Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Humans Are Simply-Complex

Written by: on April 6, 2022

What makes us human? What makes us tick? Why do we do the things that we do? What has shaped and formed us? These are just some of the existential questions that many of us have probably thought about over the course of our lives, certainly after a challenging interaction with a difficult person.

“Human personalities are rather like fractals. It is not just that what we do in the large-scale narratives of our lives—love, career, friendships—tend to be somewhat consistent over time, with us often repeating the same kinds of triumphs or mistakes. Rather, what we do in the tiny interactions like the way we shop, or dress, or talk to a stranger on a train, or decorate our houses, shows the same kind of patterns as can be observed from examining our whole life,” conveyed Daniel Nettle in his work, Personality: What Makes You The Way You Are. [1]

For every Myers-Briggs results, Enneagram numbers, or grocery store checkout line horoscope predictions, human beings simply boil down to five broad personality dimensions, according to Nettle. He labels these: 1) Extraversion (outgoing, enthusiastic); 2) Neuroticism (prone to stress and worry); 3) Conscientiousness (organized, self-directed); 4) Agreeableness (trusting, empathetic); 5) Openness (creative, imaginative, eccentric).[2]

Our personality traits are based on each of our levels of these five dimensions. In fact, “A great deal of what happens in our interests, careers, relationships, romantic lives, and health follows from where we fall along these continua.” [3]  

But it is not just our choice in the matter. According to Nettle, the determinant of where we fall in the continua is how our brains are wired up, and the determinants of how the relevant parts of our brains get wired up are firstly genetics, and secondly, various early life influences over which we have no control and which seems essentially irreversible. Thanks, mom and dad…

Each situation we face, each person we encounter, and each set of circumstances we deal with triggers a cognitive impulse on what we think and how we act. Of course, this relates directly back to Agarwal’s Systems One and Systems Two, our conscious and unconscious bias, as well as Kahneman’s System One and System Two, automatic way of thinking based on our body’s instinctive survival mechanism and our more sophisticated way of thinking deliberately and effortfully. 

Nettle continues to add layers of understanding to the complexity of what it means to be human and how we relate to one another. As organizational leaders, more specifically those that see things through a theological lens, we are taking a more sophisticated look at the wonder of God’s creation. How diverse and unique are each individual we encounter. How marvelously intricate are the people we lead. 

In turn, we are faced with the challenge of better understanding people so that we can position, as an influence in their lives, for success. Finally, as spiritual leaders, we are tasked with elevating our approach to spiritual formation, recognizing that people learn and experience God differently. 

As I was sifting through the five dimensions of personalities, my mind wandered to various biblical figures and where they might fit into the continua. Zeroing specifically into the disciples is a fascinating case study of emotional and temperamental impulses with a wide range of characters, from Simon the Zealot to Judas son of James. 

We tend to remove the unique personalities of Biblical figures, flattening them only to serve the purpose of the point we are driving to drive home through a sermon, Bible study, book, or resources. How often have we ignored the narcissistic tendencies of David’s story because the shepherd boy against the giant or the man after God’s own heart is a much easier story to tell? But each of these rich characters gives us even further insight into how different personality types relate to the Almighty. In doing so, we dilute the fullness of God’s diverse creation to serve our purpose rather than the unknowable purpose of God. 

Nettle’s work in sociology, psychology, and anthropology provides accessible resources for those seeking to understand themselves and others better.                                                               

[1] Nettle, Daniel, Personality: What Makes You the Way You Are (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 

2009), 7-8.

[2] Ibid., 29.

[3] Ibid., 234.

About the Author


Andy Hale

Associate Executive Coordinator of CBF North Carolina, CBF Podcast Creator and Host, & Professional Coach

7 responses to “Humans Are Simply-Complex”

  1. mm Troy Rappold says:

    Andy: Nice summary of Nettle’s book. I hadn’t ever thought to analyze biblical individuals with today’s modern personality tests. Over the years I’ve taken Meyers-Briggs, Enneagram and a couple of others. Where would Moses fall? Isaiah? Paul? I think a book could be written about that. All these tests are good tools to us better understand ourselves and others. They all have their strengths and weakness but it is always worthwhile to try and better understand our own quirky personalities as well as others.

  2. Kayli Hillebrand says:

    Andy: I love that you brought biblical figures into this post and contemplating their personalities. I’m not sure your thoughts on the show, but I’ve found ‘The Chosen’ has been instrumental for me in bringing the reality of personhood of Jesus and other biblical characters to life. For me, it’s made my personal bible study so much more colorful.

    Have you found that the consideration of how personalities relate to the Lord impact how/what you preach from the pulpit?

    • mm Andy Hale says:

      Oh, that’s such a good question. It begins with recognizing my personality type and broadening my approach to preaching, acknowledging that my particular way of relating to the world is not the same as others.

      In turn, I try to balance the topic, content, and approach to a sermon to connect withing varying personality types.

  3. mm Roy Gruber says:

    Andy, I really enjoyed reading your post. I like the connections you made to previous readings, especially Agarwal. I also like that you encouraged us to see the people in the Bible as real people. You are right to say that they are often viewed on a spiritual pedestal, but they journeyed with God as we do today. Question: do you think there’s a personality type from the Big Five that describes the high-profile falls from ministry? That seemingly increased struggle wants me to understand it so that I can not only help myself but my staff as well.

    • mm Andy Hale says:

      That’s a brilliant question. A part of me says yes, while another says know. I think it is all contextual.

      I want to think that ego, not the Jungian version, plays a huge role in those that think they are too big to get in trouble for bad choices. However, I have interacted with more pastors who have fallen from grace because they desire to be seen or have done something wrong because the expectation of being perfect is too high.

  4. mm Eric Basye says:

    Good summary Andy. Do you agree with Nettle’s assessment that all personality types boil down to the big five? I have mixed thoughts on the matter.

    Also, that is a good consideration regarding the lives of the disciples and their personality types. I totally agree, we often portray them as very one-dimensional.

    • mm Andy Hale says:

      The five are undoubtedly easy to understand. And when you begin to see that there are so many variables with each of the five, along with all five together, it is fascinating to see how diverse personalities can be.

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