I have always been fascinated by personality and temperaments. Understanding Carl Jung’s four contrasting profiles (extrovert/introvert, sensing/intuitive, thinking/feeling, and judging/perceiving), the four quadrants of the DiSC assessment, and the Myers-Briggs 16 different personality types has influenced how I relate to people, who I hire, and how I put together teams. Clearly God has given us different personalities and temperaments in order to accomplish His purposes. And, it is only natural that these differences are reflected in how each church uniquely accomplishes its mission and vision.
It makes sense then that God has given us different spiritual temperaments as well. Personality temperaments describe our human nature and how we relate to others and the world around us while spiritual temperaments describe how we best find intimacy with God and experience spiritual growth. Churches that recognize this avoid a “one size fits all” approach to spiritual development.
In his book, Sacred Pathways, Gary Thomas identifies nine different spiritual temperaments, or pathways for connecting, communing, and relating to God. Most of us will have a predisposition to 2-3 pathways that we gravitate to and that reflect how we best draw near to God. One of the great benefits of knowing our spiritual temperament is that it frees us up to build on the ways we best connect with God without feeling guilty about the spiritual pathways we find less effective. As you read these brief descriptions, check the ones that come most naturally to you.
The Nine Sacred Pathways
Naturalists: Communing with God Outdoors
Naturalists feel closest to God when surrounded by what He has made.
Sensates: Communing with God with the Senses
Sensates feel closest to God when in services and activities where they are using all of their senses.
Traditionalists: Communing with God through Ritual and Symbol
Traditionalists feel closest to God when participating in spiritual activities that involve rituals, symbols, and liturgy.
Ascetics: Communing with God in Solitude and Silence
Ascetics feel closest to God when experiencing and enjoying God alone.
Activists: Communing with God through Confronting Injustice
Activists feel closest to God when standing up for His justice by confronting sin and social evil.
Caregivers: Communing with God by Loving Others
Caregivers feel closest to God when ministering to and serving the poor, sick, suffering, and grieving.
Enthusiasts: Communing with God through Celebration and Joy
Enthusiasts feel closest to God when celebrating God and his love in their favorite form of worship.
Contemplatives: Communing with God through Adoration
Contemplatives feel closest to God when participating in prayer, adoration, and reflection on God’s love.
Intellectuals: Communing with God through the Mind
Intellectuals feel closest to God when reading, studying, and learning something new about Him.
Applying the Spiritual Temperaments
Taking the assessment Thomas provides in *Sacred Pathways, confirmed what experience had taught me…..that my primary sacred pathways are Naturalist, Ascetic, and Contemplative. This doesn’t imply that I don’t enjoy exploring or find meaning in the other spiritual pathways, just that these are the pathways that allow me to most readily connect with God. Specifically, this means for me to remain spiritually healthy I must regularly engage in activities that place me outdoors in nature and provide space for silence, solitude, and reflection. Regretfully, these are activities and environments that most churches don’t provide. I’ve learned then that I must supplement the spiritual experiences the church provides with my own.
Though all nine spiritual temperaments are represented in the church, it may be unrealistic to expect any one church to equally and effectively provide activities and environments for each of the nine pathways. Like individuals, most churches effectively provide activities and environments for only a few of the pathways, and therefore, attract people who are drawn to these pathways. But, the church does need to be knowledgeable, tolerant, and respectful of each pathway, be open to offering activities, environments, and experiences that nourish the souls of all its members, and equip members to augment church provided spiritual activities with devotional times that fuel their love for God.
If you are stuck in your spiritual walk it could be that you simply don’t know how to relate to God according to the way He made you. Knowing and engaging the spiritual temperaments that draw you into a more intimate relationship with God will improve your spiritual health and increase your passion for cultivating a relationship with God.
*For further discussion of these and other spiritual pathways, see John Ortberg and Ruth Haley Barton, An Ordinary Day with Jesus (Zondervan, 2001)
Posted on October 2, 2018