Incurable Curiosity

In-cur-able: (adj.) Not likely to be changed. Cu-ri-os-i-ty: (n) A desire to know.

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Introverts in Church: We Exist, We Really Do!

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?



MBTI and Writing

There are lots of ways writers connect with readers. I’ve been experimenting with the use of MBTI theory in writing, though the way I utilize it depends on whether I’m writing fiction or non-fiction. With fiction, it’s all about the characters. With non-fiction, it’s all about the audience.

When I’m writing fiction, I like to assign MBTI types to my characters. It helps me flesh them out, to figure out their quirks and how they interact with the story. It adds a realness to the characters and keeps them consistent. A story about music, for example, may have an ENFJ composer, an ISTJ orchestra leader, an ESFP lighting director, and an ENTJ audience member. Their personalities help me determine how they would react if some not-too-tragic-tragedy (like the second violinist dropping her bow) occurred during a performance. The composer might silently reassure the violinist from his seat in the front row, while the orchestra leader will be freaking out and frantically signaling the cool-headed lighting director to dim the lights as the calculating audience member writes a scathing twitter update.

But anyway……

With non-fiction, I like to have a specific audience in mind, be it one person or a group of people. It helps to have an idea of their type group so that I can communicate ideas more clearly. If I’m writing to concretes (SJ’s or SP’s), I’ll use mostly concrete terms and language. If my target audience is more abstract (NT’s or NF’s), I might use more conceptual language like metaphors and analogies. If I don’t know who will be reading my work, I usually write with a friend or family member in mind – whoever I’d be most likely to discuss the topic with.  This keeps me focused and less likely to drift from style to style.

In my own writing – what won’t be read by anyone else, that is – I tend to hold a line between two different (but very similar) types.

Have you ever experimented with MBTI in writing?


MBTI Primer

The study of MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) has been a subject that has interested me for a while – well, longer than most theories interest me, anyway. People are never-ending puzzles, and MBTI theories seek to unlock those puzzles; how our personalities affect our worldview, career choice, and how we interact with other people.

I could get extremely technical with the psychology, but here’s the gist: Every person is naturally inclined towards certain general traits. The most familiar is Extrovert/Introvert, but there are 3 other traits to consider: Sensing/Intuitive, Thinking/Feeling, and Perceiving/Judging.

  • Extrovert and Introvert: Basically, this applies to how you interact with the world. Extroverts tend to focus on things outside themselves, while introverts are generally more introspective.
  • Sensing and Intuitive: This is how you take in and process information. These could also be called Concrete and Abstract, respectively.
  • Thinking and Feeling: How you express information and make decisions.
  • Perceiving and Judging: How you act on information. Perceivers tend to leave themselves lots of options, while Judgers prefer a definite plan.
Those are generalities meant to provide a broad description of the MBTI type theory. 
Your combination of general traits is categorized by the letters representing those traits (for example, an Extroverted Intuitive Thinking Judger would be an ENTJ).
Each type falls within one of four sub-types that share common traits: SJ’s, SP’s, NT’s, and NF’s.
  • SJ’s: ESTJ, ESFJ, ISTJ, ISFJ. These are the most common types in the population, and are usually known as Guardians. They share characteristics of being structured, reliable, practical, focused, and traditional. Basically, the world stays on its axis because of their efforts.
  • SP’s: ESTP, ESFP, ISTP, ISFP. These are the Artisans of the world; they live in the present, and they are usually bold, spontaneous, and competitive, brightening life for everyone with their artistic flair.
  • NT’s: ENTJ, ENTP, INTJ, INTP. These are the thinkers, philosophers and inventors of the world: the Rationals. These non-conformists push the limits and are proud of it; no establishment goes unquestioned and no question remains unanswered if they can help it.
  • NF’s: ENFJ, ENFP, INFJ, INFP. This special group comprises the smallest portion of the population; they are the Idealists and dreamers, the visionaries and healers who understand and communicate the weightier matters of life.
This is a very basic overview; there are many more in-depth resources available through a simple search. Below are some resources I’ve found especially useful:
  • This is a website dedicated to MBTI theory, with good descriptions of each type.
  • This is a free type test that I have found to be quite accurate.
  • Another free test, focusing on career paths.
  • Please Understand Me II, by David Keirsey (essentially the Keirsey website in book form).
In those resources, you’ll see mention of cognitive functions. That’s a rather intimidating term, and it’s easy to get things like introverted feeling and extroverted thinking confused. However, a good friend of mine has written an excellent explanation of functions on her blog , which I have re-posted here (thanks, Hattie!).