The Myers-Briggs of Mission

February 5, 2012

Christ Church Episcopal, Norcross, GA
Sermon on Mark 1:29-39, given while serving as seminarian

5th Sunday After Epiphany –  Year B (RCL) 

Isaiah 40:21-31, 1Corinthians 9:16-23 & Mark 1:29-39

Last fall I was asked if I’d come to one of the YEA group’s Sunday school classes and share my story. A few weeks before, I asked one of the leaders if there was something in particular that would be good to focus on. She explained that they’ve been talking about discernment, and discerning their own spiritual gifts, and as part of this, each of them had done the Myers-Briggs assessment – so I did one, too.

myers-brigg-wheelNow, Myers-Briggs has been around for a long time and many people, probably many of you, have been exposed to it. And those who have taken it invariably know their “Letters” and they’ll say things like… “I’m an ENFP,” and if you know Myers-Briggs, this is short-hand that tells you they are Extroverted, Intuitive, Feeling and Perceiving: E-N-F-P. A general description of an ENFP is that they are:

…both “idea”-people and “people”-people, who see everyone and everything as part of a cosmic whole. They want to both help and to be liked and admired by other people, on both an individual and a humanitarian level…

Sound like anyone you know??

The opposite of the ENFP in Myers-Briggs would be the ISTJ (that’s me) – an Introverted, Sensing, Thinking and Judging personality type. We are described as:

… most at home with “just the facts, Ma’am.” We seem to perform at highest efficiency when employing a step-by-step approach, and inconsistencies drive us a bit crazy, but we usually keep our feelings to ourselves unless we are asked. And when asked, we don’t mince words. Truth wins out over tact.

There are fourteen other personality combinations in Myers-Briggs, each with its own nuanced list of what that type tends to be like or how they might react in a particular situation. And while all of this can be amusing, the most important reason it’s been used by so many people… the reason the YEA Group – our teenagers, have included it in their program – is because it helps us understand each other.

These personality and leadership-style tests aren’t much help when we’re sitting at home by ourselves — they are only useful when put in the context of a community. They help us realize that we are different from one another, and that’s okay.

For instance, they help us to not take personally that our best friend or a co-worker is never on time for anything. Even though punctuality is of utmost importance to me, my friend, by contrast, might have a different sense of time, and can’t figure out why I’m not just glad to see her – even when she’s 15 minutes late!

Or your spouse, the extrovert, may stay at the Super Bowl party tonight long after the commercials are over (because who really cares about the game) and still has more energy when you leave the party than when you arrived … While you, the introvert, are so drained that you’ll take a nap in the car on the way home! That’s the introvert talking, not the wine.

And, while Myers-Briggs wasn’t around when the gospels were written, each one seems to be a reflection of a different personality type, at least in broad categories…

  • The Gospel of John most likely appeals to the more artistic personalities; those who like the imagery of light and dark, the mystical nature of miracles, and the glorification of Jesus as Messiah.
  • The Gospel of Luke on the other hand, is for the methodical and sequential among us… When coupled with Acts, as a two volume set, it begins in Bethlehem, moves to Jerusalem and ends in Rome. 
  • The Gospel of Matthew is for the “just the facts” kind of audience – tying Jesus to the Hebrew tradition, and showing through detailed stories, how the Jewish law, Torah, was now being replaced by the new covenant, Jesus.

And then we have Mark… the gospel that gets straight to the point. Have you noticed? There are abrupt beginnings and endings to the stories.

It begins with John the baptizer in the wilderness, announcing that someone greater than him is coming… then, instead of an infant birth story, the baptism of Jesus becomes a different kind of birth story… the birth of his ministry. And immediately after his baptism, the Spirit drives him out into the wilderness, where Satan tempts him. But there are no details about how and what happened there.

By the twentieth verse of the first chapter he has disciples following him, and as you’ll recall from last week’s gospel reading, he then goes into the synagogue in Capernaum and begins teaching there, and the people are astounded by his authority.

Detail-seekers like me want to know what it was about his teaching that makes it more authoritative than the scribes. I want to learn how to teach as Jesus taught! But Mark doesn’t give me that.

