From the time I was in high school until I was nearly 40 I tended to rise to leadership in whatever endeavor I pursued. Highest GPA in high school, winner of a number of awards for academic and athletic pursuits, Little Sister of the Year in my sorority, president of League of Women Voters, president of Montgomery Ballet, president of Presidents’ Club, event organizer chairman, etc. But once my interests shifted from career, politics and civic activities to spiritual formation, religious activities, and personally satisfying relationships at 38, suddenly anything I put my hand to in a group endeavor generally failed miserably. It has gotten to the point that I prefer not to be identified as a leader in most efforts, as it seems almost the kiss of death to any project.
As I have studied personality types, over the last 30+ years, having been exposed to them in business training activities and evaluations and more recently in ministry preparation, I have pretty consistently reflected the traits of Myers-Briggs Personality type ENTJ, a particular set of traits that appear to be present in only 1-2% of the female population. Trust me, that distinction is not something of which to be proud if one is in a ministry vocation, as ministry vocations tend to be occupied by the more FEELING/PERCEIVING personality types as opposed to my THINKING/JUDGING type. While one might find such unique distinctiveness appealing, I can assure you, it is more of a curse than a blessing much of the time.
In the early years, however, when many of my peers lacked self-confidence and direction, it was easy for me to shine as I seemed to have plenty of both. Leadership was more or less something I stepped into by default, it now seems in retrospect. As the profile descriptions of ENTJs often note, in the absence of clear direction and effectiveness, ENTJs will take charge and bring both to bear on the situation. And so it was in my early years, earning me a reputation for being organized, type-A, and effective.
However, when my interests turned inward as a result of a personally powerful religious experience at 38, suddenly the things that had worked before for me in groups and interpersonal relationships no longer worked. My motives in this new environment were often suspect. Instead of being seen as organized and effective, many people tended to pull away, seeing me as controlling and difficult. I seemed to lose all ability to communicate effectively, as everything appeared to be interpreted in the worst possible light. For a long time I puzzled over this phenomenon. I became somewhat reluctant to take a lead role in things, as I would find myself forced to do projects by myself as others withdrew.
I began to discover that LEADERSHIP in business and secular arenas is very different from what is commonly preferred and accepted in the world of ministry and religious practitioners. The servant-leader model was not so hard a concept to grasp, however, and I thought I was moving toward that model fairly well. I sought to lead in more helpful, people-focused as opposed to task-focused, self-effacing kinds of ways. However, it became more and more apparent that the word LEADER, at least as far as I am concerned, needed to simply be dropped altogether. When I resist my tendencies for enthusiasm (or “PASSION” as one disdainful religious leader said with apparent condescending distaste) and outspokenness, I can remain engaged in the religious arena and function adequately as a wallflower. If I allow those aspects of who I am to be authentically and transparently observed, I tend to be avoided, viewed with suspicion, and misunderstood. It has taken me quite some time to understand that what has changed is not so much me, and especially not my personality, as it is that I have sought to associate with personalities that are simply so inherently different from me. If ENTJ is 1-2% of females in the general population, in the smaller subgroup of religious people, it must be something like .0015%, or some other similarly insignificant quantity.
The growing awareness of how uncommon my personality and standard operating procedure for life is in the religious arena has been brought home to me in a very multi-faceted, hard, and blindingly brilliant way…. to say that it has been a grinding experience would be to put it mildly. I would like to think that what is emerging from the growing awareness of who I am and with whom God has placed me is a diamond. In pursuing affiliation with the ranks of the religiously-minded, I have described the experience as being somewhat like being a lone zebra in a herd of horses. It’s a rather lonely existence which, while very painful at times, has led me toward an even more robust relationship with the Lord as I have drawn closer and closer to him in order to be obedient to what he has called and equipped me to do, wearing blinders, as it were, to stay focused on the things God has for me to do and not on how others are reacting to me. After the last two years of that struggle to find community within the ranks of the religiously ordered, I realize that though my call by God has been tested and proven now for several years, that is not enough to gain acceptance among the ranks of the religiously “called”. One has to “fit the mold” of ministry….emphasizing the aspects of personality that are generally associated with ministry – feeling, empathizing, emoting always in only the most comforting and agreeable ways. (I had heard it said that the role of clergy was “to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” That seems to only be the case as long as the comfortable who are being afflicted aren’t clergy themselves who might run the risk of being afflicted by someone of the ENTJ type!)
As Wikipedia’s description notes:
“ENTJs often excel in business and other areas that require systems analysis, original thinking, and an economically savvy mind. They are dynamic and pragmatic problem solvers. They tend to have a high degree of confidence in their own abilities, making them assertive and outspoken. In their dealings with others, they are generally outgoing, charismatic, fair-minded, and unaffected by conflict or criticism. However, these qualities can make ENTJs appear arrogant, insensitive, and confrontational. They can overwhelm others with their energy and desire to order the world according to their own vision. As a result, they may seem intimidating, hasty, and controlling.
ENTJs tend to cultivate their personal power. They often end up taking charge of a situation that seems (to their mind, at least) to be out of control, or that can otherwise be improved upon and strengthened. They strive to learn new things, which helps them become resourceful problem-solvers. However, since ENTJs rely on provable facts, they may find subjective issues pointless. ENTJs appear to take a tough approach to emotional or personal issues, and so can be viewed as aloof and insensitive. In situations requiring feeling and value judgments, ENTJs are well served to seek the advice of a trusted Feeling type.
When striving toward a goal, ENTJs often put personal needs aside until the work is done (and may expect others to do the same). For this reason, ENTJs may be considered self-sacrificing by some, but “cold and heartless”by others, especially those who prefer Feeling.”
Now that I understand myself better, I am less distressed by not being accepted in the realm of religious leaders. God hasn’t called me to minister to them. I don’t expect to be around them to any significant degree. It is the least, last and lost on the margins of society to whom God has called me and he has called me according to the way he has made me. I do not need to change for the sake of the religiously influential. I simply need to be obedient to do what God as assigned me to do. Even if the ordaining and appointment isn’t there by the Church, the call and anointing by God to the church remains.