Thursday, February 6, 2014

ISTJ and INTJ preaching

Ministers of all personality types can learn to preach and preach well. Some personality types may seem to be better suited to the task than others, but with the right training, convictions, effort and personal insight, all ministers can learn to preach. Theological colleges and preaching courses look after the training part of preaching (some better than others). Convictions about the power of God’s word come to us through the Word itself. Effort comes from our desire to faithfully carry out the task committed to us. It’s personal insight that I think many preachers lack. Ministers aren’t always that great at identifying patterns of strength and weaknesses in their preaching.

It’s in the area of personal insight that I think the Myers Briggs type indicator can be really useful. It may be that you don’t agree with the MB thing at all. That’s fine. But do a test (5 minutes!) and find your apparent type and see if the strengths and weaknesses that I list for your type (or perhaps for one close to it) relate to your preaching. Even if you completely disagree at least it might have helped you reflect on your own preaching. Maybe. Humor me. Tell me I’m wrong!

Today I’m going to talk about ISTJ and INTJ preachers.

Both ISTJs and INTJs are INTROVERTS (I). They like to be by themselves for good amounts of time and so solitary sermon prep is unlikely to be an overly burdensome chore for them. Both believe that life should be willed and decided. They like to have things settled (that’s the JUDGING thing (J)). Both make decisions based on impersonal logic (THINKING - T). Because of their J and T preference, ISTJ and INTJ sermons are likely to be fairly well structured and in their application, they will tend to be quite directive (ie. telling people what to do.) Because ISTJs and INTJs are neither FEELING types or EXTRAVERTS, their pastoral insights may be lacking. Occasionally they may include an illustration that causes offense. Perhaps it will just be a throwaway comment... but they don’t naturally have a sense of what might hurt people’s feelings. Similarly, their application could fail to recognize the complexities of various pastoral situations (particularly ISTJ types) and offer inadequate advice. Both ISTJs and INTJs would benefit from having a spouse or trusted other whisper in their ear occasionally when an illustration or application point was pastorally clunky.

The difference between the two is only in one little letter - the SENSING (S) or INTUITION (N) preference. But this one letter is worth considering because it makes a big difference to how the minister goes about the task of preaching.

Sensing types (like the ISTJ) are interested in actualities. Facts. Things that they can perceive with their senses are trustworthy. Intuitives on the other hand (like the INTJ), are comparatively uninterested in concrete facts. For intuitive types, possibilities, abstract ideas and theories are where it’s at. They theorize without thinking about it, jumping from idea to idea, connecting one thing with another very quickly. Intuitives are into inspiration and new ideas. They are more excitable and find routine dull.

So there’s only one letter different between ISTJs and INTJs but this letter makes quite a difference to their sermons.

ISTJs don’t much like abstract thought, understanding a passage just for the sake of understanding the passage, and exegesis without (immediate) application. They don’t enjoy it, they don’t naturally see the point of it, and they are slow at it. But the ‘J’ in them drives them to want to want to make decisions quickly, to choose a path to take, to tie up loose ends and close off options. If the ISTJ makes decisions too fast - before s/he’s thought enough about he passage - the sermon can be half baked theologically. He/she may unwittingly miss the main point of the passage. The exegesis can be shallow. Inadequate. An ISTJ may cover up his/her poor reading of the passage by retreating into a doctrinal system (perhaps Calvinism) or by parroting what other preachers have said, or with pomp or truisms. Because the ISTJ's sermon will be structured quite well, appear to follow the passage and perhaps delivered with some force, most of the congregation won't be able to see the exegetical inadequacies on the spot. But over time, a congregation who have tasted better passage work will feel that they aren't as engaged with the scriptures as they need to be.

This may all sound discouraging for the ISTJ, but there are many excellent ISTJ preachers out there. If you are an ISTJ, your exegesis needn't be inadequate. Just take the time to read the text properly. Acknowledge that you're not naturally as quick at exegesis as some and give yourself time. In fact, force yourself to take the time. Don't let yourself make any decisions about what the passage is saying until you've looked at every word carefully. Work out how every idea fits with every other idea. If you're tempted to start riffing your Calvinism or Driscollism or Whateverism, stop and start the passage work again.

INTJs, in contrast, are good with abstractions. They enjoy the exegetical process and are fast at it. They too, want decisions made quickly, but because they think so much more quickly than the ISTJ, their sermons don’t suffer from it. A well trained INTJ with good convictions about the importance of preaching God's word will likely produce sermons with interesting biblical insights presented in a straightforward, logical way... but INTJs probably won't see their sermons as works of art. Instead, they'll see them as functional pieces of communication. As such, some listeners may feel that something is lacking. If ideas alone can move you, then you'll probably quite like an INTJ's preaching. Others will wish a little more effort was put into the packaging.



  1. Well done, I'm even more convinced I'm an ISTJ now

  2. INTJ for me.

    Some of my 'type' rings true - except for the 'presented in a straightforward, logical way' bit. Sounds like a yawn, as you say. Had the same problem with essays: dull structure made it a real grind, so it was always much more fun to say it all in some unexpected way.

    I suspect you'd say I like the abstract/theoretical so much that I therefore want to write in the same way. (Why would I want to go back to concrete-facts-type writing when I have that great N factor?!) Your earlier paragraph about finding routine dull...yeah, that's more on the money. I'm not sure why then your final para seemed to swing it back that way...

    (nb - you've got a typo in that last paragraph, I suspect - a rogue ISTJ appears)

    1. Thanks. Typo fixed!

      Anthony are you sure you are INTJ rather than INTP? I've heard your sermons... You are completely out of the box. Js have some respect for the box. From what I've seen of you, you don't.

    2. I do tend to come up as J. And it's not a quirk - I'm pretty black and white out of the gates.

      However, I'm also thoroughly stubborn, and hate boring myself. And, like you, I'm not a great finisher. A quirky enough idea is required to get me over the line ;-)

      The thing is, of course, that whatever quirky idea it is, it's always the right and only possible one!

  3. I'm thinking that we INFPs probably don't make great preachers :D

    1. That is such an INFP thing to say!

      There's no reason why an INFP couldn't be a fabulous preacher... except that they tend to be so hard on themselves. So down on themselves!

      My guess is that most INFPs would need to preach from a full script (not so good at expressing themselves on the spot) and to work hard on:
      - saying what the passage says even if it will make conflict
      - the logical progression of their thoughts
      - not being so darn down on themselves all the time! (It can be paralysing)

      If they decide that preaching is their thing, then I'd imagine that that they'd be pretty committed to doing it well. The sermons could be quite reflective and include good observations about the human condition.

    2. hehe.. you're right about needing to work from scripts. I do that when I'm leading, otherwise I tend to waffle awkwardly, basically repeating myself.

    3. As someone married to an INFP preacher, I hear you :). Would love to read a more complete description when you get to it. Cathy

    4. Cathy- I'll get to it. Hopefully in the next few days.