Enneagram gaining in Baptist life

Enneagram gaining in Baptist life

An ancient personality typing system helps participants better know themselves -- and God -- teachers and participants say.

By Daniel Wallace

A seven means you’re typically extroverted, optimistic and spontaneous, while a two reveals a more empathetic, sincere and warm personality.

That is, according to the Enneagram.

The Enneagram is a personality type test designed to give people a better understanding of themselves and others. The system breaks down people into nine distinct personality types, which are each given a number, one through nine.

While ancient, the Enneagram is becoming increasingly popular in some denominations, movements and congregations – including Baptists. First Baptist in Austin, Texas, and Northminster Baptist in Jackson, Miss., recently held workshops on the system while chaplains at Baylor University and Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond have also used it.

“It gives you a level of insight and depth to what your tendencies and preferences are,” said Roger Paynter, senior pastor at FBC, Austin.

How it works

Suzanne Stabile, co-founder of Life in the Trinity Ministry in Dallas, is an Enneagram expert who has conducted more than 500 workshops over two decades.  Her most common workshop is the Enneagram introduction course, “Know Your Number.”

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Stabile reviews the personality types in detail and evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of each in her oral teaching at the introductory workshop. At the conclusion of this workshop, people realize their unique number, their distinctive personality type.

The nine personality types the Enneagram offers are the reformer, the helper, the achiever, the individualist, the investigator, the loyalist, the enthusiast, the challenger and the peacemaker. They are numbered one through nine, respectively.

One of the primary aspects of the Enneagram that separates it from other personality tests is the ability to simultaneously identify a person’s assets and their insufficiencies.

“It, at exactly the same time, shows you what your weaknesses are by describing them to you [and] it shows you what gifts and graces you have to overcome those weaknesses,” Stabile said.

‘Deep and personal’

It’s normally not a problem for people to recognize their personality type when they first hear it, she said.

“When you hear your number talk, you know that that’s you,” Stabile said.

Christopher Mack, assistant director for formation with Baylor's spiritual life progam, said he noticed how deep and personal the Enneagram descriptions were when he and some of his colleagues attended a Stabile workshop in 2009.

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“For me, when I heard my own number taught, it was this feeling that the instructor was revealing to the rest of the room some of my deepest secrets and frailties,” Mack said in an e-mail to ABPnews.

Mack has seen colleagues and undergraduate and graduate students reap the benefits of the Enneagram. On a more personal level, though, he said the system has facilitated incredible growth in his own walk with Jesus.

“The Enneagram has been a tool that God has used in my life to help me journey with Christ down to the center of my life and find incredible freedom, greater compassion for others and empowered me to love my enemies,” Mack said.

The system is different from other personality typing systems because it challenges participants to confront their deficits, and in a manner consistent with gospel values, said Israel Galindo, dean and professor of Christian formation and leadership at BTSR.

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“It helps us confess that we have strengths, but that our less desirable dimensions of self are also who we are,” Galindo said in an e-mail. “It uses the language of redemption as a rubric of what it means to grow into one's full self while being true to one's true self.”

Know thyself

Stabile said the Enneagram’s origins can be traced back to the Greeks nearly 4,000 years ago, though little was published about the ancient oral tradition until the 1970s.

But churches seem to be embracing it quickly.

First Baptist Church, Austin, was introduced to the Enneagram seven years ago when several members attended a retreat in Albuquerque, N.M. Stabile offered the “Know Your Number” workshop at that retreat.

Paynter said he was amazed at the positive responses he heard from those who attended and invited Stabile to teach the introductory workshop at the church.

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His experience was equally positive. He said using the Enneagram has enabled him and his staff to communicate more effectively and it has also reaped spiritual benefits in the congregation.

More than 100 members at First Baptist in Austin have used the Enneagram. The church also facilitates ongoing, spiritually nurturing Enneagram groups.

“To have a rich and deep spiritual life… you have to get to know yourself,” Paynter said.