Our walks with God don’t all look the same. We’re influenced by our backgrounds, variations in beliefs, and individual personalities. And even though the goal is for us all to become “like God,” that doesn’t mean we become indistinguishable from each other. God created great variety in people and I believe He did that for a reason.
This is the first post in a series looking at Christians with different personality types. Today, we’re focusing on my personality type — INFJ. When you start talking with people of faith who fall into different personality type groups, you notice not all the personalities feel equally valued and understood by Christian churches. And churches on the whole seem skewed toward attracting Sensing and/or Feeling types. If Christianity is a faith meant for all people then why aren’t we doing a better job of connecting with all personality types?
Empathy For All
I asked INFJs which Bible characters they identified most with and received a flood of responses. It seems we can’t pick just one favorite character. Several INFJs mentioned that our empathy makes it easy to identify with Bible characters. Rachel writes, “My personality pushes me to strive to understand everyone, so I can identify with all the characters in the Bible in some way.” We do have favorites, though, (mine is the apostle John) and the INFJs who did get into details about their favorite characters were very specific.
I identify with David the most. His emotion portrayed through the Psalms and some OT stories resonate in my heart, especially that of love for God, the Scriptures, and pains of stress under sin and oppression. The way in which he responds to certain situations are very similar to how I’ve responded to mine relate as well. – Sarah H
I identify most with Rahab because she was an idolater who was saved when she trusted God. Not only that, but because of that decision, she was given a place in the line of Christ. I, too, was an idolater, but when I trusted Christ, God adopted me into His household. Now I’m a princess in the royal house of God. – Lillith
There wasn’t a whole lot of overlap, but multiple INFJs specifically mentioned King David, the Apostle Paul, and Jesus Christ. In our favorite characters, as in many other things, INFJs seek connection. They’re identifying with Bible characters who share aspects of their own personality traits and who inspire them to connect with God. And we do that with multiple characters. Take a look at some of what an INFJ named Alexandria wrote me:
I am Mary and Martha. I love Mary for the way she valued Yahweh and sat attentively, listening to all His wisdom. I identify with Martha and always love to think that I am treating my guests like royalty by having everything organized and prepared.
I love David…oh how I love him. I love that he was so gracious to Saul, even though Saul treated him so badly, trying to kill him! I love that David was a flagrant sinner and yet God called him a man after His own heart. I am so moved at how gracious the Lord was with David every time, and I remember that when I feel like my failings are stacking up!! I like his passion for life and the depth of his soul and all that he felt so poignantly. …
And last of all, my heart beats with Paul. I love his drive to get others to really live by the teachings of the scriptures. His quest for spiritual excellence is so awesome and it is so moving how dedicated he is to those he serves and he loves them so authentically and I feel like I really “get” him. He is a person who is passionate in living the Christian life the right way with integrity and love.
Using Our Gifts
INFJs who talked about serving in their church felt their contributions were appreciated. These INFJs are leading Bible studies, cooking dinners for small groups, participating in youth/teen ministry, using their artistic skills, teaching, and contributing musically. Many INFJs also expressed the desire to help more, but said they either haven’t had the opportunity or were actively discouraged.
I would like to do more bible studies and discipleship. The main thoughts in my head now is hosting small studies at my home. – Tonianni
There are things I would love to do, but as yet have not had an opportunity … like teaching an adult Bible class. … writing is not supported, although, I learned the hard way that editing IS (I have created more newsletters than I care to count). – Rachel
I am a watch(man) on the wall, and people don’t listen because I cannot explain my process. God rescued me from witchcraft, so my church is afraid of my testimony. – Lillith
Bottom line? INFJs recognize that they have gifts and talents, but aren’t always quite sure what to do with them. E.F. wrote, “I probably have some ‘talents’ I’m not very happy about because I think I can’t use them for God.” Or the INFJ might know how to serve, but face pressure from others to serve differently. For example, JayLee observed that her in-home ministry as a homeschool mother is undervalued by those who prioritize “church” work.
Even though INFJs are generally caring and people oriented, we have a limited amount of social energy. And that can cause problems in a religion that’s focused on fellowship with other believers and spreading the gospel to non-believers. Sarah H mentioned, “there is a general tension with the mentality that ministry is an extroverted endeavor.” She loves working in youth ministry and helping people, but has discovered she needs a no-people day once a week if she’s going bring her best self to those endeavors.
INFJs struggle to connect with fellow believers, especially if it’s just in the few minutes after church services (we need more one-on-one time to build friendships). We also struggle with leaving our comfort zones to engage with others, both in the church and outside. Some feel pressured to evangelize but, as JayLee pointed out, “evangelism is a *gift* and most people are not gifted with it!”
