Enneagram 8 (and in youth ministry)

Enneagram 8’s are also known as THE CHALLENGER. THE CONFRONTER.

I am OBSESSED with personality tests, as I’ve always felt misunderstood and grasping for anything that can help me understand myself and how to communicate with other people. And especially as an 8, understanding my Enneagram type has been crucial to understanding who I am in ministry.

Originally, I tested as a 3 — THE ACHIEVER. This made sense to me — I am goals-oriented, strategic, and competitive. I tend to protect my turf and do everything I can to make it great. After I tested as a three, I thought “cool” … and moved on with my life.

Six months later, I was meeting with a good friend of mine who was preparing to teach her first class on the Enneagram at our church. I was complaining to her about a situation at church — I told her about how I wished I were trusted more with my department, and how I felt like I was always being questioned on my abilities, while also being commended on my success. I lamented how frustrating living in that tension was. That’s when she said, “You’re an 8.” I was confused, but we talked about it, and now I can say without a doubt that I am an 8.

Here is how my wiring as an 8 impacts my ministry:


When my friend told me that I was probably an 8, she said that 8 was the most misunderstood type as a woman. 8-men are celebrated as big CEOs and leaders, while women are called the B-word (and I don’t just mean “bossy” or “bulldozey:”). While I can relate to being bossy at times, what I’ve come to understand is that our need for control is in direct relationship to protecting our pack. 8’s are extremely social justice-oriented, and will do anything to protect others.

In ministry, we have to be careful: When I was younger, I would find myself getting intense in meetings because I was so set on protecting my ministry area. But as I grew older, I realized that my fight wasn’t against other ministry areas. 8’s have to figure out who their fight is against, and not give into the desire to make things intense just because WE can handle it.


Being trusted by you is what grows my relationship with you, as well as my desire to add you to the cub of bears I fight for and protect. Because 8s can stink at vulnerability, often I will test a person with something personal or confidential, to watch how they handle it. If they prove my trust, I add them to my pack.

Because of that, 8’s HATE being micro-managed. Our two big triggers are when we feel like someone doesn’t trust us, or when someone is trying to control us. They tend to fall hand-in-hand. When someone tells me to just do something, I feel like my eyes roll back into my head. It makes me hard to supervise, probably; but you know, 8’s are high-capacity to begin with so whatever? (just kidding, I’m working on this; promise)


I say exactly what I mean — UNLESS I am unhealthy. Unhealthy 8’s tend to over-think things, similarly to a 5. If I look confused or babble, or don’t want to be around people, then I’m not having a good day. Otherwise, I say exactly what I mean. That might sound harsh, but it also plays out in really incredible ways — when I have a student who is hurting, I’m able to be direct with them about how much God loves them, and THEY BELIEVE IT. As a student pastor, I believe that being an 8 has prepared me for this precisely, as 8’s are equal parts grace and discipline. We tell a student that they messed up, then we lean into our 2 and cry it out with them and offer them abundant amounts of grace. And we move on — 8s typically don’t hold grudges (unless you’ve betrayed me–our biggest fear).

I HAVE had to learn that not everyone needs to hear what’s on my mind all the time; and that’s been tough. My husband is a 9-wing. It can be hard for a Peacemaker to be married to the Challenger, as he is as non-confrontational as I am confrontational. I’ve learned that the wisdom “you catch more flies with honey, not vinegar” is something I need to really work on.


I mentioned that 8’s can stink at vulnerability, but you might not guess that from the way that I live my life. As a Christian, there is a certain amount of vulnerability that I’ve had to adapt. I do share my story rather openly with people — but afterwards, it feels like I’ve exposed myself butt-naked in front of people.

HOWEVER — because of the woo-factor many 8’s possess that make them such dynamic leaders, I’ve learned that my story is my most valuable possession. Telling my story brings people into intimate relationships with Christ…which is why I don’t mind picking up the pieces. And I’m intentional about surrounding myself with 2’s who can cater to my most sensitive and vulnerable pieces of me, to remind me that my tenderness is not a weakness, but my strength.

