Preaching Through the Lens of the Enneagram

I’m a pastor in a small church north of Boston, MA. Our congregation is full of very different people… Diversity across age, race, IQs, education levels, income brackets… And yet, as worship leaders and pastors, we’re tasked with sharing the Good News of God’s redeeming love, each weekend, in a relevant, engaging way. 

How can we speak to a broad audience and consistently reach them ‘where they’re at’? 

Different pastors have different approaches. Some choose sweeping stereotypes to lump people into: either by age, by how long they’ve been a Christian, or married / single. This helps, but is pretty ineffective in getting beneath the surface for folks. Some choose specific people from their congregation and write certain sections of their sermon with that person in mind. This does a better job of digging into specifics and allowing sermon illustrations / applications to ‘have teeth.’ 

I’m proposing to use the lens of the Enneagram to better relate to our congregation’s unique fears, deepest desires, and key motivations. It’s been proven that everyone on earth more closely identifies with one of the Enneagram types, so using these “archetypes” has proven helpful in contextualizing the Word of God to reach people ‘where they’re at.’ 


The Enneagram is a 3 x 3 arrangement of nine personality types in three Centers. Three types in the Instinctive Center, three in the Feeling Center, and three in the Thinking Center, as shown below. Each Center consists of three personality types that have in common the strengths and struggles of that Center.

The inclusion of each type in its Center is not arbitrary. Each type results from a particular relationship with a cluster of issues that characterize that Center. Most simply, these issues revolve around a powerful, largely unconscious emotional response to the loss of contact with the core of the self. In the Instinctive Center, the emotion is Anger or Rage. In the Feeling Center, the emotion is Shame, and in the Thinking Center, it is Fear. Of course, all nine types contain all three of these emotions, but in each Center, the personalities of the types are particularly affected by that Center’s emotional theme. (source)


When you’re wanting to connect a point with your congregation, choose one type from each of the 3 Centers to speak to and you’ll be connecting with 100% of your congregation. Maybe for one point, you choose 8, 5 and 2. Maybe another is 9, 6, 3. As you progress through your sermon, you can address the specific fears, desires and motivations listed in the detailed chart below.

For example, imagine you’re wanting to pose a compelling point about the beauty of living with the Holy Spirit within us. Instead of shooting in the dark, saying, “The Holy Spirit does so many things for us… He can encourage us when we’re feeling discouraged, He can pray on our behalf to the Father, He can guide us when we’re unsure which way to go… If you’re a parent, the Holy Spirit can help you love your children better. If you’re married, He can give you intuition to love your spouse more creatively…” So on, so forth. 

It’s good. It’s true, after all. But is it resonating with your community at a soul level? Is it peeking behind their ego to reveal their deeper desires? 

Now, using this tool, let’s try again. 

“Imagine you’re having one of those days, when you’re feeling that ever-present shame brimming under the surface, and everything inside of you just wants to hide it and pretend everything is OK… Or it’s one of those days that you’re consumed with anxiety—it seems everywhere you turn just adds to the fear. You open Facebook or turn on the news, or you look at your bank account, or you’re dreading that upcoming doctor’s appointment. Or maybe you’re just feeling ‘over it’ and you just want to give up. It’s not worth it. You’re angry, even though you’d never admit it. You don’t know why but you want to punch something (or someone!)… The beautiful thing about the Holy Spirit is that He is with us through it all. He’s there with us in the shame, there with us in the midst of fear, and there with us when we’re angry. And in each of those circumstances He’s patiently extending to us a spirit of openness (instead of hiddenness), of trust (instead of fear), and of peace (instead of anger). We are fully known (and fully loved) by God. What a freeing truth!” 

I trust you recognize the difference here. The Enneagram is almost a cheat-sheet for better understanding the fears, desires and motivations of our congregations. As long as we don’t use this tool as a way to label people, or reduce their struggle to a number on a page, it will serve us well. 

I pray that God uses this tool in your life to bring greater clarity and connectivity to your preaching. 



The Rational, Idealistic Type: Principled, Purposeful, Self-Controlled, and Perfectionistic

  • Basic Fear: Of being corrupt/evil, defective
  • Basic Desire: To be good, to have integrity, to be balanced
  • Key Motivations: Want to be right, to strive higher and improve everything, to be consistent with their ideals, to justify themselves, to be beyond criticism so as not to be condemned by anyone.


The Caring, Interpersonal Type: Demonstrative, Generous, People-Pleasing, and Possessive

  • Basic Fear: Of being unwanted, unworthy of being loved
  • Basic Desire: To feel loved
  • Key Motivations: Want to be loved, to express their feelings for others, to be needed and appreciated, to get others to respond to them, to vindicate their claims about themselves.


The Success-Oriented, Pragmatic Type: Adaptive, Excelling, Driven, and Image-Conscious

  • Basic Fear: Of being worthless
  • Basic Desire: To feel valuable and worthwhile
  • Key Motivations: Want to be affirmed, to distinguish themselves from others, to have attention, to be admired, and to impress others.


The Sensitive, Withdrawn Type: Expressive, Dramatic, Self-Absorbed, and Temperamental

  • Basic Fear: That they have no identity or personal significance
  • Basic Desire: To find themselves and their significance (to create an identity)
  • Key Motivations: Want to express themselves and their individuality, to create and surround themselves with beauty, to maintain certain moods and feelings, to withdraw to protect their self-image, to take care of emotional needs before attending to anything else, to attract a "rescuer."


The Intense, Cerebral Type: Perceptive, Innovative, Secretive, and Isolated

  • Basic Fear: Being useless, helpless, or incapable
  • Basic Desire: To be capable and competent
  • Key Motivations: Want to possess knowledge, to understand the environment, to have everything figured out as a way of defending the self from threats from the environment.


The Committed, Security-Oriented Type: Engaging, Responsible, Anxious, and Suspicious

  • Basic Fear: Of being without support and guidance
  • Basic Desire: To have security and support
  • Key Motivations: Want to have security, to feel supported by others, to have certitude and reassurance, to test the attitudes of others toward them, to fight against anxiety and insecurity.


The Busy, Fun-Loving Type: Spontaneous, Versatile, Distractible, and Scattered

  • Basic Fear: Of being deprived and in pain
  • Basic Desire: To be satisfied and content—to have their needs fulfilled
  • Key Motivations: Want to maintain their freedom and happiness, to avoid missing out on worthwhile experiences, to keep themselves excited and occupied, to avoid and discharge pain.


The Powerful, Dominating Type: Self-Confident, Decisive, Willful, and Confrontational

  • Basic Fear: Of being harmed or controlled by others
  • Basic Desire: To protect themselves (to be in control of their own life and destiny)
  • Key Motivations: Want to be self-reliant, to prove their strength and resist weakness, to be important in their world, to dominate the environment, and to stay in control of their situation.


The Easygoing, Self-Effacing Type: Receptive, Reassuring, Agreeable, and Complacent

  • Basic Fear: Of loss and separation
  • Basic Desire: To have inner stability "peace of mind"
  • Key Motivations: Want to create harmony in their environment, to avoid conflicts and tension, to preserve things as they are, to resist whatever would upset or disturb them.

If you're interested in discovering what Enneagram type you are, or you'd like to dig deeper into this resource, we recommend this website: