The ISTJ Minister – Assessing How Our Personality Affects Our Ministry

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I love the Myers-Briggs type inventory. It seems like the Enneagram is all the rage these days but I still haven’t moved on from the good ole trusty MBTI. This is partly because of the insights it brings out and it is also due to the fact that it was developed at one of my alma mater – the University of Florida.

The MBTI can help us understand how we behave and think in ministry. This self-awareness can be very beneficial in assessing our ministry and becoming aware of our blind spots. The MBTI has four main areas with two possibilities in each area:

Extrovert (E) – Introvert (I)

Sensing (S) – Intuition (N)

Thinking (T) – Feeling (F)

Judging (J) – Perceiving (P)

Pairs of preference options are presented in the test that ultimately add up to your personality type.

I am an ISTJ. That means I am an introvert (more focused on my own inner world), sensing (in tune with the stimuli around me), thinking (analytical and concrete), and judging (ordered and routine). Let’s talk about ministry as an ISTJ. If you are an ISTJ or are married to an ISTJ I would love to hear your thoughts and reflections in the comments. Or, if you know your Myers-Briggs, I would love to hear how you think your type impacts your ministry in the comments even if you aren’t an ISTJ.

I believe there are a lot of ISTJ ministers out there. First, because the profile is one of the most common profiles (13% with 16 possible types so that is double the occurrence expected if results were evenly distributed among the possibilities).

Preparation for ministry
Like Liam Neesen in “Taken” ministry preparation often requires a set of skills that can fit an ISTJ to a high degree. For instance, congregational ministry often requires an advanced degree and the ISTJ is often quite studious with an ability to sit for long periods of time in study without getting distracted. As an introvert energy is often drained from being around people. Books don’t seem to have that effect!

ISTJ’s in ministry
There are a number of qualities typical of ISTJ’s that are both potentially beneficial and hurtful to our ministry. For instance, being sensing, thinking and judging makes us highly analytical. We want the numbers, the data, and will work out our conclusions in ways we believe (although are sometimes mistaken) are concrete. This is helpful for things like biblical interpretation but less so in thinking like pastoral counseling. This doesn’t mean an ISTJ cannot be a good counselor, that is what I started off in! It does mean that there will be challenges (like empathy) in that field that the person in question will have to become self-aware of in order to offset their tendencies.

This personality type is often very even keel and stable. This is a result of our idea of ourselves being people with well reasoned, rational, analytical conclusions that are in the realm of ideas rather than personalities. This can be a tremendous asset in ministry to keep away from drama but can create a drama all their own by being out of touch with some of the social cues and messages that are floating around beneath the surface.

They also have a profound sense of justice and black and white, right and wrong which are all a part of a prophetic vocation. This can produce a high degree of integrity, which is essential in ministry. Combining that with introversion can make us rather aloof at times. They are typically self-sufficient and self-reliant. They are self-starters. These can work for them or against them in ministry and having discernment to know when it is time to lean on self and on others might be difficult for the ISTJ. One of the biggest assets of the ISTJ and biggest liabilities is that they are thinkers, not feelers. They won’t get upset very easily or wear their heart on their sleeve. This is hugely helpful in ministry but also very challenging interpersonally.  This can be very beneficial in ministry to not take things too personally. On the other hand this can also make them seem distant from the emotional needs of the congregation, almost aloof which can be a big problem for ISTJ’s in ministry. They may not let many people get close so they have to take an extra effort to connect with people as it doesn’t come as naturally to them. Self-differentiation (the ability to not mentally enmesh with the feelings or opinions of others) comes more easily for ISTJ’s than for a lot of other personalities which is also helpful in ministry. We know who we are and believe strongly in what we believe, which is also a helpful quality in ministry. As an ISTJ that went into the counseling field, I found the work of Carl Rogers to be extremely helpful in understanding the need for acceptance and empathy (which can be hard for those of us who are STJ’s).

As an introvert we can spend countless hours in study, which can be a big plus for those who are called to do a lot of teaching. Our challenge will be being plugged into the life of the congregation beyond the walls of the office and the classroom. This might make our relevance to specific needs challenging as we may not have picked up on the needs as we are not extroverts (around people all the time) and are not intuitive. This lack of intuition can also be a challenge because in churches people don’t always tell you concretely what they think. This is difficult on the sensing (rather than intuitive) person to pick up on what is really going on.

Because we are judging thinkers we can be quite literal and concrete. Our analytical nature can make their understanding and interpretation of things quite literal. The best way to explain things to us is directly and concretely. We appreciate precision in language as words have concrete meanings and we may pick apart what you say if it isn’t precise to try to understand what you are really saying.

All in all, ISTJ’s can be very effective ministers. We just have to be aware of how some of our biggest strengths can also be our biggest liabilities.

3 Responses

  1. I am a 68 year old extreme ISTJ. My daughter says that I am the most concrete thinker she has ever known. As such, much poetry and symbolism escape me. As you inferred, any strength, taken to the extreme, is a weakness or hindrance. As an SJ, I suspect you ‘may’ spend too much of your time doing “what I am supposed to do” without leaving enough time for regeneration. To me, the greatest benefit of studying MBTI was understanding other people, including family. It has been my experience that type is visible at a very young age, and, except for traumatic experience, changes little over a lifetime. The only difference in mine has been moving from an extreme T, towards the F a little. I have reviewed numerous type indicators and agree with you that Meyers-Briggs is the most complete one out there.

  2. Can you point me to any resources that might help me, as a Christian INFP, better witness to my longtime friend who is ISTJ, discharged military, and claims to be atheist but has gotten uncharacteristically emotional (angry, judgmental of God) and irrational (demanding evidence but trashing it when it’s presented) on the few occasions I’ve brought up God as anything but a passing mention? I’m very familiar with MBTI & cognitive functions (I’m 5w4, since you mentioned enneagram, I’m a sucker for information like that), but I’m at a standstill with her on this front, the issue of faith. An INTJ suggested CS Lewis’ theological writing, but this friend always claims she doesn’t want to think, it makes her head hurt, and she has outright called Lee Strobel’s writing “BS.” Yeah…I’m at a standstill with her. Any direction from a Christian ISTJ in ministry would be hugely appreciated. I’m open to email discussion on this important subject.

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