While I was never one of the cool kids in school, I have a personality that’s easily welcomed in church. I’m bubbly. I’m a married, creative mother (bonus!) with domestic-diva interests and a bleeding heart. I’m high-capacity in my time management and irreverent in the right ways. So my gifts, talents, and temperament can really gain me respect in these circles.
Yet what if I wasn’t?
My husband is a profound introvert, even though he deeply enjoys people and spends much of his job caring for them. While I love to get involved in everything and involve everyone around me, he prefers doing things by himself excellently. My ways of serving in church mean a lot of people know me; but he runs in a much smaller circle. While I’m bubbly, he’s contemplative. While I’m a pleaser, he tends to offer opinions that challenge other’s thoughts, sometimes uncomfortably so.
Too often in church, our personalities are tied to our spirituality, our ability to love, and our obedience. And let’s be honest, churches definitely view gifts and personalities in a hierarchy. I would even wager that we exalt various traits in different denominations.
At the risk of stereotyping—there’s a chance that charismatic churches may welcome more emotional personalities. Intellectuals or conscientious personalities find an easier home in Reformed denominations, while quieter souls are more at home in contemplative circles. If your church is into social justice, strong or vocal or compassionate people may flourish.
But what if you’re at a church where your personality just doesn’t seem to fit? How can we continue to engage with the church and with God when everything seems to be an uphill battle?
Here are a few things that might be helpful to remember:
1. God gave us our personalities
When our personality does not match up with our church’s ideal, too often we assume God is displeased with us as well.
My personality, in females, can be exalted in the church. But what about strong-willed women who don’t couch their words in soothing niceties? Is there a chance those women could get the idea that God Himself finds them only acceptable if they change the core of who they are? Is there a chance we could miss out on their courageous leadership, their unvarnished truth-telling, their decisive resourcefulness, by telling them they should be made in the image of someone else?
God loved us and saved us while we were still sinners, and you can bet He didn’t restore us to be generic non-persons. As Peter Scazzero observes in Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, God cares about our personalities:
God intends our deeper, truer self, which he created, to blossom freely as we follow him. God has endowed each of us with certain essential qualities that reflect and express him in a unique way. Part of the sanctification process of the Holy Spirit is to strip away the false construct we have accumulated and enable our true selves to emerge.
If you’ve had some hard church experiences, if you have ever felt misunderstood in your personality—I want to affirm that Christ made you the way you are. You belong. That is not to say that we don’t have flaws and human sin. But it is only in God that we will find true healing, and true expression of our personalities.
2. Always find the flipside of a weakness
I remember sliding to a seat on the floor, head in my hands, when my youngest was no more than 18 months old. I quite clearly recall thinking, I have birthed the Tasmanian Devil. (This was probably after he pulled over a stool, grabbed the drink mix packets on the toaster oven, and sprinkled them around the house like fairy dust.)
But God reminded me, you have no idea the plans I have for him. I might need him strong and inventive so he can cross a jungle to an unreached people group. Or stand up in a courtroom for the unborn. Or corral a bunch of kids in an inner-city classroom. I just needed to allow God to put reins on that strength, not quash it.
One of my mom’s go-to sayings is: “Your greatest strength is your greatest weakness.” That person who seems unyielding? God may have given them such a great love for God’s law and for justice. That woman who never volunteers? She is excelling at the work God has given her.
If you haven’t taken a personality assessment, there are many free online from reputable sources. And here’s a challenge: Don’t attempt to engineer your assessment for a personality you think might be more acceptable! Instead, use this as an opportunity to praise God and trust Him for how He formed you in complete wisdom. And allow Him to convict you of ways you can actively work to bring down the pet “idols” specific to your personality and unique cravings.
3. Our personalities should not prevent us from loving others well
Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses. My husband is fond of saying, “If you can’t ‘get’ how someone can’t just do what you do or just see what you see, that’s a sign it’s a strength for you.”
You might wonder how in the world someone always arrives late, or fails to organize their bathroom—because God has shared His passion for order with you. Or you might be baffled by people’s lack of flexibility, because God has endowed you with His graciousness and appreciation for the breadth of what is right and good. God gave you each strength you have “for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7).
On the flip side, weaknesses are no excuse for loving poorly either. If we struggle to initiate relationships, or aren’t naturally kind, or aren’t well-organized, we harm the people around us when we don’t corral our weaknesses. Instead, we should bring our weaknesses before God, and ask Him to show us ways we can work on or around them for the sake of loving other people better.
4. Care for the personalities on the outskirts
Since every church seems to have its own preference for certain personalities, it makes sense for us to ask, “Is there anyone who might feel uncomfortable in our church? How can we make them welcome?” We should then extend special grace and kindness to these people. This might mean engaging as an equal someone with poor social skills, making more effort to draw them out or help them feel comfortable to open up, and perhaps inviting them to a gathering at your home. It might also mean being understanding when someone who is easily overwhelmed by scheduled activities opts out of events.
As you consider the strengths and weaknesses of your personality, ask yourself, who are the people you need in your life to add balance and help each other reflect a more whole image of God? I, for one, need deep thinkers like my husband. I need his introversion and thoughtfulness to slow me down and temper my impulsivity. I need his depth to bring me beyond appearances.
The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’ On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. (1 Corinthians 12:21-25)
5. Together, we reflect Him fully
I’m often tempted to rig personality tests and be someone different. I’ve been embarrassed by being an extrovert, by lacking attention to detail, and by feeling rather than thinking. I mean, who wants to be known as an irrational, in-your-face, overenthusiastic fountain of thoughtlessness who can’t match her own socks?
But God flourishes in the fullness of our distinctions, not so we can make much of ourselves, but so we can make much of Him. Remember Ephesians 2:10, where God reminds us that we’re His workmanship, created for good works He prepared beforehand? That word workmanship is the Greek poiema. Yep, it’s just what it looks like: the root for our English word “poem”. A poem expresses one part of its Creator. We need all of these expressions for the world to get a comprehensive picture of him.
It’s a tall order when God says, “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you” (Romans 15:7). Rather than conformity and comparison, let us be advocates and cheerleaders (even quiet ones!) for the uniqueness that God has artfully, strategically arranged among us.
Jesus accepted us even when we rejected the ultimate, flawless Personality. May He give you the grace to accept even those who don’t fully value God’s image within you, and to allow His power to be made perfect in your weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).