Vestry as Team
The MBTI and Strong Vestry Teams
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) offers many possibilities for enriching your understanding of yourself and enabling your vestry to work better as a team. It is a particularly apt tool for vestries in Episcopal parishes, and not just because it is an effective tool for team-building. Its core assumptions resonate with and reflect core tenets of our Anglican theology and ethos.
A tool created by Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter, Isabel Briggs Myers, the MBTI is based on Carl Jung’s theories of personality types. The theory posits that all people inherently use four basic mental processes, or functions. Two of the functions, Sensing and Intuition, are ways of Perceiving, or taking in information. The other two functions, Thinking and Feeling, are ways of making decisions, or Judging. (It is important to note that Feeling in this context does not refer to using emotions but rather to making decisions based on personal and social values.)
Jung also found that people tend to orient their energy toward the inside world of their ideas and thoughts (Introversion) or towards the outside world of people and activities (Extraversion ) and later Myers and Briggs found that people tend to prefer to use either their Judging or Perceiving function most. Together, the combination of these four preference pairs – Introversion/Extroversion (I, E), Sensing/Intuition (S/N), Thinking/Feeling (T/F), Judging/Perceiving (J/P) – form 16 personality types.
Seeing our diversity as gift
Although MBTI personality types are used in common parlance, they are often presented as fixed stereotypes, devoid of nuance. One of the most important tenets of the theory is that everyone uses all of the functions and orientations, and all of them can be continually developed. One’s preferences, commonly identified by their ‘letters,’ are simply that – preferences. The best analogy is that of a dominant hand. If you are right-handed, you still have the use of your left hand, but prefer to do most things with your right. These preferences tend to lead people to develop some functions better than others because they innately opt to use the preferred functions. None of these things are positive or negative, as MBTI is not based on a normal/abnormal scale. Rather, all of these functions and orientations are normal and the preferences are part of what make each person distinctive.
Core to our Anglican theology is the belief that diversity is a gift because the image of God is more fully reflected in the vast array of our humanity. The beauty of the body of Christ is in its many different parts working together to join God’s work in our world. The theories that form the basis for MBTI offer a practical framework and common language for talking about the variety of personality and ability that each person brings to the table, especially in the context of a vestry working to lead a parish as a team. Based on the idea that we all have “unique gifts to offer and challenges to overcome,” MBTI can be a lens that helps a group understand how each person brings different gifts and aptitudes to the table.
Using MBTI to build your vestry team
In order to use this tool as a vestry, the first step is to have each member take the assessment and learn about their own type, with the guidance of a person certified to administer the MBTI. If the members would like to use the instrument to grow as a team, a good next step is to ‘map’ the personality types of the members on a grid. (Note: A fundamental value of the MBTI is each person’s ability to choose whether or not to disclose their type, so all must agree to take part.) This creates a visual understanding of the makeup of the team. Important dynamics to notice are:
- What is the balance between each function pair? (i.e. Extraversion/Introversion, Thinking/Feeling, Intuition/Sensing, and Judging/Perceiving)
- Are there any outliers – i.e. Do most people prefer Feeling, while only one or two prefer Thinking? Consider whether these people are hesitant to share their perspective or feel silenced.
- Does the team have any significant blind spots – i.e. Does everyone prefer Intuition over Sensing? In this case, the team may be inclined to focus on the big picture while neglecting the details.
Once again, the makeup of the vestry is not positive or negative, but this information can help the team grow more aware of its group dynamics. Generally, a team with similar types tends to make decisions more easily and quickly, but they might overlook critical points in the process. On the other hand, a team with a wider variety of preferences may take longer to come to a decision, but it may come to better results because it naturally considers more perspectives.
Personality types are never intended as an excuse for someone’s behavior or a way to characterize them. In fact, MBTI offers a tool to help us see a fuller picture of another’s gifts. The Rev. Ellen Ekevag, Rector of Emmanuel Episcopal Church in La Grange, Illinois, credits MBTI with helping her and the wardens understand each other better and work more effectively. She says, “Knowing my preferences makes it clear when I need to ask others for help, especially when a task is suited to someone else’s preference and I know they would enjoy doing it.”
MBTI is only one view into understanding the personalities that each of us were created with, but it is a powerful tool in self-awareness and growth that can enable a team to better appreciate, support and strengthen each other and their work together. By offering a lens for looking at the ways different people approach situations, and the gifts each brings to the table, MBTI enables vestries to work better as teams that live out the fullness of the image of God embodied in the diversity of God’s people.
The Rev. Jenny Replogle is the Co-Rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Peoria, Illinois. She also works as a trainer for the College of Congregational Development and is a certified MBTI practitioner. She serves as Co-Rector with her husband, the Rev. Jonathan Thomas. They have stayed busy for the last year with their new son, Rowan, who turned one on Epiphany.
- Getting to Know You: Tips for New Groups by Kanuga Camp & Conference Center, ECF Vital Practices blog, November 6, 2015
- Building Strong Teams: A Tool for Identifying and Addressing Five Commons Areas of Dysfunction, an ECF Vital Practices tool submitted by Rosa Lindahl
- Structuring Leadership Teams, an ECF Vital Practices tool submitted by the Rev. Devon Anderson
- Discernment in the Vestry Process by Bruce A. Freeman, Vestry Papers, January 2017
- Spiritual Gifts by Jennifer LeBlanc, Vestry Papers, January 2017
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