I think Rachel puts it well when she wrote that her biggest struggles as an INFJ in the church are “Fitting in. Finding my groove. Feeling accepted. Forgiving others. Sharing my faith my way.” It’s not that INFJs don’t want to meet the church’s expectations for ministry, fellowship, and spreading the faith. It’s that we need the freedom to do these things our ways using the gifts God has given us.
Discussing Our Faith
Several INFJs mentioned their need to debate the finer points of faith with fellow believers. Unfortunately, many have also encountered people who aren’t comfortable with that. Tonianni tries “not be very NT about” doctrine, but still comes “across sometimes as overly intellectual, argumentative and hard for people” to understand. She also says her biggest challenge is not having enough people to Bible study with.
My personal experience has been a bit closer to JayLee’s. She wrote, “I like to discuss in-depth, sometimes controversial topics and have been met with opposition because people often assume talking about anything ‘controversial’ is akin to fighting or criticizing; or they aren’t interested in seeing things from a different perspective and don’t want to challenge themselves intellectually. Really, I just want to refine my ideas and understand the other side of things in a friendly manner.” We don’t mean to sound like we’re attacking your beliefs (this is our faith, too, remember), but we do want the freedom to ask “why?” questions and refine our viewpoints.
I think this problem arises (in part at least) because of an Intuition-Sensing disconnect. To grossly oversimplify the differences, Intuitives enjoy talking about “what if …?” and exploring patterns while Sensors prefer taking about observable, concrete reality. Intuitives make up only about 30% of the overall population and it seems that percentage is lower in the church. One certified MBTI practitioner I talked with agreed “that most churches are run by SJ types and are catered to those.”
As an INFJ I have rarely been in a church I felt “at home” in. I have a lot of questions and I struggle a lot in maintaining faith and belief. I have to work hard at it. When I ask questions I’m often met with the response, “God is sovereign so we can’t possibly know these answers, we just have to have faith.” The SJ and SP Christians I know seem to be able to accept that so easily, to accept God’s reality and authority. I struggle with it daily. I wish I could just accept it and believe, but I can’t force myself to no matter how much I try. I have grown wary of voicing my questions because I am often met with a feeling that the pastor or person in the church considers me a “bad” Christian because my faith doesn’t come as naturally. – Susan
Our introversion also means we need more time to process information. It plays into something Lillith mentioned: “I would say if anything causes issues, it’s got to be my slow processing and lack of skill in extemporaneous speech. I think sometimes people think I’m not too bright. It makes them wonder whether they can depend on me.” She also mentioned that she’s been seen as unpopular and arrogant because she refuses to compromise her beliefs. An INFJ might have endless compassion for someone, but we can’t just sit by and let them destroy themselves. We have to speak up for truth. And that makes it even harder to find people who want to discuss faith with us.
This is why I chose Psalm 85:10 for the title: “Mercy and truth meet together. Righteousness and peace have kissed each other” (WEB translation). INFJs prize both sides equally. We need to find balance between loving unconditionally and standing up for God’s truth. We need to hear about God’s mercy embedded in faithful preaching of His words.
When I asked INFJs what sort of teaching styles connect with them best, the responses were very similar. I’d expected a little more variation between individuals, but apparently the mental processes we share gravitate toward the same preaching styles. INFJs enjoy listening to people who can faithfully explain God’s word and show how the teachings apply to real life. Several mentioned that they like teachers who explore the depth of individual Bible passages while placing them in context with other scriptures. We’re also attracted to preachers who can connect with their audience without becoming overly showy. We don’t want to feel like someone is yelling at us or trying to manipulate our emotions.
Individual INFJs differ from each other in whether or not they enjoy small group discussions. E.F. writes, “I like debating about something in a group of Christian after everyone studies something about it for a while” and Tonianni wishes “they had informal sessions after the service to talk about what was just preached.” Other INFJs want to stay invisible while they’re taught and be challenged to continue their studies alone. Rachel writes, “Small discussion groups and sharing within them terrifies me and I end up saying things I regret, not because I didn’t mean them, but because of how I perceive they were received by others.”
To successfully reach INFJs, the church must be teaching truth in a way that resonates both emotionally and logically. INFJs have top-notch hypocrisy detectors and they’re unlikely to stay with a church that can’t back up what they say. Sarah G writes, “original practice and thought means everything to me. Any preaching or communication of Gods truth and gospel must be relaxed and natural and verifiable biblically and secularly and by faith.”
Also, INFJs are not the kind of personality you’ll reach with shouted hellfire and brimstone sermons. Sarah H points out that a church hoping to reach INFJs should always “talk about the mercy and grace of God.” I agree. If someone’s shouting at me, no matter how good the message, I tense up and can’t focus. Also, the first time I really felt a deep, personal connection with God and my faith was when I realized Jesus loved me enough that He died to make a relationship between us possible. Calls to repentance are essential, but the love and mercy of God is what first speaks to my heart.
I almost didn’t ask the question, “Why are you a Christian?” because I felt the obvious answer is “because God called me and I responded.” But I’m glad I did. While most INFJs have a similar answer to my own, there’s variations in the reasons INFJs give for responding to God’s call (and I’m also noticing non-INFJ types are giving different answers). Rather than trying to whittle the responses I got down to a few paragraphs, here are excerpts from all the INFJs who answered this question:
I believe God has drawn me over the years to Godself. Grew up in a mixed religion home, then went Anglican, then Pentecostal, but I only learned about God’s grace 7yrs ago (I am 30+) … Every other story falls short of Christ laying down his life for us. Then there’s music! lol, being able to sing praises is one of the most beautiful gifts we’ve been given on this earth. – Tonianni
I have been a Christian since I was a child. I have confidence that Christianity is the true religion and I guess that falls in line with my type because I like to have knowledge and facts about subjects. – Vickie
I tend to take a Calvinistic approach to this and say I am a Christian because God chose me and I responded to his promptings. There is no other god that I am aware of that has the willingness to be patient in this process of sanctification, is willing to be inmate in this relationship, and was willing to be the one to initiate the relationship through the life, death, and resurrection of His Son, Jesus. – Sarah H
In true INFJ fashion I am a bit different. Not growing up in any particular church I was taught the word of God at home, and I feel that I have been able to explore my spirituality freely. Intuition and God being my guide. I began receiving the Good News magazine from the United Church of God as a new mother and have found myself in the last ten years or so on a journey to the Jewish roots of Christianity. – Sarah G
I kept coming back to Christianity. It made sense to me. It gave me grace. God gave me a free will and if I accepted Jesus as the Person who saved me from my darkness I could go to heaven. I don’t have to work toward perfection like all the other religions. I get to work out my salvation my own way. I can challenge a pastor’s attitudes or biblical angles (with respect, of course) because we are all equal under God. There is no maze to go through to get to heaven. I don’t have to earn it. I am free to live for Christ. I am free to make a million huge mistakes. I am free to follow Him and become more like Him and have a relationship with Him. I can endure ridicule and passive-aggressive persecution because I know who I am. God never makes fun of me. God loves me. No other way works. – Rachel
I’m a Christian because Jesus rescued me and gave me a new heart. I see the evidence everywhere of God—untamable; inestimable; holy, holy, holy (holiest of holy holies). How could I do anything but worship Him? I know Christianity is the right faith because I have seen the wrong religions and felt their emptiness and frustration. Christianity is the only faith that does not rely upon finite man, who clearly cannot get the job done. – Lillith
I grew up attending an evangelical church, but by middle school rejected what I was taught. My journey to belief was somewhat like the humbling of Nebuchadnezzar’s. Everything I valued most–my talents and relationships with friends and family–was taken away from me over the course of 3 years until I was in deep depression waiting to die. Then, one afternoon while I was sitting on my bed God quickened me. I can’t explain it, but immediately I loved God and knew He loved me and my desires started to be conformed to His. It really was the Holy Spirit, of course. As another commenter mentioned, I don’t believe I chose Christianity–in fact I nearly hated it and despised the external shows put on by many I saw in the Church. Having been dead, and then made alive–blind, but now seeing, I cannot help but believe Christianity is the true faith, and because of the way in which God drew me to Himself–where it was 100% His doing–I cannot doubt His Word which says that Jesus is the only way to the Father, meaning all other faiths must be false. – JayLee
I was raised in very anti-christian and anti-religious context but since my childhood I have been mad into history. The sureness of Christians ready even to die for their faith is everywhere in history. I was both scared and fascinated. So I studied a lot about Christianity and red the Gospel. I found so many proves (mainly historical) that this faith is right. And I also felt that the teaching of Jesus is exactly what I was looking for. But today the historical and other proves are not my main assurance. Today I simply believe in Christ because I know him. – E.F. (an INFJ from the Czech Republic)
Your turn! If you want to share your INFJ story or talk about INFJs in the churches, comment here! And if you’re a different personality type looking to contribute an upcoming blog post in this series contact me or head over to the original post. I’d love to feature you!