And then, all of a sudden, in the synagogue there’s a man with an unclean spirit. Jesus rebukes the spirit and casts it out… and AT ONCE Jesus’ fame begins to spread… … news of him spreads like a Justin Bieber video on YouTube ! He’s gone viral!

Then we see in today’s gospel reading, a continuation of last week’s events. It’s the same day… still the Sabbath. Jesus and the disciples leave the synagogue and head to the house of Simon and Andrew, the brothers, and James and John are with them. When they get there, they realize that Simon’s mother-in-law has a high fever… this is dangerous in those times.

The disciples had just witnessed Jesus casting out demons in the synagogue, so they go to him and tell him about the mother-in-law being sick. Jesus goes to her, takes her hand and lifts her up… the fever breaks… and she begins to serve them. Her healing is so complete she can get back to her normal role in the household right away.

When sunset comes and Sabbath is over, people who had seen and heard what had happened in the synagogue earlier that day begin showing up at the house – bringing others in the community who are sick or possessed by demons. Mark tells us: “THE WHOLE CITY WAS GATHERED AROUND THE DOOR.” – This is like having 1 million hits on someone’s blog post! Everyone is showing up to see what’s happening!

Mark goes on to say that “he cured many,” but it didn’t say he cured ALL. The fact-finder in me wants to know more – like how many were cured, and who didn’t get cured, and why not? But that isn’t important to Mark…

Then, early the next morning, well before sunrise, Jesus gets up and goes to a deserted place… aah – an Introvert perhaps, exhausted by the throngs of people all around the night before, needing some time to himself.

And in this deserted place, in the wilderness, he prays. What did he pray? Mark doesn’t say…

The act of prayer alone is enough… the details aren’t important.

Still in the first chapter of Mark, Jesus has already shared his teaching, proclaimed the Good News and shown his authority to this town… he has planted the seed of that Good News to all who witnessed it… the whole town has seen the active power of God at work in the world as Jesus ministered to their needs.

It’s no wonder the people in the town are searching for him!

But instead of being lured by the excitement and acceptance of his new-found fame and notoriety, Jesus says to the disciples, ‘Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.’

What are we to understand about Jesus leaving a community before everyone is healed? Some might say that’s irresponsible. Is it? Do we trust that Jesus’ decision, having taken the time to pray and discern God’s will, is enough? Isn’t this what it means to be in faithful service to God?

As a faith community, the Body of Christ in the world, this parish has been working to discern what is next, too. There have been many people praying, discerning, and working together to see what God might be calling us to. Although I haven’t been closely involved in this process, what I have witnessed assures me that it has been a faithful endeavor.

The works of ministry this parish is doing continue to enrich the lives of many. Those who have been touched bear new fruit just as the townspeople in today’s Gospel continued to spread the Good News even after Jesus had moved on to the next town.

It’s incumbent on us as followers of Christ to continue to look ahead, even when we aren’t sure what that might look like. For my fellow fact-finders, we have to let go of our need to have every question answered. For the people-pleasers out there, we have to acknowledge that by going on to the next town, we might leave behind some hurt feelings. But as a community, we are all called to move forward in faith and obedience of what we have come out to do.

As Paul said in his letter to the Corinthians… “proclaiming the gospel gives me no ground for boasting, for it is an obligation laid on me… it is an entrusted commission…” and our hope as Christians having experienced the Love and Compassion of Christ in our lives, we hope to make the gospel available to everyone.

Paul says… “to the Jews I became as a Jew in order to win the Jews…, to the weak I became weak… in order to win the more.

This isn’t about playing games and tricking people… it’s about putting our own biases aside – for me to put my own INTJ-ness to the side… so I can understand and be in fellowship with the ENFP, and every other personality type…

  • to the person who makes quick decisions, I will ask fewer questions 
  • those who want things in an orderly structure, they will become more fluid to make room for the artist’s creativity
  • and those who are ready to go home early will stay a bit longer for the sake of the community

And why do we do these things… get outside of our own comfortable boundaries? We do them “for the sake of the gospel, so that [we] may share [communally] in its blessings.”

I invite your thoughts and insights.

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