This post is one of a four-part series on the spirituality of different MBTI preferences. See the first post here.
Feeling and Thinking Spirituality
Just as introverts have social needs and extraverts can stand to be alone, Feelers (Fs) think and Thinkers (Ts) have feelings. This preference simply describes how a person makes decisions based on the information gathered through their senses or intuition. The T strives to be objective, removing themselves from the equation and making the decision based on adherence to a set of principles. The F on the other hand prefers to see situations subjectively from within, seeking the outcome that engenders the greatest harmony among all those involved. Ts are analytical and task-oriented, and believe that a sound process is necessary to achieving a good end result. Fs, however, are empathic and people-oriented, and are less concerned about the process than attaining the end result of relational peace and well-being. Both preferences, of course, suffer the weaknesses of their strengths. Fs can be people-pleasers, struggling to say “No” when it is appropriate. They also are conflict averse, and can respond to confrontation with denial, compliance or manipulation in order to maintain relationships. Sometimes, Fs will be derailed from even important tasks by personal concerns. Finally, their empathy is as much a burden as it is a blessing. For their part, Ts are perceived to be adversarial, critical, and cool or emotionally distant – and the perception is sometimes accurate! They expect excellence and are disappointed (sometimes vocally so) when they encounter shoddy work or service. While Ts feel just as deeply as Fs, they often lack the emotional intelligence to understand, articulate and process their own heart condition in healthy ways – and can be taken aback by the emotional responses of others.
Fs and Ts enjoy the benefits and suffer the consequences of their preference in their spiritual lives. Fs prefer a subjective and intimate approach to faith – for them, a ‘personal relationship with Jesus’ is a lived reality, not a theological assertion. Keating observes, “Doctrine and morality are not enough [for Fs]. The whole person needs to be integrated into the spiritual life.” Their sensitivity to networks of relationships around them make them exceptionally loyal church members, as they are reluctant to leave and sever all those bonds. Unfortunately, Ts don’t fit so well into church life. They like public worship to be done with excellence and good order. As a result, they find worship a very real problem since they constantly evaluate the prayers, songs and sermons to see if they are logical, consistent, and true. Their minds must be satisfied before their hearts can engage. Ts tend to regard themselves as inadequate when it comes to prayer, spirituality, and ‘spiritual experiences.’ They can also struggle if not allowed to probe and question. The end result is that Ts are not comfortable at most churches (and those churches are not comfortable with the questioning T!), leading to the sad fact that while Ts represent 40% of the general population, they make up only 25% of the church-goers. Keating concludes, “If feelers find difficulty in spiritual growth because they are so often undervalued, thinkers find difficulty because they are so often opposed.”
Fs prefer a “personal, subjective, and intimate approach” to spiritual disciplines with a particular focus upon their relationship with God and others. In the Scriptures, there can be no better place for Fs to set up base camp than in the Psalms, which Calvin called “’An Anatomy of all the Parts of the Soul;’ for there is not an emotion of which any one can be conscious that is not here represented.” Fs can enter into the narrative portions of Scripture by placing themselves in the shoes of the various characters through Ignatian gospel contemplation. Reading passages set out by a lectionary can appeal to the F’s need to feel connected to a large community, even when reading alone. With regards to prayer, Fs can allow their empathy drive them to intercessory prayer, pleading to God on behalf of those whose pain they are feeling. Journalling one’s conversation with God can also appeal to introverted Fs, as can reflecting on how the Lord has blessed them in past seasons. Finally, like Ss, Fs can contemplate God through their contact with the needy ones who surround them. Fs need an environment where the people are fundamentally in harmony in order to worship properly. They “enjoy a friendly atmosphere and warmth of devotion” in worship, and “look for persuasive sermons with emotional appeal” as well as “music that evokes deep feelings and warmth and are often more focused on tune than text.” One form of fellowship that resonate with Fs are prayer and support groups, where the primary focus of the group is on the horizontal relationship between the members and the vertical relationship with God. They benefit from non-hierarchical, peer-driven forms of spiritual direction and enjoy learning to ‘read’ people, listening to their stories and wisdom – learning from them the way others read books.
The mode of Scripture engagement for Ts should be study – reading analytically and slowly, with the assistance of commentaries and dictionaries. In particular, the prophets’ focus on justice and the Paul corpus’s combination of both theological principles and ethical guidelines will be fruitful ground for that study. A good partner to study is Luther’s four-stranded garland of prayer, an analytical form of Scriptural meditation. Other forms of prayer amenable to Ts include following carefully thought out frameworks for prayer or even fully written prayers – the quality and balance assists the T enter into an activity they don’t always feel comfortable with. A well-thought out theology of prayer may be an essential prerequisite for a T to give themselves over to this vital practice. The T can also enjoy thinking out loud with God as a form of prayer, inviting the Lord into their cognition. Just as Ts can benefit from assistance in the form of written prayers, so a formal liturgy can help them with worship – another practice they can struggle with. Of course, the sermon will be their favorite part of the service, with clear thinking and well-thought-out application being especially appreciated. Ts can, however, enter into singing deeply, provided the music is “well-rehearsed and technically accurate” – even though they are “often more focused on text than tune.” As a sometimes beleaguered minority in the church, Ts desperately need a group of like-minded analyticals who can undertake debate and in-depth study together. This can be supplemented by fellowshipping with others across time and space through the reading of good books. While the rigorous accountability questions of a Wesleyan band meeting is too much for many, Ts can enjoy the bracing investigation. Being task-oriented, Ts also enjoy fellowship in the form of service groups, just as Ss do.