By Simon Presland
John is easygoing. Sue loves to be the center of attention. People call Fred “Mr. Reliable.” Pete is a driven perfectionist. Sally seems to have a sixth sense about predicting problems.
I’m sure you know people like these. In fact, you probably know many people who are defined by consistent traits, good and bad. Do you wonder why someone acts or thinks a certain way? Why are some people introverted and others extroverted? Why does one person see the negative while another sees the positive?
There may seem to be no rhyme or reason to what people do or say, or how they act or react. However, there is a compelling force within all of us; we operate according to our own temperament.
As deans of a Christian counseling college, my wife and I teach temperament theory. Here are some insights we’ve gained into the temperament types—insights that offer a clearer understanding of human nature and why we do the things we do.
Psalm 139:13-16 says,
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.
God gave us our unique temperaments. He formed and fashioned us to help us align our lives to his perfect will.
Our temperaments dictate our communication styles, our actions, and our reactions. It determines what we say and what we do, and how we give and receive love and affection. It directly influences our values, personal needs and wants, how we interact in the workplace, and the roles we play in society.
Five Main Temperaments
Most professionals recognize five main temperament charting systems, each with its own unique naming convention. However, psychologists identify the five basic temperaments as: choleric, melancholy, sanguine, phlegmatic, and supine—the latter being identified in the 1980s by Richard G. and Phyllis J. Arno, founders of the National Christian Counselors Association, Inc. Here is an overview of each one.
Imagine the apostle Paul—strong-minded and strong-willed, a no-nonsense, take charge person; someone who could be counted on in a crisis. Paul was the epitome of a choleric.
Cholerics are cool under pressure and make rational decisions. Dynamic and self-motivated, they can discern and decipher problems and people quickly. They are swift learners, and see difficulties as stepping-stones on the road to accomplishment. These people willingly strike out on their own, but placed in a group setting, they can bulldoze people and plans that oppose them. They are admired for being relentless, but can also be dictatorial and domineering. Control and power are important to cholerics. They thrive in higher leadership positions.
Cholerics tend to make reasonable but loyal friends and spouses. They trust logic over imagination, and desire acknowledgement and achievement over working in the background and keeping the status quo. Meeting deadlines and achieving goals can be more important than developing relationships. They value intelligence and ingenuity and can work tirelessly on a project long after others have quit for the day. When encountering problems, they seek understanding first before making decisions. But when their mind is made up, their motto is “The end justifies the means.”
Most reflective, introspective melancholics value the time they spend alone. Perfectionists at home and on the job, they are likely to have impeccably organized closets and kitchens, and immaculate desks at work. Attention to detail and a strong adherence to traditions, rules, and regulations govern their mind-sets.
These people long for deep relationships, yet are often mistrustful and easily disappointed. When meeting others, melancholics are reserved and cautious in their conversations. But once they are committed, their unwavering loyalty, self-sacrificing ways, and romantic ideals are to be admired. Personal integrity is of utmost importance; they must be true to themselves and to others, and they can be quite hard on themselves when they fall short of their own standards.
Melancholics are the deep thinkers. They trust their intuition and prize wisdom and understanding. They pride themselves on being loving, kindhearted, and authentic. Personal journeys and human potential—their own and that of others—inspire melancholics. They make lifelong soul mates, nurturing parents, and inspirational leaders.
In group settings, amicable cooperation helps them to achieve goals. Conflict and confrontation upset melancholics because they see anger as an almost insurmountable barrier. They can also be perceived as negative and critical, often seeing problems others cannot, thus ostracizing themselves from group activities.
Moses and the apostle John are examples of melancholy people. They pondered the depths of God, bringing us wisdom and understanding straight from God’s heart. Their leadership-by-example has been modeled throughout the ages because they represent the loving heart of our Father in Heaven.
Sanguines are usually the life of the party. They are fun loving and bask in the limelight, make friends readily, love affection, and are quick to initiate social activities. Their imagination and creativity are valued by others. You always know how a sanguine feels, because these people wear their hearts on their sleeves and can be easily hurt. Yet they are also quick to forgive and forget.
Sanguines struggle with meeting deadlines and following through on commitments. They can be chronically late and tend to be forgetful. Their attention span is often short, especially when something more fun or interesting comes along. They pride themselves on being unconventional thinkers and spontaneous in their actions. However, their “live for today” motto can get them into trouble; they can easily dismiss potential consequences for their actions, and rarely plan for the future.
These people make playful spouses, creative parents, and perceptive leaders. Naturally inclined toward the fine arts and performing arts, they are intuitive and love to work with their hands. They willingly try things others find risky, and can have a “rules are meant to be broken” attitude. This group is stimulated by action, variety, and excitement, and they are generous to a fault.
The apostle Peter is a good example of a sanguine. He was impulsive and brash, competitive, yet adaptable. He wanted to walk on water and was willing to die for Christ, but when the pressure came he quickly succumbed (see Matthew 14:25-31). However, Peter also became a prominent spokesman for the church after realizing his weaknesses and relying on God’s strength.
Timothy, Paul’s young protégé, is a good example of a phlegmatic. He was known to be peaceful, patient, and adaptable, but tended toward reluctance and indecision.
Phlegmatics tend to have a dry wit and a steady, pleasant personality. They are dependable, polite, even-tempered, and feel comfortable in small groups or staying home. Rarely are they flashy, preferring to brag on others rather than themselves. A phlegmatic person will stand up for justice and will even take the blame in order to protect or defend someone else.
Security and structure are important to phlegmatics. Loyal employees, their steady and patient work ethic allows them to work alone. They are devoted spouses and concerned citizens. Tradition is prized over change, and their ability to make things run smoothly makes them a natural fit for middle leadership positions.
Although phlegmatics enjoy having fun, as dependable and trustworthy people they are very serious about life in general. Law and order, duty and honor, obedience and sacrifice are their hallmarks. Their life’s motto might be “Look before you leap” because they would rather be safe than sorry in whatever they do.
Supine means “with the face upwards.” It is known as the serving temperament because supines derive their value from serving others. They need people in their lives and they need to be needed. However, they also fear rejection, making it difficult to initiate and develop relationships.
Supines are known for their genuine connection to people and their gentle spirits. Yet they expect others to read their minds, and their feelings are easily hurt by the perceived callousness in others. When faced with difficulties, they often feel powerless to change themselves or their situations. Their serving heart makes them devoted spouses. Supines yearn for affection and affirmation, but within marriage they may have trouble initiating intimacy. Martha of Bethany is a good example of a supine. Her disappointment over her sister’s lack of help and her complaints to Jesus are hallmarks of a supine (see Luke 10:38-42).
Perhaps now you have a clearer understanding of your own temperament and of those around you. Seek God’s help to develop your temperament strengths and overcome your weaknesses. In doing so, you’ll be a more effective communicator of the gospel, because you’ll be acting according to your God-given temperament.
Simon Presland is a freelance writer in Clinton Township, Michigan.
Using Your Skills
Catchafire.org is an online skills-based volunteer matching platform. Nonprofits or social enterprises submit projects they need to complete, and volunteers go online to find projects that match their skills. It’s an easy way to use your skills for causes you believe in, and it’s a great way for companies to get highly trained support.
It can also be a model for a volunteer matching service in your church or community. It can be as simple as a bulletin board or as complex as a website. Church members can post their needs or the skills they have to offer along with their contact information. Here are some examples.
“I need investment advice.”
“I have some shrubs that need to be removed.”
“I need a babysitter on Tuesday nights.”
“I’d like help organizing my garage.”
“I want to learn to bake.”
“I’m trying to set up a website for my business.”
“I can make strong coffee and love to listen.”
“I can help you prepare your taxes.”
“I love painting and installing appliances.”
“I’m a graphic designer.”
“I enjoy fixing computers.”
“I can write or edit just about anything.”