I don’t know how many pre-married couples we’ve counseled over the years, but there were never two couples whose relationships were exactly alike, which I guess should not have surprised me given there are no two people alike --- thank heaven! What I remember about our premarital counseling of Rob and Christian was that every session went on for hours and hours, not because they were a “hard case”, but because even after viewing and thoroughly discussing our Gary Smalley Hidden Keys to Loving Relationships video, we simply enjoyed each other’s company so much it was hard to pull away from each other, and of course, I’m all for volunteer work that feels like a party.
When we finally caught up with Rob and Christian during our Nomad Quest, Rob introduced Mark to his congregation by suggesting that if anyone had any concerns about his and Christian’s marriage, they could take it up with Mark later, because as their pre-marriage counselor, surly everything that has followed in the marriage can only be laid only at Mark's feet. Nice try, my friend. Ha!
Over the years that followed those counseling parties, we’d see Rob and Christian when they visited family in the Northwest, or on a group camping trip. From time to time one of them would reach out to get our take on this challenge or that, or to offer us some helpful information related to something they’d seen that they thought might be fun or useful related to our nomadic lifestyle. It’s always been a mutually beneficial relationship. Christian even created a PowerPoint presentation corresponding to my book Your Fresh Start for a ladies’ class at the congregation where Rob was preaching at the time, and I was so encouraged by that. Of course, what has encouraged us the most in this decades-long friendship, has been the duration of their happy union and their faithfulness to God, and thus it was very special to finally catch up with them in Englewood, Ohio where Rob had just started his new work as the evangelist of that congregation.
Rob’s sermon on the morning of our visit was on practical ways to love our neighbors as ourselves by having their best interest in whatever we do toward them (Matthew 5:38-48) --- first by being a light out in the world rather than removing ourselves from it (John 17:14-15;1 Cor 5:9-10), and then by not compromising our God-given moral standards under any circumstances (Galatians 2:11-13). We also love our neighbors as ourselves, he added, by teaching the truth to sinners and calling them to repentance (Mark 2:13-17), and by loving people the way Jesus loved people - by not giving them any reason to believe we approve of or accept their sin (Matthew 23:33; Mark 10:20-22; John 8:11), but instead by always boldly speaking the truth (Galatians 5:19-21; 1 Corinthians 13:6; Rom 12:21).
Rob’s sermons are very face-paced, and animated, which I prefer, but of more value was the relevancy of the sermon for every listener because to one degree or another, everyone we meet is a neighbor, though, needless to say, there is no closer “neighbor” than one’s spouse. This took my mind back to all those late-night conversations we had had so many years ago, for at the root, that was really what we were discussing together: loving our very closest neighbor as ourselves.
I later noticed on the church’s website that Rob had also recently preached a sermon called “Know Your Greatest Weakness” --- a topic that reminded me of Key 7 of the 19-part marriage video series we’d years ago covered together entitled “Discovering the Value of Your Personality”. The Bible has always called us to be introspective, that is, to “examine ourselves” at least once a week (1 Corinthians 11), especially in things related to our relationship with God and one another so that when God examines us (Psalm 139:23-24) He will find us a clean and holy temple where He can dwell (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). One of the most primary introspective questions one should ask is of course, “What kind of person am I?” When we identify our own strengths and weaknesses, we can notice more quickly when one of our weaknesses is hurting the people around us, and quickly change lanes so that those around us are instead benefitting from our God-given strengths, as we use them to bring out the best in one another. Those most skilled in drawing out the best in people, often ask “What kind of person is this” so that they can customize their thoughts, words, and behaviors within that interaction to persuade them to be all they can be and reach their potential in the sight of God as He intended.
Believe it or not, I’ve had a couple of occasions to observe people very uncomfortable with someone even suggesting that there are kinds of people. “Kind?”, they might object, “What do you mean kind? Don’t you know that no two people are alike? You’re not trying to box people, are you?” I plead innocent here. Obviously, no two people are exactly alike and I’m suggesting we’d all serve God better if we discovered what box we’re in (for whatever reason) so that we can venture out of our cozy little boxes and move mountains. I also contend that God Himself says there are “kinds of people” when in Proverbs 30:11-14, He says, “There is a kind of man who curses his father and does not bless his mother. There is a kind who is pure in his own eyes, yet is not washed from his filthiness. There is a kind—oh how lofty are his eyes! And his eyelids are raised in arrogance. There is a kind of man whose teeth are like swords And his jaw teeth like knives, to devour the afflicted from the earth and the needy from among men.”
Can we do Christianity well without thinking about what kinds of people there are in the world and what contributes to their motivations? Of course! We can also be great servants of the Lord without ever having thought about the extra-biblical information around the discovered pre-scientific foreknowledge of the scriptures, or what archeologists have unearthed that confirms the historicity of the scriptures, but now that we have been blessed by this additional faith-building information, why not use it to His glory to bring others to God as we do every other discovery from technological advances to transportation conveniences? There is much benefit when we also open ourselves up to what humans have learned through long-term, independent research as they have observed the behaviors of other humans. For example, though I’d read many books on self-control, James Clear’s book Atomic Habits, helped me like none other to discover some handy, practical techniques to work smarter not harder at resisting what I need to resist and doing what I should do, so I can more effectively grow the fruit of the Spirit called self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).
Human behavior has been my favorite thing to talk about ever since middle school when enough boredom would set in, I’d wander toward my mother’s bookshelf to peek into what she’d been thinking about. In between her archeology and astronomy books, I borrowed books about how to build my vocabulary, how to win friends and influence people, tricks for remembering more, and the power of positive thinking. The first time I heard my high school would be offering a Psychology class, I was all in. About four years after I graduated high school, my Uncle Jim Carnes who owned a successful international grass seed company paid top dollar for Mark I to take a class he was offering his employees called Interact because he thought it would greatly benefit our future work in presenting the gospel more persuasively to various personality types. Man, was he right. I’m still putting to use what I learned forty years ago to customize my approach according to the personality of the person whose heart I am trying to persuade to turn to God.
Each of the attendees of the class we took with my uncle’s employees, was to distribute a sealed envelope containing an extensive questionnaire regarding the qualities of the attendee to five various people in the attendee’s life: a spouse, parent, adult child, employer, friend, or acquaintance, and those questionnaires were to be sealed and mailed directly back to the teacher of our class. About halfway through our class, after learning the details of what makes the four personality types tick, we opened the results of those surveys to find out which of the four “colors” we were. It was a real eye-opener that day for my uncle’s wife (my Aunt Dorothy) who looked like she was going to pass out when she opened her envelope. She’d thought her beautiful femininity, sweet manners, and selfless acts of service had covered her tracks, but she found out that day what everyone else already knew: She was red, not green. Obviously. Her jaw dropped. But how could she have thought otherwise --- this woman who had at one time expressed her severe disapproval of her workaholic husband’s neglect by throwing like a frisbee as hard as she could his entire underwear drawer into the front yard, stringing his tidy-whities all over the front yard. You see, at around dawn he had shouted to her from the shower to bring him the underwear he’d forgotten and when she did not respond, he went to go get it himself, finding the entire drawer was missing from his dresser, as well as his wife from bed. Confused, he wrapped a towel around himself and wandered the house trying to figure out what in the world was going on. That’s when he saw the front door was wide open. When he went out onto the front yard in his towel to retrieve his property, he looked back at the front door where she was now standing, hands on her hips, red-faced and screaming at him, “When you decide to start being a husband to me and a father to your daughter, you and your underwear will be welcomed back in this house!” Yep. She was a red. Over the decades she’d knocked herself out polishing her gorgeous gentle and quiet spirit, but deep down we all knew at her core, she was gloriously fiery, and my uncle adored every single inch of her just the way she was.
The idea of four basic personality types most likely precedes even the Greek physician Hippocrates who lived about 400 BC. If you do a little googling, you’ll likely stumble on a chart outlining 33 various philosophers, authors, organizations, and so on who all identify four major personality types that they refer to by various names. The class I took in 1984 called them Red, Orange, Blue, and Green. Hippocrates, for his own bogus reasons, called them Choleric, Sanguine, Melancholic, and Phlegmatic. Plato called them Guardians, Artisans, Philosophers, and Scientists. When we had our classes with Rob and Christian, Gary Smalley was referring to them as Lions, Otters, Beavers, and Golden Retrievers and even came up with slogans often heard among these types: He says you can often hear Goldens say "Let's keep things the way they are", while Otters will encourage "Trust me! It will all work out!". Beavers often inquire "How was it done in the past?" and Lions cut through all that shouting "Let's do it NOW!"
In more recent years I’ve found very useful the more complex Myers-Briggs model of personality typing for breaking down the four personality types into 16 more specific types by using variables related to introversion vs extroversion, intuitive vs sensing, judging vs perceiving, and thinking vs feeling. The more varied the more fine-tuned the model, and the more fine-tuned, the more useful I find it. I’ve also benefited greatly from taking Jordan Peterson’s Understand Myself class online, which included a personality assessment that uses the model he finds the most scientifically reliable called The Big Five, which assesses one’s degree of conscientiousness, extraversion, enthusiasm, industriousness, orderliness, assertiveness, openness, aesthetics, intellect, volatility, compassion, neuroticism, withdrawal, agreeableness, and politeness--- all of which play into our effectiveness in living out the Christian life in one way or another. It was quite worth the time and $60 I spent to take this online course.
