Personality Shadow

Personality and Student Ministry

Every church and every student ministry has its own personality. Some are known for their friendly disposition while others are known for their generosity and big heart towards missions. Some are community-minded while others appear more separated. In large ministries, even grades can have a distinct personality. I once had an extraordinarily large eighth-grade boys group and their personality as a grade in our ministry was overwhelmingly that group of “extrovert jocks”. There were always new prospects showing up on Wednesday night because these guys were outgoing with regular opportunities to invite team-mates and school friends. They were the seniors of the middle school and therefore wielded considerable leverage for outreach.

Your Personality’s Impact

What type of personality does your group have? What type of personality do you want to have? If you stick around long enough, your ministry can become more like you. Is that good or bad? Your personality will essentially rub off on the students, the leadership and parents. They become comfortable with how you manage the ministry and how you approach situations. In a productive and healthy ministry, their confidence in you goes up as does their trust in your decisions. Remember that you are modeling the ministry to students that you want your volunteers to imitate.

Personality Types

Have you ever wondered what personality types are most vulnerable to burn-out, firing or failure in Student Ministry? Which personality type tends to register more ministry success and health? Taken from Gary Smalley and John Trent’s personality type inventory, the four animal types (Golden Retriever, Otter, Beaver, and Lion) help point to an understanding of what personality types appear to enjoy longer ministry tenure.

Personalities Most Likely to Burnout

According to Ken Kageler’s study, the breakdown of personality types among those youth ministers who were fired or burned-out rank as follows:

32% are Otters
30% are Golden Retrievers
25% are Lions
13% are Beavers

In our own SME study of student ministers with exceptional tenure (7 years in the same church), we found the highest-ranking personality type was the Golden Retriever, which earned 43.5 percent.

Dominant Personalities of Youth Pastors

According to Kageler’s study, the dominant personality type among youth ministers in the United States is the Otter at 32 percent, followed by the Golden Retriever at 30 percent.

Additionally, Kageler found that the personality type leading in numerical attendance growth among middle school youth belongs to Lions at 81 percent followed by Beavers at 74 percent, while high school youth returned a 69 percent for Lions and 59 percent for Otters.

The Different Types

Golden Retriever

Golden Retriever types are loyal, relational, calm, easy-going, dependable, quiet, objective, diplomatic, and humorous. It is not surprising that these personality traits would produce a youth minister with a propensity towards exceptional tenure. There is an 8.7 percent difference between the frontrunner, Golden Retriever, and the second place personality type, which is the Lion.


The Lion likes authority, takes charge, displays great confidence, enjoys leading, and is very determined. Since there is a significant difference between these two personality types, one might conclude good news for both. The positive reality is that both types have a good record in position tenure. While all personalities have success at longevity, the Golden Retrievers and Lions can take comfort in the solid longevity track record among their diverse personality types.

Our study ranked the Beaver the lowest for longevity and tenure. At 17.4 percent, the Beaver falls 26.1 percentage points below the dominant Golden Retriever. The results might persuade a search team who places a high priority on longevity to seek a Golden Retriever or Lion for a youth minister.

Otter and Beaver

On the other hand, Beavers and Otters might take note of their standing in order to be more deliberate in achieving skills or practices that may extend tenure. No matter your personality, you have the opportunity to impact many lives. You can enjoy a healthy productive ministry as God calls you and leads you to shepherd students. Remember, your ministry, over time and to a great extent, will become “like” you. So minister with excellence and enjoy what God will build through your efforts.

“Be ye, therefore, imitators of God, as beloved children;and walk in love, even as Christ also loved you, and gave himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for an odor of a sweet smell. Ephesians 5:1-2

“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.32 Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, 33 just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved. Be imitators of me as I am of Christ.” I Corinthians 10:31-11:1