Many 8’s had a hard childhood, where they had to step into a leadership role and fend for themselves and/or others. I definitely fit into that mold. And I think that’s why it’s so important to remember that the intenseness that comes with 8’s is not out of being mean, but wanting to restore order to the world and wanting to protect the least-of-these.


Usually, from my experience, 8s are LEADERS, NOT doers. This is AWESOME in church ministry, because that means that I create an army of volunteers to live out the ministry. But when I’m most healthy, I find incredible joy out of helping others. I love hosting parties where I make 5 different kinds of cheese trays, I love hand-making gifts for people, and I love helping others with their problems. I also love when I’m ASKED to help with something important. At least from my experience, 8’s don’t want to stay within the walls of their own department — they want to be asked by others to help them with problems/events/leadership in their department, too.

Working with an 8…

The most common thing someone asks me after learning I’m an 8 is something like, “My boss is an 8, can you give me some advice?” Here is what I usually tell them:

  • Shoot it straight with them. Don’t talk behind their backs, don’t beat around the bush. 8’s see both of those things as signs of weakness, and will have zero respect for you. 8’s don’t LOVE conflict, but they DO see it as necessary. When I have a conflict with someone, and get out on the other side with them, I feel close to them. Sometimes I’ll create conflict with my husband just to feel close.
  • Work through 8s and not around them. Don’t talk to their supervisor or their employee or their spouse — talk straight to them.
  • Don’t be upset if they don’t want to be besties with you. A trait of 8s is that they have a limited amount of social energy. I have a strong 7 wing, so I don’t feel that as much… however. I have this weird thing in my brain that tells me I can’t be friends with people I work with or supervise. So if your 8 boss doesn’t want to discuss warm and fuzzies, that’s okay.
  • We have no clue how intense we are. I am a pretty self-aware person in most areas of my life — I know all my flaws. But I have no clue when someone thinks I don’t like them or is intimidated by me.
  • If we are freaking out, figure out why. Unlike 1s or 3s, 8s are driven by a cause, not self. If an 8 is flipping tables, figure out why! For me, any kind of injustice sets me off — and injustice doesn’t always make sense to others. Serving in student ministries, any time a decision is made that could have an adverse reaction on our students, the way I approach talking about it is direct and fierce. I have to learn how to tell people why I’m upset, but sometimes others have to help me do that work. Bonus: Join us in our cause, if you can.
  • Listen to our coaching. I like to joke that I should launch a career where I’m a life boss. Read carefully: not a life coach — a life boss. That’s because I know exactly who people are and what they need to do. And I have the tools to inspire them to be their best selves! If you’re lucky enough to be supervised by us, lean into that coaching — we only spend time pouring into people we believe in.
  • Show your work. 8s are not the type to micromanage, unless we are testing you for trust. I just kind of expect people to do their jobs, and I get frustrated when they don’t. Use extra effort to show us that you’re doing what you said you’re going to do, and use that CC function.
  • Use specifics when commending us. We hate fluffy language or empty compliments. I would rather someone personally tell me something specific that I’m doing that makes a difference, than they announce to the world that I’m great and the end.
  • Balance us out. A healthy 8 will appreciate people who are different from her, as long as they show up as their true selves. I am thankful to serve with a team of people who balance me out and calm me down in a way that feels supportive of who I am at my core.
Heather Lea Kenison
Heather Lea Kenison

Heather serves as the Director of Student Ministries at St. Luke’s UMC in Indianapolis, where she lives with her husband and two cat children. Heather is the Founder of Women in Youth Ministry and is passionate about women finding community so that their voices will be heard. Heather is a devout follower of Jesus, the St. Louis Cardinals, and Youtube beauty gurus. Follow her cats and Enneagram 8 things on her social media @heatherlea17

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