns in Recruitment to Stipendiary Ministry: A study in psychological profiling, by Leslie J. Francis and Greg Smith, is published in the journal Theology this month.

It explores the “psychological type” and “psychological temperament” profiles of 90 male assistant curates who were ordained deacons in the Church of England and the Church in Wales in 2009 and 2010, and who went into stipendiary ministry. The sample of 35 female assistant curates ordained in the same years was deemed to small to be valid statistically.

The findings were compared with the profiles of 627 clergymen and 237 clergywomen reported in a study published in 2007.

The assistant curates were assessed using a combination of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and the Francis Psychological Type Scales (FPTS). These consider from where individuals get their energy (introversion or extraversion); how they process information (sensing or intuition); how they make decisions (thinking or feeling); and how they respond to the outside world (judging or perceiving).

In relation to psychological type, the study reports that its main finding is that “the current generation of young stipendiary male curates is much less likely to prefer intuition compared with clergymen in the 2007 study (42 per cent compared with 62 per cent)”.

The study defines clergy who prefer intuition as those who “focus on the possibilities of a situation, perceiving meaning and relationships”, and who “focus on the overall picture, rather than specific facts and data”. Such clergy “follow their inspirations enthusiastically”, and “often aspire to bring innovative change to established conventions and have less patience with tradition”.

The curates ordained in 2009 and 2010 were more likely to be at the “sensing” end of the spectrum: those who “focus on the realities of a situation, and on specific details, rather than the overall picture. They tend to be down-to-earth and matter-of-fact. They are frequently fond of the traditional and conventional.”

This move away from intuition to sensing clergy is reflected, the study says, in the way that the balance in psychological temperament has changed: the clergy ordained in 2009 and 2010 were much more likely to report the Epimethean (sensing/judging) temperament than those surveyed in the 2007 study (52 per cent compared with 31 per cent).

Epimethean clergy “serve as protectors and conservers of the traditions inherited from the past”, the study says. “They bring order and stability to their congregations.”

The proportion of clergy with an Apollonian (intuiting/feeling) temperament (“idealistic and romantic”; “inspiring communicators”; “good . . . pastoral counselling techniques”) fell from 35 per cent in the 2007 study to 19 per cent among the 2009/10 clergy.

A similar trend can be seen in the sample of women curates.

“The move from the Apollonian temperament to the Epimethean temperament . . . may carry implications for the future character and identity of the Church of England,” the authors write. “The Church of the future may be a more tightly managed and more conservative Church, but less inspirational and less responsive to transformation.

“The problem resides in the tendency for church leaders to collect around themselves like-minded people who operate in the same way as they do.”

They cite evidence that suggests that a sensing/judging (SJ) culture is “strongly dominant” in C of E congregations and among “ordained local ministers”. “The new generation of clergymen ordained as deacons in 2009 and 2010 will clearly find like-minded support ready and waiting to affirm their leadership style.”

The study concludes: “Within a Church that is managing decline, and doing so with increasingly overstretched resources, reliance on the Epimethean temperament may be a wise and cautious strategy. Here are leaders who will not rock the boat and who will offer a sense of security during palliative care. Indeed, the extraverts among them may well stimulate some growth by preaching a straightforward gospel of certain truth appealing to fellow SJs.

“An alternative (and more hopeful) vision would commend enhancing the type awareness of this new generation of SJ leaders so that they may see the point of affirming and nurturing a broader range of psychological temperaments to work alongside them through a variety of self-supporting ministries, lay and ordained.

“Risk is involved in opening up the local church in this way, but the potential gains of such risks could be great.”

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