Thoughts for NYNO on ‘Reformed, Reforming, Emerging, and Experimenting’ (4)

See 1.2.4 of the report.

Personality Types and Planting a Catholic Church

I don’t warm to the use of personality tests and types. I’m not sure why. It’s probably my personality … I think that while I know I have a certain character and limitations, I don’t like to be limited. It feels to me that the whole of life is about growth and overcoming of obstacles that at one time seemed insurmountable. I don’t want an excuse not to try to learn and adapt.

At the same time, this section of the report points out something that I can’t ignore.

Working with an understanding of personality types in terms of four polarities (introverts and extraverts; sensers and intuitives; thinkers and feelers; judgers and perceivers), it can be demonstrated that conventional churches attract high proportions of introverts, feelers and judgers. Anecdotal evidence suggests that fresh expressions of church are probably redressing the balance by reaching more extraverts, thinkers and perceivers, though at present no empirical evidence is available to either confirm or deny that.

Broadly speaking this analysis seems intuitive: it fits with some of my personal experience. This has implications for NYNO in a couple of ways.

At the heart of the NYNO ideal is a view of the local church that is ‘catholic’. As far as I understand, the term has a number of different but related meanings. I want to use it here in the sense in which it’s used in our title, Neither Young Nor Old: we want our churches to be open and accessible to all types of people. We don’t want our churches to appeal only to intuitive radical thinkers, or to traditionalists. We all need each other, we miss out without each; this is the body of Christ metaphor expanded beyond the local church to the whole of humanity. We might be tempted to think that life would be easier if our church simply contained the like-minded, but we have to believe this is not in fact the case, even if it doesn’t actually feel that way some or most of the time!

Quite practically for us, this is going to affect how we try to shape worship in NYNO congregations, the resources that we provide, the music that we use. It’s also going to be a question that we keep returning to: are we shaping churches in our own image, or Christ’s.

I think as well, that this could prove a challenge. A socially or culturally homogeneous congregation will be (I predict!) more attractive to folk, than one that genuinely values people with diverse character types and the preferences for styles of worship and forms of church that they will likely bring.

To conclude my train of thought, here’s a few more general thoughts on the churches, culture and the emergent missionary theology which does seem to being widely advocated.

All churches have a culture. That can’t be avoided and is necessary for group formation and identity. At the same time, there is only one church and it is universal (catholic in another sense) and this is the case because Christ became incarnate, one of us, a human.An unnecessarily divided church is a denial of our mutual humanity as it exists in Christ and, perhaps, a denial of the incarnation.So, the Church Catholic has to be able to reach beyond social and cultural divisions. A big task for a small church? Well, yes, but all it really comes down to is trying to recognise the unhelpful things that divide us unnecessarily from other people, perhaps naming them, and seeking to go beyond them. This is significant for life within the church, but also as the church reaches out and is open to others in mission.

The current use of contextual missionary theology could, no doubt unfairly, be caricatured as colluding in the sinful division of humanity in the way it encourages emerging ministries to locate and adapt themselves to a local cultural and social context. What needs to be added, I’d suggest is a recognition that culture and society is fallen and that therefore there is a real danger in a church culturally adapting itself. It may be a necessary activity, but it’s also a dangerous one. A ‘catholic’ ecclesiology that offers an alternative societal picture, one that recognises the diversity and unity we have in Christ, might be a helpful companion as we plant churches in our divided society.


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