How a Type 4 on the Enneagram experiences your church and how to connect them

Can you imagine Van Gogh, one of THE largest influences on Western Art, visiting your church this Sunday? One of his paintings sold recently for over 100 million dollars. His style and story have impacted artistic expression, home decor, and Hollywood film. It’s hard to imagine someone of his stature walking into your church lobby.

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But that’s not as far fetched as you think.

In addition to being the artistic icon he is now, you may not have known that…

  • Van Gogh was a pastor’s son

  • Van Gogh went to Bible College to become a pastor

  • Van Gogh served as a missionary

  • Van Gogh was also a Four and Fours are visiting your church right now.

How a Type Four sees their world

The world is inseparable from the unique way in which they see it.

"Real painters do not paint things as they are... they paint them as they themselves feel them to be."-Vincent Van Gogh

The way Van Gogh saw the world has changed the way we see it. His unique take on people, fields, scenes and himself, has altered how we look at things. Fours are introspective and think about their individuality more than any other number on the Enneagram. Their distinctions, values, opinions and ideologies are important to them because it makes them who they are. To appreciate and understand those things is to understand them.

Because of this, having assimilation environments that are “Four Friendly” means having opportunities for them to be known in a non-judgmental way. Discussion tables with hosts that know this and can guide discussion with the goal of knowing them rather than analyzing them is key. They see their take on things as a huge part of their contribution to a church. Their biggest fear? To be lost and unknown in the crowd.

Van Gogh paints a cottage a few years apart. Note the first one is dark and somber, the second is light and whimsical. This is a window into the life of a Four.

Van Gogh paints a cottage a few years apart. Note the first one is dark and somber, the second is light and whimsical. This is a window into the life of a Four.

Their world can be a tumultuous place

You’ve heard of the phrase “tortured artist”? At times, this can describe Fours but this next statement is very important: not all creative people are Fours. Far from it. The truth is, Fours have a higher percentage of creatives in their populace than any other number. Remember that just because you are a creative or gifted artist, that does not make you a Four. I have 4 very creative artist in my family (3 of them professional artist) but none of them are Fours.

That being said, the world of a Four is a world that can have exceptional highs and bitter lows. Van Gogh tried multiple times to pass his Theology Exams to become a pastor but failed each time. When he then chose to serve as a missionary to coal miners in Belgium, he chose to live with them on straw beds in poverty rather than in clergy housing. Those in charge of the ministry saw this as “undignified” and removed him in such a harsh way that he had to walk over 47 miles to Brussels where he eventually committed himself to an Asylum.

He is thought to have been bi-polar and his art may betray that. Though Fours do not have a corner on mental illness any more than another number, the roller coaster of their emotional landscape can be a challenge for themselves and those who love them.

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They are in search of the ideal

Van Gogh would paint the same scene over and over again in an effort to capture the magic of how he saw a subject. Do not be surprised when a Four shows up at your church if they have tried churches over and over again to find the magic of how they want to experience God and themselves as a follower of Jesus.

The perceived uniqueness of a Four feeds their search for the ideal, even ideal church. If not church, the ideal vision, theology, concept of spiritual formation, or ideal sense of belonging. Belonging and being understood is huge for a four. Taking the time to get to know and appreciate both them and their ideals is essential to connecting them to your spiritual family.

How Fours experience your church

Ready for this one? Fours see your church as a buffet. They are looking for the things that they like to use and digest the most, as well as to discover some others ideas that would help them grow as an individual. Another way of saying this can be inspired by Van Gogh himself: Fours see your church as a palette with many colors to choose from that will allow them to paint something new. They need a variety of small groups, ministry teams and even potential friends to explore before they commit.

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So how to you help connect with and converse with a Four without making them want to remove part of their ear? Here are the Dos and Don’ts.

Dos and Don’ts for for connecting a Type Four

Do: Let them explore something deeply

They have a hard time coloring between the lines and with staying to a strict deadline. But when they do commit to a project, they through themselves in fully. I can remember people in my church with an artistic Four type leaning that would stay up almost the entire night with some friends decorating our church for Christmas. When I came in the morning, words fail to describe the world they created for us to experience Jesus in.

They were really just letting us into what they already saw. That is a privilege and you need to give Fours the ability to go deep and long, not just wide or to “check a box”. Again, this applies to theology, art, tasks, experiences and relationships. Know what ministries and contexts in your church have this flexibility and passion and guide them towards it.

Don’t: Make them feel guilty for not finishing something

Passion ebbs and flows and so can the heart and attention of a pure Four. Allowing them to taste the buffet and not finish the meal is important here. Acknowledging their contribution to an endeavor, even though it may seem incomplete, is key. You will figure out how to leverage their contributions over time as well as how “not” to use them.

Fours are in the Shame Triad of the Enneagram and guilt along with judgement are particularly painful to them. They may avoid it, avoid church or a specific leader, or even God if it is used to lead them.

How do you lead and connect them? By remembering that they are not EGRs (Extra Grace Required). They are just GRs (Grace Required) like the rest of us. While we can getaway with brash criticism with some other types, you do not have that luxury with Fours without doing damage. Van Gogh’s ultimate suicide at age 37 is a cautionary tale not just to his own choices but also to those around him who struggled to love someone who suffered from mental illness as a Four.

What is the “Superpower” of a Four on a volunteer team?

Even though he had a wife and a new born son, Vincent’s brother Theo seemed to have trouble embracing a world without his older brother in it. Theo died at age 34.

Even though he had a wife and a new born son, Vincent’s brother Theo seemed to have trouble embracing a world without his older brother in it. Theo died at age 34.

Ideas. They have them. These ideas form ideals that become guiding lights or “values” that a ministry can build on. These are common contribution of a four.

Their creativity can express itself in art. It can also express itself in creative solutions to long standing problems or even issues with people that your ministry has faced. Give them a go at it.

They are also great endorsers of authors and teachers that can become important resources to develop a ministry or a team. Wade through their bibliographies.

David Sotelo is a young adult in the photo in my introduction to this series. He is a Four. He has recommended books and that are rocking my world right now. Let Fours do that to you. They will love it and you will benefit.

Van Gogh’s life, though tragic was high impact. When he passed away, his brother Theo passed away shortly after. His older brother was a big part of his world. Fours, though unique in their perspectives and sometimes moody, offer a whole new world to the tribe that includes them. So include them. You’ll be glad you did.

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  • Does your assimilation strategy (and church culture for that matter) have the flexibility for someone to not finish something and yet still have opportunities to serve and be valued?

  • Does your church have small groups that could be categorized as “special interest” groups where people who have a passion for a niche area of theology, art, or ways of looking at things (i.e. the Enneagram) can be explored more deeply?

  • Tell a story of someone you suspect is a four that found a meaningful ministry role at your church. Tell a story of a Four that was a challenge to assimilate. What are the “whys and hows” behind each story?

  • It there a place at your church where a Four could share their perspective and ideas without having to be the one to implement them? Where are good brain storming and evaluation opportunities that Fours could share their unique take on things and benefit the development of ministry at your church?

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