Understanding Personality Questionnaires for Christian Leaders : The Key to Solving Your People Puzzles Quickly and Effectively?

Confused or suspicious of personality questionnaires. This simple overview will help you make sense of them.

Understanding Personality Questionnaires

Understanding People…

Personality questionnaires are a variety of psychometric assessments and are often looked on with suspicion, but used well they are a source of insight that informs prayerful consideration of interpersonal situations and recruitment candidates.

As Christian leaders, at some time we will have been in a team where two people never seem to understand one another, perhaps leading to sharp disagreements that affect the atmosphere of the meeting and often the effectiveness of how the whole team relates to one another. They might share the same beliefs and chat together over coffee after church. However, when they are trying to achieve something together in ministry, the team cannot get on with serving others until someone gives way.

These sort of issues within teams, even Christian teams, aren’t really due to the differences that exist between people but the rigidity with which they hold on to those differences. Each has their own way of thinking and working. More than that, they are unable to understand the other’s perspective and are unwilling to change their behaviour to help solve their differences : “I need to understand the detail and until you’re able to give it me I’m not prepared to make a decision about this”

Christian Leaders should be Aware of Difference

Increasing self-awareness of all the team members, their awareness of how each other “works” and the elements of their personality that drive their behaviour, can dramatically improve compatibility between them.  Dramatic improvements in how the team relates together and fulfils their responsibilities take place when individuals understand that there are different ways to think about and approach an issue. Often individuals assume that everyone else in the team does, or should, think the way they do. The understanding of difference is essential to solving your people puzzles and the use of personality questionnaires to raise awareness and provide a language to discuss issues that arise is a huge bonus.

Using personality questionnaires to increase self-awareness and create an understanding of personality differences can help team members understand what is happening. Armed with this knowledge, and a little guidance, they can adjust how they work together.

Understanding that Mark is a person who needs detailed information to make a decision means that George can now understand that he is not just being “plain awkward” but that Mark just needs more information than George does. Understanding this need, both of them can work with the situation to get the best out of each other by discussing the level and type of information that is needed. Perhaps Mark felt George was being rash in his decision making as he might have felt he wasn’t aware of all the facts?

These personality questionnaires provide insight and information so that you can tackle your people puzzles in the same way you would tackle theological or financial problems. Labelled “psychometrics”, they are designed to measure various aspects of a person’s skills, abilities and personality, giving you additional information to incorporate into other insights that have been built up as you relate to people.

Do You Run a Mile From Psychometric Assessments?

So many people run a mile when psychometric tests are mentioned. Maybe they think it’s all hocus pocus or perhaps they are concerned that to rely on their results takes away from spiritual discernment and the guidance of the Holy Spirit in decision making or perhaps they simply are not sure how the results will be used. There are some simple principles to help with these concerns.

Well Scrutinized

Generally these tests are not hocus pocus. The good instruments have been used for a long time, have a large body of data behind them, have been used in Christian contexts and have been rigorously scrutinized for years. The set for which the British Psychological Society provides training is a good guide as to their credibility.  For example Myers- Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is used on many Christian training courses to raise individual self awareness e.g. CWR’s Understanding Yourself, Understanding Others. Claybury use it as part of ministerial training workshops to help ministers understand how their personality impacts their approach to leading others.


With any such test, confidentiality is essential, particularly in small church communities where it is difficult to keep any information confidential. If they are to be kept in personal records then the individual concerned should be made aware and Data Protection Regulations must be complied with. If the outcomes are shared in a team setting then the team must agree to maintain confidentiality.

Guidance Only

Psychometrics tests should only be used to inform and guide decisions and be an additional source of information in discerning what God is saying to us. Decisions that affect people’s lives should never be made on the strength of psychometrics alone and should always be surrounded by prayer. The reports from psychometrics can be very powerful and provide excellent input to help individuals work out how to develop themselves and to personalize their learning. Claybury use various personality trait questionnaires in supporting various Christian organisations. They are used to assess potential recruits and help them explore elements of their personality during interviews e.g. If the results suggest an introverted personality type is applying for a youth worker role, the interviewer might want to ask for examples and an explanation of how the individual builds new relationships.

Appropriate Use

Such tests are best only used with a trained and qualified practitioner. This goes a long way to ensuring that they are not abused and it enables the individual to receive appropriate tailored feedback and guidance. Look for a British Psychological Society Level B qualification (or your national equivalent). This last point is why it’s best to avoid the “Do It Yourself” on-line tests to be found on the internet. Many of these tests do not have a large body of data behind them nor have they been rigorously scrutinized. That means that you need someone to help sift out the ones that are hocus pocus and some guidance on how best to use them. You will also need help to understand exactly what the results mean for you, without that you could end up following an inappropriate course of action.

Our experience is that the danger is in the misuse of these questionnaires rather than the nature of the  questionnaires themselves e.g. Organisations who have excluded individuals from certain roles based on the results of a questionnaire or where the results of reports have been shared in a team context in isolation from any  other information and without consultation with the individuals concerned.

Types of Psychometric Assessment Questionnaire

Psychometric questionnaires and tests come in various shapes and sizes and it’s important that you choose the right tool for the job – Use a plane not an axe to take off that bit of wood from the door that keeps sticking!

Ability and Aptitude Tests:

  • Numerical Reasoning Tests: When recruiting, if you want help deciding how good someone will be at manipulating and understanding numerical information, choose a numerical reasoning test.
  • Verbal Reasoning Tests: If you want to know if they will be able to understand complex ideas and produce easily understandable presentations you want to use a verbal reasoning test.

Research from 174 studies and 36,000 people reviewed in the American Psychologist journal concluded that higher ability test scores are commonly associated with higher levels of performance in any given role. The key is selecting a test that is appropriate to the role the person will be fulfilling and the context: If you are recruiting for a youth worker you don’t want a test designed for a Treasurer.

Personality Questionnaires:

Often using models developed by leading psychologists such as Raymond Cattell or Dr. Reuven Bar-On, personality questionnaires assess the personality that drives the way individuals behave:

  • Measures for personal development: Are designed to help you understand and increase your personal effectiveness and that of your team by increasing your self awareness. If you understand what drives your behaviour you are more able to do something about it. They are not designed for, and should not be used for assessment and recruitment.
  • Measures for assessment: Aimed at assessing how effective an individual is in comparison to others. They can be used for development purposes but are particularly useful for recruitment and understanding the future potential of individuals.

Some personality questionnaires help you understand individual behaviour and others how a team works.

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How can psychometrics help me with my people puzzles?

  • As part of recruitment: The most effective way of making recruitment decisions is to use variety: interviews, presentations, ministry based role plays and psychometrics. The decision can then be made on a broad view of the candidate, not just a single criteria or method. If you want to ask the right interview questions use psychometrics to prompt questions that explore someone’s way of working. Don’t wait until 6 months into the role before you discover behaviour that has a negative impact on their performance. Using this variety can also help those you are recruiting to understand if the job is the right one for them.
  • As part of individual development and support you offer: This will help raise self-awareness and enable individuals to personalise and apply training. They will also help you to have some of the more difficult conversations about individual behaviour. For example:  to help you work with a team member who fails to understand the impact of their actions on others and how others may be emotionally affected by changes in the organisation. Using a questionnaire can highlight the issue and give you a basis for beginning what might be a difficult conversation and having a more honest and open conversation about the issues and then help you to build a development plan.Claybury have used EQi as part of the coaching support we provide to Christian leaders to raise their self-awareness of how they understand and relate to others and help them address specific relationships issues. Helping them uncover some of the underlying issues and take action to strengthen these relationships.
  • As part of team training: Use some of the team based personality questionnaires to help your team understand how they work together as a team and the role they each play in the team, in addition to their job role. E.g. For a church Leadership away day the individual team members complete an MBTI questionnaire before the event and are provided with their own results before the event. Claybury facilitate the event by talking through the MBTI model and sharing the results of the whole team and the implications this has for how they work together. Specific issues are discussed ad how the learning from the MBTI can help them improve how they work together as a team.

Key Learning Point:

As a Christian leader there is no need to be scared of psychometrics and personality questionnaires:

  • They can give you the confidence to tackle some of your people puzzles because they can give you a deeper understanding of your team members.
  • They can also give your team members the confidence to loosen their grip on their individual differences that can become a stumbling block to team effectiveness.
  • They can help you make good recruitment choices and perhaps enable you to avoid issues in the future.

Psychometric or personal inventories are useful in Christian situations. The secret is to remember that they are simply providing valid insight into people (often ourselves) just as medical measurements give insight into our bodies.  These insights are useful, informative and helpful, but as with everything else, the Christian leader should never use them in isolation. The insights they provide must be considered prayerfully and any decisions must be taken in submission to God, seeking to fulfil his plans and purposes.

Image: Sheila Tostes Flickr.com Creative Commons License