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Four Temperaments At The Beach

Thomas F. Fischer, M.Div, M.S.A.

Number 242

Since the days of the Golden age of Greece the four temperaments have had broad application especially in western cultures. More recently this paradigm became the basis for the MBTI and numerous other organizational temperament inventories.

The four temperaments may change name, but they still are four. Originally classified as "Choleric," "Sanguine," "Phlegmatic," and "Melancholy," other instruments such as the Personal Personality Profile use "Dominance," "influencing," "Steadiness," and "Cautious" to denote the four categories. The trend toward concrete-ness can be seen in both secular and Christian writings. Christian writers such as Tim LaHaye have adopted animals, dogs, and other sources for clarifying the demarcation between temperaments.

The Beach Paradigm
 
Each paradigm has its specific focus and application. Animals are used for relational healing and understanding. Terms suited for the executive environment are used in corporate applications. The one most helpful in a multiple of applications--including ministry--is the "Beach Paradigm."

The "Beach Paradigm" is handy because every one eventually goes to the beach. Whether executives, family counseling clients, or pastors the beach has many familiar associations. These associations help make the "Beach Paradigm" a helpful addition to the plethora of existing temperament paradigms.

Imagine Yourself At The Beach
Picture yourself at a beach. You are standing on the shore. The ocean waves roll constantly. As you look around you see...

1) A Daring Individual Swimming Offshore Alone With Sharks! (Choleric)

Looking out toward the west you can see forever. Looking closer you see some fins sticking up out of the water in the deeper water. You wonder what they are. What is frightening however is that you see someone swimming out toward those fins in the deep water all alone.
 
"Isn't that dangerous?" you think. It is a risk that very, very few people would take. "That must be why he's alone," you muse. "Who else would be that far out of the safety zone!" 

2) Individuals Having a Terrific Exhilarating Volleyball Game (Sanguine).

As you turn around you notice there's a group of people having great fun playing beach volleyball. It's intense competition. But, on closer inspection, it doesn't look like they're playing to win. They're just trying to outdo each other's antics!
 
There's all kinds of laughing, teasing, and general playfulness. Occasionally, they'll even change the rules and start clowning around for variation. Of course, the referees trying so desperately to keep a sense of order, are frustratrated. "Lighten up, Ref!" repeat the team players.
 
It looks like so much fun that you wonder, "I wonder if they'll welcome me." Hardly finished  musing you hear someone cry out to you jestingly, "Hey, stupid looking! Ya, you! Why don't you join us! We can always use another looser on our team!" Since everyone seems to enjoy this perpetual party-in-process, you decide to join in.

3) People Just Walking On The Beach Or Laying In The Sun (Phlegmatic).

Walking further along the beach and just slightly away from the beach volleyball are groups of two or three people walking on the beach and others just laying down in the sun. They're getting a suntan and enjoying watching the volleyball game from afar. It's been a while since they played. The beach volleyball teams continue inviting them to join them.
 
Many times they'll politely refused the invitation. Other times they'll decide to play. When they do, they show remarkable expertise and ability to follow the team. They quickly become the quiet unrecognized pillars of the team. They make are great supporters and appreciated by the team. Since it feels so good to just relax and in the quiet of the beach, after the game they tend to like to go back to their familiar spot on the beach and do what they have done for so long.

4) A Faint Figure Of Someone In A Castle On Top Of The Cliff (Melancholy).

Just a little distance from the sun tanning area is a steep cliff. It is a sheer cliff, nearly impossible to climb directly. At the top of the cliff is a castle. You catch a glimpse of the figure of an individual get as close as you can. Curious, you want to get closer. But the Castle is, it's beautiful, and is difficult to access.
 
Trying to find a way to the top of the cliff to see the castle and get closer to the figure, you discover there really aren't any direct ways to the castle. They are all blocked off. Some approaches looked promising, but weren't. When you finally make your way successfully to the top, you discover the castle wall is thick with a sign "no trespassing."
 