The personality typing system that has benefitted me most in first understanding and then appreciating, loving, serving, and enjoying all kinds of people has been without question, the Enneagram system. I remember the morning that Mark and I were driving around “garage sailing” and listening for the first time to little five-minute audio descriptions of each of the nine types: (1: The Reformer, 2: The Helper, 3: The Achiever, 4: The Individualist, 5: The Investigator, 6: The Loyalist, 7: The Enthusiast, 8: The Challenger). With every description, we were saying aloud the names of the people we knew that seemed to fit, and when I heard the description of an Enneagram One, I had an Aunt Dorothy moment announcing “Oh, there it is. That’s me!” This was probably because it was what I wanted to be and one of my favorite people in the world, my own mother was a One, and the fact that I do a lot of things that Ones do, but the truth is, I’m not motivated by what motivates them, and that is the key. Just like everyone “Helps”, but not everyone helps for the reason an “Enneagram 2: Helper helps.” Then when the description of the Seven was read, it didn’t take long before I was bent over double, my head in my lap, saying “Oh. no.” When you feel exposed, that’s often when you know. Dina would agree because when I had some friends over to my beach house, we too were listening to the 5-minute audio descriptions on the EnneagramInstitute.com website, and just after my friend Dina said, “I wonder which one I am?”, as she was washing all my floor-to-ceiling windows while the description of the “Helper” began to play, she doubled over laughing at also feeling just as exposed.
If you think this resource is just about the stupidest thing you’ve ever heard, you may be an Enneagram 8: The Challenger :D and I apologize for wasting your sweet time. If you think learning more would help you understand and love various kinds of people just a little better, you’ll find a lot of books on the enneagram at ChristianBooks.com, many websites, as well as clean comedy videos on YouTube. Mark and I have even recorded a fun podcast on NomadsYouandI called “Know Thyself to Grow Thyself” where we discuss the basics such as “wings”, “9 maturity levels” and “instincts” (socializing styles).
It amazes me how God uses so many elements to form who we become. Everything from childhood training to parental love, to life’s experiences, birth order, intelligence, natural talents, education, habits, mental attitude, and even our health. It goes without saying, that obviously none of those formative components can ever be as profound in forming who we are as what we decide to do with Jesus Christ. The Word of God changes us like nothing else can. It can surely tame a “Lion”, it can motivate a “Golden Retriever”, can fill with joy the heart of a “Beaver”, and can sober the “Otter”.
Like everything in this world, it’s easy to abuse a resource or skill. In a world that whispers “You be you”, we put on Christ so we can resist and rise above what comes naturally. There are blessings and joys in overcoming the sin that so easily besets us (Hebrews 12: 12) and the last thing we should do in discovering our weaknesses is to go around behaving like "Sorry, Charlie. This is the kind of person I am. Love it or leave it".
Another abuse of understanding better how people think is to manipulate them to your own advantage instead of theirs. If we choose to use these tools to increase our art of persuasion, let’s use them to strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, to get along better, and to accomplish the things that matter most. One example of using these tools to serve others would be this: When you cross paths with individuals who need God in their life, consider if their personality type is more the cerebral/objective type. For them, charts, graphs, and other data containing arguments that are undeniably logical perhaps related to physics, archeology, astronomy, biology, and so on would likely be the most compelling to move them toward God, after all, it’s the most logical thing to do! Are he or she primarily a people person? Maybe the better approach for that individual is to include them in a wonderful social activity coming up with your Christian friends before offering a one-on-one Bible class, so they can know there is a community just waiting with open arms to be like family. Is your non-christian friend a feisty “Challenger”? They often can handle and actually appreciate a bottom line, direct, confident, yet respect-filled “tell it to me straight” approach “right between the eyes” without backing down.
God calls us to be not merely tolerant of our brothers and sisters-in-Christ who are for various reasons, unlike ourselves, but to rejoice in, make use of, and be inspired by the variances (1 Corinthians 12) so we can help each other shore up what’s weak (Isaiah 35:3-4) and thus walk closer to God. I believe you’ll find that at this congregation in Englewood, Ohio, and I can say with certainty that Rob and Christian would love to study the scriptures with you if you live near their congregation.
Englewood church of Christ
1130 S UNION BLVD
ENGLEWOOD, OH, 45322