Discovering Your God Language
Styles in Seeking and Finding God
by Dr. Myra Perrine
Have you ever gotten to your office on Monday just in time to hear the worship leader fill you in on how Mr. & Mrs. So-and-so are disgruntled about the worship music being too loud on Sunday (though you thought the place really came alive!), and how only a handful of people showed up to help at the soup kitchen? And the first comment card you read asks why you’re not serving communion weekly or having intellectual discussions after church any longer about the Sunday message. The day has only begun and you’re already wondering, “How in the world can I shepherd this group of people who have such specific yet diverse spiritual needs? And how can I help them love one another when their approach to God is so different?”
If this is your experience, take heart! You are simply pastoring a typical congregation with its usual range of people who connect to God in an assortment of ways. And even though some of their preferences seem diametrically opposed, within this challenge lies an invitation for you to help your flock better understand their own spiritual wiring or what we call the spiritual temperaments.
Spiritual temperaments…a phrase we don’t often hear. What are spiritual temperaments and how can learning about them help us better understand our sheep?
A spiritual temperament is simply a God-given preference indicating how someone best and most naturally loves and serves God. Spiritual temperaments can be bold statements in our churches of how God has legitimately, though diversely, wired us to know him while also displaying differing facets of his character to a watching world! While personality temperaments identify our preferences with people and the cosmos on a horizontal plane, a spiritual temperament identifies how we interact with God and the spiritual realities on a vertical level. But unlike other mere preferences, when we neglect our spiritual temperaments, we often feel dry and lifeless spiritually. The spiritual temperaments (originally developed by Gary Thomas) include:
- The Activist—loving God through confrontation with evil
- The Ascetic—loving God through solitude and simplicity
- The Caregiver—loving God through serving others
- The Contemplative—loving God through reflection and adoration
- The Enthusiast—loving God through mystery and celebration
- The Intellectual—loving God through the mind
- The Naturalist—loving God through experiencing him out-of-doors
- The Sensate—loving God through the senses
- The Traditionalist—loving God through ritual and symbol
Yes, there are a variety of ways God’s people love and serve him. So how come it’s so important for us to understand our spiritual wiring? Well, for one reason, knowing our spiritual temperament helps us realize what stirs our passion for God, and in that ”ah ha”, we breathe more easily. Plus, when our people try to connect with God by modeling what they see others doing—singing worship songs enthusiastically, engaging in specific acts of service, meditating quietly in solitude—they sometimes end up feeling farther away from God than ever. This is because we each have a unique spiritual temperament, and a one-size-fits-all spiritual formula simply doesn’t work. But as we come to grasp how uniquely God has wired us, we truly feel free to communicate with him in our own ”love language”, not only becoming ‘unstuck’ in our relationship with him, but also seeing others in a new light—one that brings greater appreciation and unity within the body of Christ.
Would you like to know your own spiritual temperament? We’ve developed an abbreviated spiritual temperament inventory to help you reflect on how you best connect with God. To take this simple assessment, just click here. Or, if your computer does not handle Microsoft Excel, you can take the manual instrument here. Then come back and enjoy the rest of the article.
How did you score? Did you find you worship God as:
an Activist, one with a tenacious desire to see evil confronted and good prevail, no matter what the personal cost—fighting for righteousness and offering a prophetic voice against wrong? Or are you more of
- an Ascetic, requiring extended times of silence and solitude to recharge your spiritual batteries, needing a quiet place and regular "sense of apartness" to experience God’s presence more profoundly? Or are you
- a Caregiver who meets people’s practical needs almost before being asked, a "doer of the word" who catches your spiritual stride when quietly laboring in the background as you help someone in need? Or are you
- a Contemplative who considers your first work that of adoring God, one who is at home with mystery, and who needs to spend extended time with God gazing into his face as you speak the language of lovers? Or are you
- an Enthusiast who loves God with gusto, a real "cheerleader of the faith" who feels closest to God when gathering with others to sing and worship in the congregation (since worship for you is “party time”)? Or
- an Intellectual who loves God with your intellect, seeing faith as something to be understood as much as experienced, gravitating toward challenging books and seminars that discuss theology, apologetics, or other deep topics? Or
- a Naturalist who feels closest to God when surrounded by nature, coming alive in God’s nat¬ural splendor, and experiencing an increase in your awareness of God when you are out in his beauty? Or are you
- a Sensate who gets lost in the awe and majesty of God, and is drawn to him through intricate architecture, classical music, incense, icons, stained glass or paintings with spiritual themes? Or
- a Traditionalist who feels more connection to the Lord when worshiping, praying, or reading the Bible in conjunction with the saints of old, using ritual, symbol, and sacrament as a way of entering into God’s glory?
(You can read more about each of the nine spiritual temperaments in chapter 3 of What’s Your God Language?)
Isn’t it interesting to know how we are spiritually wired? But it’s more than interesting; it’s imperative—because knowing how we connect most readily with God helps us love him more authentically. And it also enables us to appreciate those in our congregations, our families, and our small groups who are wired differently. Lights go on when we comprehend how a person is motivated spiritually to love and serve the Lord. Suddenly that church member, spouse, or child—whose questions or enthusiasm or needs or suggestions have been an irritation to us—is seen through a new lens: that of their spiritual temperament. And when we understand them better, we can embrace their unique "spiritual circuitry”, allowing them to love God in fresh, sincere ways! With that freedom comes grace—the capacity to relinquish our quest to make others over in our own likeness and image.
For those who would like to dig deeper into this topic, What’s Your God Language? includes a spiritual temperament inventory (similar to the one given in the article) as well as a spiritual practices inventory. For those seeking specific ways to connect with God in their own God-language (or to connect with God in new ways), Dr. Perrine has also included 4 weeks’ worth of spiritual exercises based on each temperament, with additional exercises available here.
Dr. Myra Perrine has a passion for intimacy with God and has been speaking and teaching on this subject for more than 35 years. She has authored several workbooks to help others draw near to Jesus, including her most recent What’s Your God Language? With a doctorate of ministry in spiritual formation, Myra is currently on staff with Church Resource Ministries, a missions organization that develops leaders to start and strengthen churches worldwide. Myra offers pastoral care and spiritual guidance to some of CRM’s 300 missionaries in 22 nations. As an adjunct professor at Azusa Pacific University, she teaches a variety of classes, including spiritual growth and leadership.