You catch another passing glimpse of the figure. It appears to be a someone dressed like royalty. You wonder why one so strikingly beautiful doesn't come out. You call, but there is no answer. You go to the door and knock. A butler appears and indicates that visitors are only allowed by special appointment. Just before he closes the door, 
The Four Temperaments*
 
Though very few of us minister at the beach, there are a number of insights that this paradignm gives regarding the four basic personality temperaments which each of us deals with daily in others and ourselves. If these four personalities were brought into your church, where would you find them? How would they behave? Where's the best place for them in the Lord's ministry?
 
1) Cholerics
 
Cholerics are known by their desire to make a difference. This involves taking risks and going "where no man has gone before." That's why they are depicted as swimming way of shore with sharks. There are numerous life-threatening dangers out there. But that's where the Choleric likes to be: in the action.
 
A choleric is a born task-oriented leader. He finds an organization's need, bluntly analyzes it, and then goes for it...all by himself. "Why should he waste valuable time and energy dealing with people? They just get in the way. Just give me a job and I'll do it." While "getting things done" they bypass rules, tradition, guidelines, policies, et al. all in the name of efficiency.
 
Natural leaders, the down-side of Cholerics is that they tend to be very impatient and do not naturally possess strong people skills. After all, they live to get the job done. To the choleric, the end justifies the means. Unfortunately this may cause problems in organizations which value teamwork, partnership, mutuality, communication and feedback.
 
Often the best ways to support a Choleric is to leave them alone. Once they identify and have been given a task, they will move immediately toward accomplishment. The bigger and more risky the challenge, the more they stretch toward the task. When delegating to a Choleric, you are delegating both task and responsibility to them. Once they get going, your intervention is really not wanted. Get out of the way or else you'll get caught up in the Choleric "G-force" field.
 
2) Sanguines
 
The "life of the party," Sanguines enjoy the fun and pleasure of life. They enjoy the spontaneous, the "alive." Unlike the Choleric, all out in front by himself, Sanguines are always found in groups or (more accurately) leading groups. If there is no group, Sanguines will make one. Gregarious and extraverted, Sanguines are not inhibited. As people persons, they are focused on one main objective: help others to have the fun they are.
 
Specialized tasks tend to bore Sanguines. However, special immediate needs energize them...especially when people are involved. Sanguines need something new every second or so. Anything longer than that and they may get bored and go off to another party.

"Messy works for me" is their motto. Alert, creative, inventive and responsive, Sanguines are multi-talented individuals who can effectively pull anything off at the last minute without preparation. How do they do it?

  • First, by avoiding detail.
  • Second, by not taking themselves too seriously.
  • Third, by not being ashamed of making a mistake.
  • Fourth, by an unusual, lively combination of creativity and resourcefulness.
  • Fifth, by being able to access a wide range of resources. and
  • Sixth, by their ability to recruit, motivate and energize lots of people to follow them and carry out a directive.
Sanguines tend not to show up to a meeting until they have to. Usually it is at the last minute or slightly late. After all, why should they waste time in meetings, et al when there's so much fun and freedom to enjoy! Unfortunately, this angers those not willing to join in their spiritual of joviality. Sanguines respond to such individuals, "You're missing out on all the fun. Get a life."
3) Phlegmatics
 
Like those tanning on the beach, Phlegmatics prefer to be in small groups of others they trust. Phlegmatics, though renown for their procrastination, are unimaginably loyal supporters. For Phlegmatics, once you're a friend you're a friend for life. They don't live "on the edge." They prefer to be among the familiar, the tried, and the trusted.

Phlegmatics are the "old dependable's." They are specialists. Once they learn a job or gain competency in an area, their unshaken confidence is impressive. They are focused and loyal to the task but only insofar as it doesn't interfere or hurt people.

A component of loyalty, Phlegmatics are known for their stubbornness. They can be quite stubborn and unbending. Not comfortable with conflict, they tend to avoid situations which might be potential conflict situations. "I just do my job and mind my own business" is a common Phlegmatic response.

