The Enneagram is a framework that specifically aims to help us understand why people do what they do and how they positively impact those around them. The framework is represented by a nine-pointed figure, wherein each point is an Enneatype. These types are numbered 1-9, each with a corresponding title and profile for each. Each is also connected to two other types by intersecting lines that represent movement toward integration (growth) and disintegration (stress). Within each Enneatype, there are additional concepts like subtypes, wings, and stances that allow for even deeper analysis.
Many Christians, for good reason, are hesitant when it comes to the Enneagram. As it has soared in popularity during the last decade, more and more life coaches, teachers, and pastors have created books, plans, sermons, and devotionals that interpret the Enneagram through specific lenses. However good or bad its application might be, it is important to know that the Enneagram does not cater to any one practice or perspective. It is simply a template to be used. Another popular misconception is that the Enneagram is just a personality test—a one-time assessment of the here and now. In actuality, the Enneagram can be continually valuable to its user across varying circumstances.
Several authors and leaders in church history demonstrate how Christians can take advantage of the knowledge the world has to offer when it is viewed through a biblical lens. Gordon’s use of the Clifton StrengthsFinder test is a good example. Incoming students are required to take StrengthsFinder, attend an information session, and then discuss results with members of the campus community. The goal is to make students more aware of their strengths so that they might become more personally engaged in their education, jobs, and community. Similarly, the Enneagram highlights strengths and weaknesses so that the user can better understand why he/she may fail where others thrive.
Students’ CliftonStrengths are accessible on Gordon 360 personal profiles as a resource for understanding the strengths of others. Similarly, the Enneagram functions as a tool for empathy. It encourages us to learn about our peers as much as it encourages us to learn about ourselves. An example of this is my experience with the Four Enneatype (AKA the Individualist). Fours tend to be very emotional, insecure, and withdrawn, reflecting on and embracing strong emotions. I, on the other hand, am a Three (AKA the Achiever). Threes are personable, competent, and productive, but they struggle to acknowledge their emotions. I, as a result, struggle to understand how Fours think. However, God decided to place Fours in integral positions throughout my life (my sister, my best friend, and my roommate to name a few). I began to refer to the Enneagram to better understand and respond to them in constructive ways. I learned to listen instead of immediately reacting. These relationships have in turn cultivated my sense of compassion, humility, and patience.
The Enneagram is also highly valuable in the way it challenges us on an individual level. While it acknowledges our strengths, it is foundationally rooted in an understanding of our weaknesses. We often want to live in denial of those weaknesses, but the Enneagram encourages us to face them, learn about them, and grow. Scripture similarly encourages us to reflect on these things. As Psalm 139:23-24 says, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” We were without direction, and it is Christ who now shows us the way. When we are left to our own thoughts and interpretations, we can become hopelessly lost. But with our identities firmly rooted in Christ, we can be freed from the jaws of anxiety and morbid introspection.
The Enneagram is not for everyone, but for many, it can be a tool that helps them understand themselves and those around them in overwhelmingly positive ways. Anything can be misused, and the Enneagram is not exempt from this. It is important that we guard our hearts, even when using tools, since they can always become idols or distractions. But there is value in constructive conversation and critical thinking, and the Enneagram helps foster those opportunities. In so doing, it has the potential to benefit both the individual believer and their community.