Recently I completed the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) as part of a 'ministry formation' subject I'm undertaking for my theological studies. I was terribly excited by this as I had done the free 60 question version before but now I could get the official results of the 144 question version.
This is a personality test which can help you identify fitting career paths, your strengths, weaknesses and reveal the way you function.
You end up with a combination of a 4 letter acronym defining your personality type as follows:
Introverted or Extroverted (I or E)
Do you prefer to focus on the outer world or on your own inner world? .
Sensing or Intuitive (S or I)
Do you prefer to focus on the basic information you take in or do you prefer to interpret and add meaning?
Thinking or Feeling (T or F)
When making decisions, do you prefer to first look at logic and consistency or first look at the people and special circumstances?
Perceiving or Judging (P or J)
In dealing with the outside world, do you prefer to get things decided or do you prefer to stay open to new information and options?
From the abbreviated version, I found out I was an INFJ. This was the best result I could hope for – we are the unique; making up less than 1% of the population. We are not just the dreamers; we make everlasting impact through concrete steps. We are the game changers; those deemed to start social movements and create something extraordinary that only the rarest of humanity can do. We are the Martin Luther Kings, the Nelson Mandelas, the Mother Teresas.
Placing my identity in a personality test
And so I bought into this - I was somehow going to change the world. Currently working as a physiotherapist in the aged care sector and identifying massive faults with the funding system, I was convinced that I could single-handedly change this (something that the Australian Physiotherapy Association has been campaigning about since 2008).
Except that when I did the full 144 questions - I wasn't an INFJ. Instead I was an ISFJ, only one letter of difference but a letter that made all the difference. This was a massive disappointment. Suddenly I no longer wanted to change the world. I was ordinary. ISFJs are the behind the scenes kinds of people - reserved, reliable and kind. I make up 13 % of the population, not the special 1% I had formerly believed. Previously, I felt superior to the other common folk, now I was just a 'kind' pleb like everyone else.
And whilst it’s easy to feel that the MBTI defines our identity, we must remember it reveals our tendencies not our ability or character.
We must proceed with caution lest we fall into the following traps:
We can use it to excuse our own behaviours and criticise others
My husband is the complete opposite personality type– an ENTP. My instant thought was 'oh well that's why we have so much conflict, because my organised (J) personality clashes with his spontaneity (P)'. Yet his carefree ways remind me that life can still go on if you move schedules and this encourages me to unwind and relax (and not let the stress of being perfectly organised kill me off today).
We can use it to define everyone without actually getting to know them
This is an extreme example but I came across an article analysing Jesus' personality type and I had definitely thought it had been taken too far. As I sat there scoffing at the article, when I got to the part where they deemed Jesus was an introvert, I could sadly feel the introvert inside me, giving myself a pat on the back.
It conveniently leaves out our sinful side
An INFJ is called an "advocate" and an ISFJ the "defender". And whilst I'd rather the label of an advocate, all the titles for the personality types are impressive. Some other examples include the mediator, the protagonist, the campaigner, the adventurer and the entrepreneur.
Whilst I'm a "Defender", described as 'warm protectors, always ready to defend their loved ones', I could easily be called "The unforgiving" as I tend to withhold mercy and grace to anyone who hurts those I love.
But just as the labels describe us in a positive light, they are like many other secular instruments; failing to mention our sinful nature, brokenness and separation from God.
It is egocentric
We reflect God's image individually but also as a church. We are the hands and feet of one body and each part is needed to make the body whole (1 Corinthians Chapter 12). Therefore me seeing what I can achieve individually as an ISFJ, can be a self-seeking trap and lead me to forgetting my place in God’s community.
It leaves no room for the work of the Holy Spirit
The MBTI tells us that these 4 letters are innately us and we can’t ever really change that. It therefore leaves no room for sanctification – the process of becoming more and more like Jesus through the work of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians Chapter 6, verse 11).
While it is not meant to describe our character, only our preferences – our preferences do change when we accept Christ as we become dead to sin and alive in Christ. It doesn't give much room for the Saul to Paul conversion!
It would let our weaknesses define us
Moses identified that he was 'slow of speech' (Exodus Chapter 4, verse 10). A test like this may have spun his weakness into a positive and said, 'you mightn't be eloquent, but a show can only run when people like you do the hard work behind the scenes!' Instead God had a strategy to overcome Moses’ weakness.
Nor would it have identified David’s kingship potential while he was found tending sheep (1 Samuel Chapter 16, verse 11).
My identity should be first and foremost in Christ.
Whilst sin has marred us, we are still made in the image of God (Genesis Chapter 1 verses 26 - 27). There can be nothing more incredible than that; yet I had found myself letting a personality test tell me my worth.
Maybe for you it's not a personality test that defines your sense of value. Maybe it's your reputation, your bank account, your popularity, your level of intelligence, your disability or inability in an area. But none of that matters – when God is our creator and we are made in His image then we are of immeasurable worth.
There's nothing wrong with a personality test and used wisely it can help us be more reflective, work on our weaknesses and identify our strengths. But let's not forget that it does not define us. Whilst it might give us a glimpse of who we are, it can never tell us God’s story of transformation and redemption for us.
Melissa Ramoo is a physiotherapist, Pilates instructor and studying a bachelor of Ministry at Morling College in Sydney. She’s married to her husband Roshan and has a Boston Terrier named Hercules who is completely doted on.