The Enneagram Goes to Church

The popularity of the Enneagram has exploded in the last several years, as men and women have sought to crack the biggest mystery of the world: themselves. Enneagrams purport to tell us into which of nine distinct personality types we fit, everything from “The Reformer” (No. 1) to “The Peacemaker” (No. 9). For many the Enneagram has become a useful tool for understanding why we act, think, and feel as we do. But should this tool be employed by Christians, and does it have an appropriate place in the ministry of the church? That is a central question of Todd Wilson’s new book, The Enneagram Goes to Church: Wisdom for Leadership, Worship, and Congregational Life.

Some Christians view the Enneagram with suspicion, or perhaps with hostility, regarding it as a form of mysticism that is incompatible with biblical faith. That’s why Todd’s book is so valuable, because he addresses these concerns with great competence. After many years of collaborating with Todd—first on staff at College Church and then in the context of the Center for Pastor Theologians, I consider him one of the brightest and most theologically driven pastors I know.

I’ve had the privilege of seeing how he and his wife Katie have applied these insights at home to shepherd and nurture their children according to their unique, God-given personalities. For that reason, I’ve invited Todd to answer the following questions for us.

Why do you believe it is so important for churches, pastors in particular, to embrace the wisdom of the Enneagram?

Pastoring a church is about a lot of things. It’s about ministry and missions and buildings and budgets and care and connections and God and the gospel. But at its root, pastoring is also about people—caring for, leading, loving, and serving people, in all their splendid similarities and differences. Most pastors, however, don’t have much training in working with people. They may be able to read Greek and Hebrew, craft a compelling sermon, and officiate a wedding. But they may not know that much about people—who they are and how they work. The Enneagram can help pastors be better informed and wiser in the way they work with people—something pastors desperately need.

You acknowledge that some people are skeptical about the Enneagram. Why is it so important to transpose Enneagram insights into a “Christian key,” especially for those who are skeptical?

If we’re going to benefit from the Enneagram, and if we’re going to share its wisdom with others in our churches, then we need to think about the Enneagram in a responsible way, which is to say, in a decidedly Christian way. Let’s not forget that the Enneagram’s origins are shrouded in mystery, and its contemporary development is heavily indebted to occultist thinkers. If we want to think Christianly about the Enneagram, then we need to transpose its insights into a Christian key. We need to frame everything it teaches in light of our reverence for God and let the lordship of Christ shape everything we think about human personality. This is the key. When we do this, the Enneagram can serve as a marvelous tool for spiritual formation and Christian discipleship and pastoral wisdom, not detracting from the Christian faith but accelerating our growth in Christ-centered directions.

In what ways do you feel your book adds to the already vibrant Enneagram conversation?

As interest in the Enneagram has spread like wildfire in the last several years, I find many people wondering whether it has anything to say about the life and ministry of the church. “Should the Enneagram go to church?” they ask. This is where my book comes in. The Enneagram Goes to Church explores the ways in which the wisdom of the Enneagram can make us better pastors and church leaders so that we can serve the church more effectively. To my knowledge, no book like this has ever been written. And that’s what gets me excited about this book: I’m convinced that it will be a huge help to the thousands of pastors and other church leaders who are drowning in information but starving for wisdom and insight.

What helped you develop the nine different types of pastors, preaching styles, listeners, and churches that you outlined in your book?

As I became more familiar with the nine Enneagram types, I began to see my friends and colleagues in ministry in light of their personality types. Once you know the difference between, say, an Eight and a Two, it’s pretty hard to miss these personality types when you bump into them. I also found it was hugely helpful with my own pastoral staff team to have a shared language for talking about our differences in personality, which drive so much of who we are and how we minister and lead. I’ve learned a lot over the years from simply talking with other pastors about the way they see the world and how that impacts their approach to ministry: their strengths and their struggles. Finally, I’ve learned quite a bit from other Enneagram teachers about how our personality type impacts the way we see the world, yes, but also the way we speak and listen, or our communication style—something pastors would do well to know more about. 

How does viewing the church, pastor and congregants alike, through the lens of the nine different Enneagram types help churches as a whole fulfill their mission more fully?

People are the mission of the church. The church exists to enfold people into a dynamic relationship with Jesus. If the church is going to be successful in this mission, then it needs to have a rich, robust understanding of people—who they are and how they work—and the Enneagram offers just that. It will make you wiser about yourself and others so that you can better lead, love, and serve people in the name of Jesus. 

The book’s title speaks directly to the Enneagram’s use within church circles, but are there insights that are applicable beyond the church setting as well?

Yes, lots. In truth, very little in the book is applicable only to churches. The chapter on preaching is relevant for anyone who wants to communicate well. The chapter on leadership is relevant to anyone in whatever leadership role they find themselves in. The chapter on congregational care is relevant to anyone who wants to engage sympathetically and empathetically with others, regardless of the setting or the situation. The chapter on teamwork is relevant to anyone who works with others. And the chapter on churches being like families is relevant to anyone who works in any kind of organization because that organization will, like churches, have its own personality. So, yes, there are lots of points of relevance and insights that apply beyond the context of the church!

Dr. Todd Wilson is the President of the Center for Pastor Theologians.

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