Their main goal? They just want to help and be there for a friend. Possible ministries to consider for Phlegmatics? Consider visitation, small group leaders, followers, and don't forget their extremely loyal support!

4) Melancholies

Living in fear of having self-esteem hurt, Cholerics live behind the high thick walls of the castle. They do this for a number of reasons including...
First, castles are a place of safety.
Second, castles keep out the unexpected.
Third, castles are high and distant and thus not readily attacked.
Fourth, castles have guard towers to be able to spot possible attacks from miles away.
Fifth, if an attacker comes, the ones in the castle will have the advantage.
Sixth, the castle is where the king (usually a Choleric and/or Melancholy) lives. If you follow the rules, he will keep you safe in the castle.
Perfectionists in their own eyes (and others'), Melancholies are known for their meticulateness. They are not "showy" and don't enjoy the public eye as the Sanguines. Driven by fear of imperfection and incompetence, they do everything right. Often afraid to be creative, they are masters of any repetitious task once it is painstakingly studied, practiced and learned.
 
Afraid of relationships, Melancholies will generally prefer relationships which are safe, i.e. with other Melancholies. Using the castle analogy, their relational preference is to live right next to another castle high on a rock, out of reach, and equally protected. When danger strikes, the "castles" get together to create a formidable defense.
 
Unfortunately, Melancholies may act to hastily and overlook key details when identifying a perceived "enemy." This results in people and organizations getting hurt, sometimes severely by them. Afraid to admit they are wrong, Melancholies retreat into the castle and avoid the discomfort of having to repair or reconcile relationships. For this reason one of their mottos is, "Leave me alone."
 
Following the motto, "A place for everything and everything in its place," Melancholies avoid the embarrassment of appearing "messy," "disorganized," et al. They account for every penny, every mistake, every wrong and are anxious until "properly" corrected (in their eyes).
 
When there is a problem, they become anxious. To ease their anxiety, they will go to great lengths, ignoring all other considerations and causing great damage, just to ease their anxiety.
All these things cause fear. In their castle-like existence they can hide behind a facade of royalty (enhanced by finery and things symbolic of their specialness) and live safely isolated and immune from anything bad which might happen to them if they were in the world.
 
Meanwhile Back At Your Ministry
 
Unfortunately all good things must come to an end, including the beach experience. But it need not end without having a healthy impact on your ministry.
 
Insofar as they are able and the human resource pool allows, those who intentionally and specifically recruit, plan and administrate their ministries based on temperaments and gifts discover God's amazing marriage between spiritual gifts and temperament.
 
This exhilarating combination is what helps distinguish, for example, specific focus of teaching gifts. A Phlegmatic with the gift of teaching may excel in small groups and have a teaching approach which is that of a facilitator/counselor. A Sanguine with the gift of teaching may, however, excel at energizing large gatherings in education seminars. Of course, this does not preclude other possibilities for this combination of gifts.
 
Resources such as Willow Creek's "Network" program can be helpful, though they have limitations. (Cf. Ministry Health's Article, "Limitations of Spiritual Gift Inventories"). Of course, other factors loom large in selection of leaders including their availability.
 
A very short, incomplete listing includes things such as their personal interests, trustworthiness, Christian character, spiritual values, spiritual maturity, experience, ownership of the vision, and overall positive support of ministry. Such listings are found throughout Scripture. The most helpful, perhaps, are I Timothy 3 and Titus 1.
 
Who Does What?
 
Now that you know the four basic temperaments, how can you select appropriate temperaments for your church leadership and ministries.
 
1) Cholerics:

Remember, these are the ones who like to swim with the sharks. They take risks. They have profound capacities to deal with criticism, risk, and danger. Indeed, it excites them. Where can you put a Choleric in your ministry? Ask the following questions

* What ministries would you like started?

* Which need a powerful, charismatic initiator?

* Which are the most "dangerous"?

* Which are potentially the ones with the greatest impact on the church?

