I’ve been told a number of times by those who have led me through tests based on the Myers-Briggs Temperament Indicator that I’m an INFP.
I’ve read that the NF temperament group represents about 21% of the population (and INFPs make up only 4%), but makes up an enormous percentage of those who go away on silent retreats and quiet days. It also represents (I don’t remember the exact figure) a fairly large percentage of Anglican priests, at least in Canada and the USA.
The reasons aren’t hard to find. We INFPs like prayer and ‘spirituality’ and are comfortable in reflection and self-examination. We are idealists who want to make the world a better place and who want to live in harmony with our own inner values. We have a high regard for individual integrity and place a premium on good harmonious relationships. We like helping other people and we tend to get a lot of our self-worth out of the good opinion of other people as well. We’re not good detail people – we’re more attuned to the ‘big picture’ – and we’re more comfortable with symbol and mystery than reason and logic. And we tend to make our decisions based on what feels right to us rather than on any external moral code.
Our strengths include our aptitude for self-examination and self-knowledge, our sense of justice, our desire to live in conformity with our own inner values, and our natural sympathy for others, especially the suffering and marginalised. Our weaknesses include our limitless capacity for self-absorption and our tendency to miss the details of the outer world that are obvious to the other 79% (take it from me, we NFs are never more true to ourselves than when we are living inside our own heads. Just having to come out into the outer world is a compromise!).
We NF clergy tend to gravitate naturally toward individuals in our parishes who share our temperament – we sense that they are ‘kindred spirits’ – and if we aren’t careful we find ourselves spending inordinate amounts of time with those folks and neglecting the rest.
And – remember this – we represent about 21% of the population as a whole.
This isn’t a problem when we remember that we are a minority, and do our best to stretch our ministries to serve the other 79% as well. If we’re wise, we gather leadership teams made up of people of other temperaments: good detail people, practical builders, people who can make plans and work them, people who respond to reason and logic and who notice when light bulbs are burned out and snow needs shovelling. And we prepare our sermons and carry out our ministries with an eye to nourishing people of all temperaments.
Sometimes, however (I say this as one who has often failed in this regard), this doesn’t happen. Sometimes all that’s going on in our INFP churches (because that’s what they become) is activities and ministries that nurture people’s deep inner spiritual journeys. And those who need order and tradition, or those who love logical thinking, or those who ‘think with their hands’ (to use Margaret Craven’s memorable phrase) with hammer and nails and two by fours, or those who struggle with private prayer and find prayer with others much more natural, or those who want to do evangelism or actually organise an effective social justice program that works well – those folks shrivel up and die, because the church isn’t doing anything to guide them in pathways of spiritual growth that are natural to them.
The Anglican Church of Canada sets a high priority, it seems to me, on being an ‘inclusive’ church in which everyone can feel welcome and no-one should be left out or marginalised. And yet it seems very clear to me that it is INFP spirituality that tends to be given pride of place in our church. Often, our clergy just do not know how to act as spiritual mentors for people of other temperaments. And our diocesan leadership, often, is not much better. Just look at how many dioceses offer their clergy, as the one mandated form of spiritual renewal per year, a silent retreat. Remember – 21% are NFs. My observation is that this is approximately the percentage of attendees at clergy retreats who actually observe the rule of silence. The rest, at some point, slip off to find someone to talk to.
Some say that it is unrealistic for us to try to be a church for everyone; NFs need a church too, and maybe that’s our Anglican vocation, to be a safe place for these idealistic and sensitive souls. To which I reply firstly, fair enough, but then let’s stop talking about being inclusive when we have no intention of making allowances for the other 79%. And secondly, this is not the historic Anglican vision. The Church of England, from which we spring, saw itself as the Church for all the people of England. The 16th century Elizabethan Settlement aimed at bringing as wide a percentage of the population as possible into the national Church.
I think the Anglican way of following Jesus actually has a lot to offer people of all temperaments. Our balance of Word and Sacrament appeals to people who like logic and people who like symbol. Our missionary tradition and our strong support for social justice appeal to people who believe in evangelism and also to people who believe in political action and making the world a better place. Our balance of common, ordered prayer and respect for the contemplative life appeals to both extraverts and introverts.
I want the Anglican church to reach out to everyone, not just the 21% of the population who happen to be NFs. And I think a good first step would be for those of us who are in leadership to recognise and acknowledge the problem and ask for help – from people of all temperaments – to build a church that is truly inclusive of all.