What Leaders Must Know About Temperaments

The direction Ellen G. White gives to pastors in Gospel Workers, page 338, can also be applied to leaders in other phases of church ministry: “The pastor meets with an endless variety of temperaments; and it is his duty to become acquainted with the members of the families that listen to his teachings, in order to determine what means will best influence them in the right direction.”

Considering the Sabbath School to be the church family at study, it is easy to apply the following counsel to Sabbath School leaders: “Marked diversities of disposition and character frequently exist in the same family [Sabbath School], for it is in the order of God that persons of varied temperament should associate together. When this is the case, each member of the household [Sabbath School] should sacredly regard the feel­ings and respect the right of the others . . . Harmony may be secured, and the blending of the varied temperaments may be a benefit to each” (Ellen G. White, Child Guidance, p. 205).

Define the Terms 

Because the words temperament, character, and personality are often used interchangeably, let’s define our terms:

Temperament from the Latin temperare, meaning “to mingle”—23 chromosomes from mom blended with 23 chromosomes from dad produce you. According to the Random House Dictionary, temperament is “the combination of inborn traits, the unique constitution of an individual that affects the manner of thinking, feeling, and acting.”

Character is taken directly from the Latin and refers to an instrument for branding. The basic temperament is modified (branded) by personal experiences, training, education, principles, motivations, basic attitudes, beliefs, and the influence of supernatural powers. While we cannot choose our inborn traits, we have almost limitless choices as to what we will do with the temperament package.

Personality is derived from the Latin persona, meaning a mask worn by an actor. Personality can be used to mask undesirable but cherished traits, to erect a pleasant facade, to hide an unpleasant or weak character.

So we can see that temperament is the only one of the three attributes that God puts into each person’s hereditary package.

Listen and Observe 

Of course the first task of all Sabbath School leaders is to become aware of their own strengths and weaknesses and how these impact the relationships with those on their ministry team as well as those the entire team serves. 

As principal or coordinator of the school staff, the superintendent is responsible for ensuring that those on the team understand and apply this information. So let’s do a brief review of the four temperament types that I hope will pique your interest enough to lead you to deeper study.

Long before the Greek philosopher, Hippocrates, mistakenly labeled the temperaments after body fluids, the inspired writer of Proverbs described four types of people in Proverbs 30:11-14. I have developed a temperament study based on music and will apply musical interpretation terms to each type for this study on temperaments:

Verse 11 - doloroso (sad, mournful)
Verse 12 - secco (dry) 
Verse 13 - animato (animated) 
Verse 14 - grandioso (grand) 

Next, what visual clues about these four types can you see in the art of Matthew Moore, a freelance artist in North Highlands, Califomia?

The value of the music illustration is that people learn to continue to think of a person as part of the musical composi­tion of their life even when confused with the weaknesses of that person.


So how could the temperaments play out in Sabbath School on Sabbath morning? Of course, the negatives would be seen and heard only because the persons had not submitted themselves to the power of the Holy Spirit.

Animato: These good storytellers make friends easily but may waste time talking and exaggerating. They may be easily angered but apologize quickly.

Grandioso: These goal-oriented people seek practical solutions and exude confidence. However, they can be rude and tactless. When their quick temper is ignited, they do not apologize quickly and tend to hold grudges.

Doloroso: These creative and compassionate Sabbath School members are schedule oriented and self-sacrificing. They can also be critical and suspicious and hear selectively, being unforgiving and sulking over disagreements.

Secco: These agreeable good listeners are easygoing. And although they are excellent at mediating problems, they have a tendency to avoid responsibility and to judge other people.

Even though most people reflect the tendencies of two temperaments, this short list of the many traits of each underscores that there is not a perfect single temperament or combination.

Useful temperament analysis tools that I have found include the materials prepared by Robert J. Cruise and W. Peter Blitchington, which are available through the Andrews University Press, 1-800-467-6369.

Current pricing: Understanding Your Temperament, the guidebook, $3.99; test booklet, $1.25; and four reusable scoring templates, $3.99. Use these tools to determine what percentage of all four temperaments you possess.

The Statistics 

Len McMillan, Ph.D., is director of' family life education at the church-owned Pacific Health Education Center in Bakersfield, California. He and his wife scored the temperament inventories of more than 9,000 people in the United States, Canada, and South Africa. From that survey (reported in the August 1997 issue of Sabbath School Leadership), they concluded that the Adventist Church tends to attract or retain particular temperament blends.

Members with the outgoing but dominating grandioso tendencies and the perfectionistic yet creative doloroso temperaments dominated the survey. The easygoing secco types, having a quiet will of iron, make a less spectacular showing. The charismatic but disorganized animato types took last place.

One Analysis. The McMillans concluded that animatos, like the apostle Peter, are often the first to respond to evangelistic efforts. Perhaps, however, they incur the wrath of grandioso and doloroso members who despair of their chattiness during lesson study and their disorganization during times of sowing and reaping. So, as you can see, an understanding of temperaments is essential throughout the church family, from superintendents to teachers, to members in the pews and classrooms.

To win and hold minority temperament types, David Farmer’s book, Power Witnessing: How to Witness to Different Personalities, may provide useful insights and direction.

And, of course, the classic studies on this subject are works by Ellen G. White: the two-volume Mind, Character, and Personality and the nine-volume Testimonies for the Church.

© 2014 General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists