What personality tests can't do

  • Jean Williams
  • 4 September 2015

I love personality tests. That’s not surprising, because people with my personality type enjoy self-analysis.

My husband, on the other hand, dislikes personality tests. Yet he still uses them in ministry training because he appreciates how useful they can be in helping people understand themselves and others a little better.

There’s a lot to be said for personality tests. But, as with any ministry tool, there’s also a lot they can’t do.

Useful, not essential

There is only one essential guide to training and ministry: the word of God (2 Tim 3:14-17). God has given us everything we need for life and godliness (2 Pet 1:3). Christians through the ages didn’t have personality tests, and maybe they were better for it. Likewise, self-help and church growth books can help us live in wisdom, but don’t let anyone tell you they’re essential for life or ministry.

Personality, not character

Our modern world is obsessed with personality and the self. Personality tests can feed straight into this tendency. They can encourage a focus on my potential and using my gifts rather than on self-denial and service. God’s concern isn’t to develop our personality; it’s to grow us in godly character as he shapes us into the likeness of his Son.

Descriptive, not explanatory

Personality tests can tell us a little bit about ourselves: I tend to see the world this way, to make decisions that way. They can be useful aids to self-knowledge. But they don’t tell me why these things are true. They don’t tell me who I am as a person. They don’t reveal my heart, what motivates me, or what I worship. Only the word of God can do these things.

Assisting love and sin

It’s easy for personality tests to feed pride (did you know I have the rarest personality type?) or discontent (I wish I was an extrovert). They are great aids to introspection and self-absorption. They can help us to judge and look down on others. On the positive side, they can help us to love others wisely, rejoice in the different ways God made us, be more aware of our weaknesses, and use our strengths. Like all God’s good gifts, they are to be received with thanksgiving and used with care.

Warning system for sin, not an excuse

Once we’ve labelled something, we often feel like we’ve explained and therefore excused it. My personality test says I’m an introvert, I struggle with self-control, and I’m drawn to melancholy. Shall I then excuse my self-isolation, greed, and tendency to despair? No, for God doesn’t allow excuses when it comes to sin. He promises that I will never be tempted beyond what I can bear (1 Cor 10:13). A personality test can point out areas where I need to get smart about fighting sin. It doesn’t excuse it.

Wisdom, not meaning

Personality tests can help when choosing a job, involving someone in a ministry, or learning to relate to others. For example, my husband is a big-picture person, so he employed a colleague who is detail-oriented. But personality tests can’t tell you what life is about. They won’t tell you to love Jesus. They don’t explain how to glorify God and live for him.

I’m all for personality tests. But God forbid that I use them as an excuse for sin, see them as essential for ministry, or depend on them more than the word of God.

I guess it comes down to this: personality tests, like other ministry tools, are useful servants but bad masters.