In his book The Sacred Enneagram, Chris Heuertz explains it this way:

Their quietly competitive nature is rooted in their inner drive to prove to themselves that they are valuable. This inner drive is perpetuated by the Basic Fear of the Three, that somehow they are hopelessly worthless and characteristically base.

Ian Cron and Suzanne Stabile frame it this way in The Road Back to You:

Once in a blue moon when Threes slow down long enough to reflect on their lives, they might feel like they’re a fraud. I wear a thousand masks, but which is the authentic me? When this flash of insight comes to them it surfaces a Three’s worst fear: What if there’s no one behind the image? What if I’m no more than an empty suit?

The Basic Need for Threes is success, whatever that looks like to us. You would think that would make failure the corresponding Fear of the Three. And while we Threes try to avoid *public* failure at all costs, I’m not really that afraid of failure. If I try something and it doesn’t work, then I try something else. Threes are adaptable like that.

The problem with failure, though, is that it’s so closely tied to our own sense of self-worth. We avoid failure because we fear being viewed as not valuable, worthless, useless, insignificant. If I’m going to bust my tail working, performing, achieving, sacrificing, doing…I want to know that it will all be worth it in the end.

What if I’m no more than an empty suit?


THE SEARCH FOR SIGNIFICANCE

Again, I can’t speak for all Threes, I can only share my own experience. But I think I can say this with confidence: Being a Three pastor is so hard!

You would think that pastoring would be great for Threes. We get to be up in front leading. Our job is very performative. We get the praise and respect of a lot of people. We get to change masks constantly and almost no one knows. (I’ll get to the mask-wearing bit in a later post.)

While all those things are true, it can also be incredibly frustrating work. There is no end to ministry. I can never say that I’m done or that I’ve accomplished everything I want to. There is often very little guidance and few guidelines. And worst of all, there is no good, clear measure of success for a pastor.

Is success defined by attendance numbers? Baptisms? Giving? What happens when the numbers begin to drop? Even if it’s not our fault, we can’t help but take these things personally – because our identity is so closely tied to what we do.

And to make matters worse, the 21st Century American culture doesn’t value the leadership of pastors (especially youth pastors!) like we used to. Church is optional, even for most Christians. The job of pastoring is getting harder and harder with less and less payoff. That’s a terrible way of viewing the work, but it’s how Threes, especially, see the world.

So as a minister, I’ve found that I can’t stake my sense of significance solely within the framework of traditional church. If I want to make an impact, I have to be involved in other aspects of community life. That’s why you won’t find me in the office as much as you used to. I get the feeling that I’m not the only minister who feels this way.

MORE THAN USELESS

Where have I been searching for significance?

I’ve been substitute teaching at the high school and junior high in town. I’ve been getting involved with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes at both schools. I hold leadership positions in both the Mitchell Area Ministerial Association and the Lawrence County Youth Network. There is a Teen Pregnancy Prevention Coalition that has started up recently that I’m involved with. I’m getting my oldest son involved in Scouts and Soccer programs.

I write blog posts.

As I type all this out I realize that significance is another one of those intangibles. That’s the paradox of the Three. We want to feel significant so badly that we exchange significance for busyness in order to feel like we’re somehow gaining significance.

The “wounding message” Threes received in childhood is that we are loved and valued for what we do. Threes don’t crave success. We crave the feelings love and significance that comes from it. This sets us on an endless cycle to do more in order to feel more valuable. Believe it or not, Threes really do have a hard time accepting that we are loved no matter what we do. We all need to have a moment of realization that we have intrinsic worth and value whether we “succeed” or not.

It took me a long time to come to grips with this. And still most days I have a hard time remembering it. And this is why one of the best things that can happen to a Three is to experience that which we strive so hard to avoid: public failure. For many Threes, myself included, the only thing that will finally and fully convince us of our own value is failing publicly in a big way – and still receiving love and acceptance from those closest to us.

When I fail and think What if I’m no more than an empty suit? God is there to remind me that I am his beloved child. That’s why this song from Relient K has been so helpful to me over the years.

If you are a Three, what has been your experience with finding significance? Do you struggle with earning love and worth? Remember that you are God’s beloved, not because of anything you’ve done but because of who God is.

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