For people who have known me for any length of time, it’s probably pretty obvious that I’m an introvert. (An expressed introvert, according to Myers-Briggs testing. Ironic, huh?) I enjoy solitude, am reserved in group interaction, and am quite singular in thought processing. I’m also a Christian. For a while now I’ve wondered about my place in ministry – it’s always seemed like the only options for introverts are child care, food service, setting up/tearing down chairs, making coffee, and being a silent part of the body count. There’s nothing wrong with those options, necessarily, but can there be more?
In his book Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture, Adam McHugh examines just this question.
The Short Summary: An insider’s look at life as an introvert in ministry. Written by a pastor who struggled with extrovert expectations for a long time, Introverts looks at historical perspectives on introverted traits, breaks down ways in which introverts interact in community, highlights positive examples of introverted Christian ministry, and suggests ways of making peace with our extroverted counterparts.
The Long Version:
Historically, introverted traits have been respected (even idealized) by the Church: chiefly, contemplation of ideas, preference for solitude, the ability to concentrate for long stretches of time, and having the gift of listening. Reading the Gospels, these are traits easily identifiable in Jesus himself. Wonderful traits, but not ones that pull in large numbers of converts. And so, over time, the evangelical movement turned from the thought-based traits of introversion to the speech- and people-based traits of extroversion. I can understand that, but is there a reason why the gifts of each can’t work together?
One of the keywords of Christianity these days is Community, also called Doing Life Together and Sharing the Journey. Ideally, this would bring personalities together, but more often than not brings challenges and highlights differences. For extroverts, community is a social outlet in Christian context. For introverts, it’s a crowd of extroverted brothers and sisters in Christ to tolerate in short spurts. Where extroverts can jump right in and get involved in service opportunities, introverts tend to start on the fringe, working our way in slowly, stepping back occasionally to regroup before going deeper into social circles. That makes committing to long-term ministry difficult. Difficult, but not impossible.
Turns out there are places for us reserved folks who don’t thrive in crowds and who
die on the inside cringe at the thought of door-to-door witnessing. With our processing skills, introverts can make excellent teachers, either alone or as part of a team. Others have a heart for one-on-one counselling or mentoring. Some find fulfillment in administration and planning. Some introverts even find their place leading congregations as head pastors. The options are as varied as the church body. Reading about the variety got me thinking more creatively. I now see idea development, copy writing, and small group leadership as possibilities for service. If those don’t fit, there’s I can always work on my coffee-making skills. Anyone looking for a ghost-barista to serve during social hour?
There are skills to be honed and gifts to be found, if only we look for them.
When it comes to working with extroverts (who tend to dominate most church ministries), the main idea is communication. Generally, extroverts speak where introverts think – that’s not the question. The question is how to cross the boundary and avoid all manner of stress and drama. To introverts: talk to the extroverts. Let them know what you’re thinking. Evidently our silence makes them nervous. Explain (or try to explain) the way you work through ideas and get to doing things. To extroverts: try listening sometimes. We have ideas, too – just give us some word-space to transfer our thoughts to our mouths. Then you can talk it over.
My Thoughts: This is a book I plan on sharing with a lot of people. I like the historical perspective and personal anecdotes (though they get a little repetitive). There are good ideas in here, ideas that I’d like to see explored in a lot of churches. I wonder how much more effective and authentic church ministry could be if we looked at the quieter facets of service.
My only complaint is that the book is written primarily to pastors, more to feelers than thinkers, and leans strongly in favor of intuitive personalities. A little imagination can bring in a larger audience, however.
Conclusion: This is a great resource for church libraries and ministry personnel. It raises awareness for members of the church community who want to serve but don’t know how in a world of noise.
Bonus Thought: I’m thinking about making awareness bracelets for introversion. They would have to be be invisible, though, wouldn’t they? Maybe with text that becomes visible only after time in solitude and fades as the day goes on – a reverse glow-in-the-dark kind of thing. What do you think?