How Overlays can Affect Church Community: 2021 Wholehearted Enneagram Summit Conversation with Amy Wicks

Blog Post Graphic: How Overlays Can Affect Church Community

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Today I’m going to take you back in the past a little bit and share with you one of my conversations from last year’s Wholehearted Enneagram Summit, hosted by Amy Wicks, and this was a bonus conversation that we had recorded somewhat off the cuff after my actual talk. In this conversation, we talk about overlays and how we can be impacted by them in our church communities.

When our church community starts to grab onto some of those untrue stories, however they got there, however they got to be a part of that community, we can create unrealistic expectations of how people should relate to each other inside our church; should show up in their personalities or put certain parts of their personality away; or somehow be put into boxes based on attributes like age, gender, fill-in-the-blank.

It’s important to know that just like each individual is going to have a lot of nuance and not be able to be painted with a broad brush, same with our church communities: not every church is going to be the same or hold the same expectations or treat its members the same. The things that Amy and I talk about are things to be on the lookout for, but again, there is so much room for nuance in how and what you might experience in your church.

We also get into some tips for how to cultivate an inclusive community at your church, a kind of community that recognizes and make space for some of those potentially less common, or maybe sometimes frowned-upon, but completely appropriate, personality attributes of all of its members, because helping people feel safe to be themselves, even if it’s out of a community’s comfort zone, is very important when it comes to church.

So I hope you enjoy this conversation I had with Amy!

What Overlays Are

For people who might be here who may not know what an overlay is, it is pressures, expectations, or norms that have been laid on us and can affect how we show up in the world, or how we feel like it’s okay to show up in the world. For example, if you came from a household that had, let’s say, a type eight parent, then the children learned how to stand up for themselves and they learned some of these behaviors.

Evangelical Christian Overlays

The way that we grew up in a Christian culture, for Amy and I, is probably going to be your American evangelical Christian culture; your local church and the resources and teachings that come with that; and the ways that you speak, the language that you’ve learned, the behaviors that are pronounced more often or expected of you that may or may not be healthy in the moment. There’s a certain way that you might be expected to be, and when we talk about Christian overlays, sometimes you are expected to be a certain way or your relationship with God might be questioned! There’s also this moral component, spiritual component to a Christian overlay that can be really heavy. It’s a mantle that we carry: I’m expected to be this way or people might not view me on the same spiritual level.

The Typical Two/Eight Dilemma

There are some overlays that kind of jump out at us, some stereotypical expectations of how to be, and also some stereotypical suppressing of what you’re allowed to be. The two big ones that we often see are that Christians, especially female Christians, are expected to be like Type Twos; and on the other hand, if you happen to be a type Eight, you are often told to repress that. I think they are really good examples to start with,

There is this expectation, if you are a woman, you put on a lot of the behaviors that a type two would naturally gravitate towards, and this is harmful for every type, but I think it’s especially harmful for a type two, because they are being told to continue patterns that aren’t healthy to be stuck in. It’s almost like they are being pushed back and buckled in by the people around them, kept from growing and having boundaries. It is a difficult place to be, because when a type two is ready to open up to boundaries, to being healthfully assertive, and to intentionally living in each situation, they are being told that what they were when they were unhealthy was where they should have stayed! That is really harmful for a two.

For the other people, other women who are different types, they can begin to feel that they are supposed to be more like the type two; they put off some of their unique gifting and put themselves into a box that they wouldn’t even naturally be in, and try to stay there to help the church as a whole feel comfortable with who they are.

Nobody is served by expecting a certain facet of Jesus from all women all the time.

And then there is the expectation to keep out the type eight behaviors from women, so a type eight often feels that they are not allowed to be themselves; they are squashed. A type eight might feel like they have to put on a different persona to be accepted. They are too much: too grating, too intimidating. They show up with power when others tell them they should show up with meekness (because that would make them feel more comfortable.)

Let’s get it clear: We can find each personality type in the character of God and in the man Jesus who walked the earth and left an example for us. All of the types are well-represented! We see you, Twos; we see you, Eight; you have a seat at the table, and you have a place in the body of Christ that needs your fullness and redeemed self.

How Each Type May Struggle with Church

  • Type One, you may latch onto the “holiness” idea, trying to be your own Savior, and your good behavior and outward actions could be applauded by the church, which feeds into this unhealthy/autopilot tendency and leaves you stuck in constantly striving to “be good enough.”
  • Type Two, you may get drawn in to helping and serving others and getting your identity from that, and the church will likely encourage that tendency to put aside your own needs to help others, leading you to neglect your own needs and burnout.
  • Type Three, you may get caught in using your ability to read others’ expectations to become whoever the church wants you to be, or be trapped in the idea that there is a way to be a successful Christian by doing and being all that the church says you should, neglecting any sort of rest.
  • Type Four, you may feel that your freedom to experience and express a whole range of emotions is tamped down by the church because of the idea of “good vibes only” or only having a positive outlook, leaving you feeling that you must hide those “negative” emotions in order to be a “good Christian.”
  • Type Five, you may be overwhelmed by what you feel is expected at church as far as reaching out to others and giving a lot of energy, or feel left out by others’ descriptions of “experiential” faith when your faith is based more on logic, knowledge, and questions.
  • Type Six, your automatic response of needing to be prepared and feeling anxious may be labeled as a “lack of faith” by the church, leaving you struggling with your natural “wiring.”
  • Type Seven, you may find that your positivity and joy is easily welcomed by the church, but it may encourage your autopilot tendency to constantly reframe everything to be positive and not work through difficulties or challenges you are facing.
  • Type Eight, you may feel caged in or that your natural strength and boldness are “squashed” by the church, especially as a woman, because so many churches expect women to be meek.
  • Type Nine, you may find your natural tendency to be “small” and quiet is encouraged by the church, keeping you stuck in that autopilot tendency to withdraw when your voice is so needed!

How the Church Can Welcome and Help Each Type

  • Type Ones: Remind them that nobody can attain perfection on their own, and that any mistakes they make are covered by the blood of Jesus.
  • Type Twos: Support them in developing and maintaining healthy boundaries, and ensure that they are meeting their own needs in the midst of helping the church.
  • Type Threes: Remind them how important rest is, and provide opportunities for them to get it.
  • Type Fours: Allow them to experience and express the whole range of their emotions, remembering that the Bible has plenty of examples of honestly sharing a wide variety of feelings.
  • Type Fives: Give them the freedom to withdraw when needed, and welcome their unique takes on faith mixed with logic/knowledge (including what may appear to be questioning of their faith).
  • Type Sixes: Remember that their anxiety/preparedness is not a lack of faith, and appreciate that sixes can show us how to live in uncertainty and have faith anyway
  • Type Sevens: Take time to really check in with them and ask them how they are. Encourage them to not detract from or reframe difficulties, but to simply sit and “be” in whatever may be happening.
  • Type Eights: Welcome their power and strength and help them to use their natural boldness in healthy ways
  • Type Nines: Encourage and empower them to use their voice and their beautiful ability to see differing sides of an issue


Every type is so needed, but no one type should be “the blueprint”, because when a type or a few types become the blueprint, then we’re worried more about the outer behavior than how somebody’s heart is doing. And that’s where the danger of Christian overlays is, and where we should be evaluating and re-evaluating how we are doing, how everyone feels, and if everybody is free to be themselves. Obviously, it’s hard to change a whole community, and there are a lot of very embedded things that we have been talking about here that are deeply embedded, in the Christian community. But you can still be thinking about how you can either contribute to those things or lovingly challenge the community culture that you’re a part of. Even if it does make people uncomfortable, what are some ways that God might be asking you to get out of your overlay box? This can be done with humility and honesty and doesn’t have to be vengeful or belligerent.

I think your heart, Kim, and my heart, is to have women have the permission to celebrate how the Lord made them and to work on not just self-awareness, but a healthy God-awareness piece so that they can then bring that healthy element to the body of Christ. Just by being confident in who the Lord made you, would be enough to create a ripple effect that you may not even know.

We all are part of the body of Christ, and we all bring unique gifts. If we reinforce some and repress the others, we are limiting our ability to be a full community and to be fully who God might want us to be as that community engages with the world.

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