* Which programs need leaders who will project urgency of completion?

* Which will involve wading through considerable criticism?

* Which are those which represent the greatest changes? 

* Which require, above all, energetic, immediate action?

The programs and ministries suggested by these questions might be best led by a Choleric.
 
2) Sanguines:

As above, these are the ones who love to reach out and bring together people. Sanguines create positive people energies. They interact with the environment to make it more playful, relaxing and accommodating. They are energized by creativity, diversity, and new ways of expressing. Where can you put a Sanguine in your ministry? Ask the following questions

* Which areas of ministry need a strong people orientation?

* What areas of ministry need to have an attitudinal enhancement (or overhaul!)?

* What areas of ministry need a strong dose of evaluation, creativity, and reduction of legalism?

* Where is ministry momentum most needed?

* Which people-oriented ministry opportunities are all around us but not address by our ministry?

The programs and ministries suggested by these questions might be best led by a Sanguine.
3) Phlegmatics:
Phlegmatics, the ones who just relaxed on the beach by walking or getting a tan, are most comfortable with small groups. Very loving, loyal and eager to listen, they just want to help. They are genuine servants with a genuine concern and caring for others. To find a place for Phlegmatics ask,

* What ministries need additional support and encouragement?

* Which leaders could use a faithful, helping hand?

* Which opportunities for personal, spiritual support require additional help?

* What ministries need people who are loyal, committed and genuinely caring?

* What areas of ministry are there that work best with little or no change?

* Am I willing to extend the visitation ministry of this church through others?

The programs and ministries suggested by these questions might be best led by a Phlegmatic

4) Melancholies
Melancholies, though preferring to be hidden in the castle prefer "behinds the scenes" work. They perform with great precision in their area of specialty. They aim to please but tend to avoid relationships and pressure situations. Having strong boundaries, they also may tend to avoid extensive commitments. Where can you put Melancholies?
* What areas of the church require exactness and precision?
 
* What ministries lack procedures?
 
* What areas of ministry are there which allow for a person to work mostly by themselves?
 
* What areas of ministry have the least potential for disruption?
 
* What ministries would value an outstanding sense of organization and procedural follow through?
 
* What areas of the church entail detail work, record keeping and maintenance, schedules, and other  support functions?
Finally, Remember...
 
1) Everyone is unique. You are unique. Your spouse is unique. Your children is unique. Everyone in your church is unique. That's the way God made them. Your calling is to encourage them through the Word to come together as the Body of Christ to serve Him.
 
2) Spirituality does play a major part. Those desiring to grow in their faith are often more receptive to risk, experiment and grow that those satisfied with their spiritual lives.
 
3) Temperaments are a tool for the glory of God, not for idle self-centered manipulation. The most powerful tools and gifts God gives are those with the greatest potential for destroying the church.
 
4) Know your people as best as possible. It is difficult to determine ones temperaments in a structured church environment. Discover their interests, desires, hobbies, lifestyle, relationship styles, etc. outside the church, too. Knowing the people helps you to know their spiritual interests and to match them to the respective ministries most appropriate and enjoyable for them.
 
5) You're not totally in control. Numerous churches have given up the "put a warm body" approach to filling leadership vacancies. Though not an excuse for aggressively seeking qualified people for a position, sometimes its appropriate to recognize that God has not raised up an individual to fill the vacancy. Filling vacancies can't be forced.
 
6) Wait for God's timing...with generous amounts of prayer!
 
7) Encourage everyone to make a positive difference. Encourage them, celebrate them, and help created by the power of God's Word and Spirit and atmosphere conducive for spiritual growth and service. Such atmosphere is devoid of unjust criticism, back-biting, intimidation, and guilt-motivation.

Thomas F. Fischer

* The descriptions of each temperament are for general use one. Virtually everyone has a mixture of the above which will affect the applicability of the descriptions relative to their own situation.

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This page was revised on: Tuesday, October 05, 2004 11:03:10 PM