A decade ago, I was on staff at a homeless shelter. Every day, hundreds of people would come through our doors in desperate need, and we would respond to their physical and spiritual needs. We’d share about the hope and love of Jesus with our guests. But we had a secret.
Behind the scenes, the staff was a mess. We fought. We gossiped. We undermined each other’s decisions. The truth is that we didn’t trust each other. We were proclaiming a love that we didn’t know how to give to each other. We were airplane salesmen hoping you wouldn’t ask us if we actually knew how to fly.
Did you know that the number one reason Christians leave the mission field is because of conflict with other Christians? I suspect this is also the reason Christians leave churches, marriages, and friendships. Often, the problem is not “the world.” The problem is us.
We don’t know how to do relationships
This is tragic, because Jesus said all the law and prophets are hemmed together by our ability to love God and love other people as ourselves. The purpose of life is relationships.
Years ago, I heard an elderly pastor say, “When I was young, I felt called to the ministry, so they sent me off to seminary and filled me with doctrine when the first thing they should have done was sit me around a table with others and taught me how to love.”
Scripture makes it clear that the way we relate to God reveals the way we relate to others—and the way we relate to others often indicates how we will relate to God. In other words, how we relate is how we relate.
How do you relate?
WHAT IS YOUR RELATIONAL STYLE?
A key step toward a healthier relationship with God and others is to first seeour relational patterns—both good and bad—and acknowledge them. Why? Because what goes unacknowledged goes unhealed. How can we see our relational patterns?It was in the aftermath of the aforementioned dysfunctionalseason of ministry that I was introduced to a tool called the Enneagram. The Enneagram is a theory of personality that maps patterns in the ways people behave, feel, and think (what the scriptures call “the heart”—an ancient way of referring to personality). The Enneagram is not a Christian theory, but when it’s wielded with Christian wisdom, it can help us understand our style of relating to God, other people, and ourselves.
A simplified explanation of the Enneagram is that there are nine types—each looking for something they desperately want, each using their own primary strategy for how to find it, which influences their approach to relationships.
Take a look at the table below and see which relational style sounds most like you. (Hint: it’s probably the one you feel embarrassed by when you read it.)
What do you think? Do any of these sound like you?
HOW IS YOUR RELATIONAL STYLE SHAPING YOUR PASTORING?
When we utilize our personality to build our identity, find our security, or experience freedom, we end up exaggerating some of our gifts and diminishing others. We take a good thing (God’s Spirit at work through our personality) and try to use it to do something it wasn’t designed to do. Instead of using the hammer to hit a nail, we end up hitting people in the head.
When applied through Christian wisdom, the Enneagram is a tool that allows us to identify our relational patterns so we can bring them to Jesus. Allowing God to give us the things we seek (identity, security, and freedom) frees us up to relate to others in healthier ways.
Consider how your personality may be shaping your approach to being a pastor. How is your relational style shaping your views of God, the way you lead, and your relationships with those around you?
A lack of self-awareness is one of the greatest dangers to pastors. Spiritual leaders are gifted at seeing everyone else’s problems while often being utterly blind to their own. Pastors carry unparalleled influence in people’s lives, which means a pastor’s self-deception always hurts more than the pastor alone. The privilege of pastoring carries with it the responsibility to be self-aware.
HOW CAN YOU PREACH TO A COMMUNITY OF PERSONALITIES?
In the scriptures, we see Jesus’s ability to meet people where they are and speak directly into their lives. Each of his encounters seems customized to touch the deepest wounds, biggest doubts, and worst sins of everyone who encounters him. How can we ensure that the gospel is doing the same thing today?
Every person we encounter has a personality—a mysterious algorithm of emotions, thoughts, and instincts. Each person has their own shame, fear, and guilt that they wrestle with daily. What does the gospel of Jesus offer to these problems?
Take a look at the table below and consider how the gospel can be communicated to touch all three parts of someone’s personality.
WHY JESUS IS BETTER
I appreciate the Enneagram, but the Enneagram is not my savior. It can never replace Jesus and the goodness of his gospel. However, when used with wisdom, the Enneagram gives me new insights into my own needs, desires, and sin so I can learn to trust God with them. It gives me new ways to see relational patterns in both myself and those around me, allowing me to pursue the two greatest commandments of loving God and loving others.
Jesus has told us that all of life is about relationships. We can’t have flourishing relationships without self-awareness. The world will know we are Christians by how we relate. Let’s build better relationships.
THE TRUTH ABOUT THE ENNEAGRAM
Claim: The people who helped create the enneagram were not Christians.
✓ True: The enneagram is not a Christian tool. It is merely a tool that can be used “Christianly”.
Claim: The enneagram came from channeling spirits.
X False: Don't believe the rumors. Though one of the creators of the enneagram said his ideas came from a process he called “automatic writing”, multiple of his students have gone on record saying that he later clarified that this meant that his decades of research on personality theory made his writing flow more easily and that his words had no supernatural meaning. Another teacher who was accused of talking with bizarre spiritual entities directly refuted these claims as being rumors created by a journalist to discredit his work.
Claim: The enneagram is not scientifically valid.
X False: The enneagram meets all the criteria for personality inventories including predictive validity, demonstrated usefulness, and comprehensiveness. It is utilized by many respected psychologists and therapists.
Claim: Christians should not use “wisdom” from outside of the Bible.
X False: Solomon and Paul both studied wisdom literature outside of the Hebrew texts and put it to use. Though scripture is preeminent, we can also find truth in tradition, reason and experience. The enneagram pulls wisdom from the last 3 categories and can be beneficial when governed by the Bible.
Claim: Relational health isn’t as important as glorifying God.
X False: We can only glorify God if we are in a healthy relationship with him and others. This is why the phrase “one another” appears 100 times in the New Testament and why he says if we don’t love others, we don’t love him.
Claim: The enneagram doesn’t address our sin and need for a savior.
✓ True: The enneagram is not Christian. But through studying it from a Christian perspective, people are invited to see (in very specific ways) why they need a savior and why Jesus is worthy of their complete trust and devotion.
We've seen what happens in the church when people lack self-awareness and become content with relational dysfunction. HOW WE RELATE will help your congregation grow in self-awareness and understand their relational styles through the gospel so that they can improve their relationships with God and others.
HOW TO USE THIS BOOK:
This book was written to be THE resource for churches who want to explore the Enneagram and ensure that their congregation will encounter the gospel in the process. (This is why Publishers Weekly described it as “an ideal primer for Christians curious about the Enneagram.”) This book is intended to help readers:
- Understand your personality and the personalities of others
- Explore your distinct approach to relationships
- Discover how Jesus empathizes with and heals your unique core wound
- Interpret the Enneagram through the gospel story
- Experience more meaningful relationships with God, others, and yourself
This book is ideal for:
- small groups
- church leadership teams
- married couples
- counseling/care ministries
In addition, it can be used in conjunction with an Enneagram workshop (Jesse Eubanks is available to facilitate in-person workshops for churches).