Introverts in the church
November 28, 2009
As a confirmed INTJ (that's Myers-Briggs personality speak for introvert, intuitive, thinking, judgment), I've struggled at time with my personality. For example, my wife loves to entertain large groups of people at our home; I prefer to have one other couple over for the evening. I find that I don't do well in large group events; I much prefer having lunch with someone where we can have a conversation. I find myself drained after a full day with people (like Sunday) and need a day following such a busy time to recharge. One week of vacation doesn't help me much; I find that two or three weeks back-to-back enables me to recharge.
At first, I thought that this was just my own quirkiness. After spending some time reading on personality types, I found that I was perfectly normal (well, that's debatable) or at least that I have lots of company. In an extroverted world and church and married to an extroverted spouse, there are simply personality differences that are like being left-handed in a right-handed world; not wrong, just different. The challenge becomes learning how to manage myself in the light of how God made me and in view of the calling God has given me.
That is where Adam McHugh's book, Introverts in the Church: Finding our Place in an Extroverted Culture, is quite helpful. In brief compass, McHugh surveys a great deal of the literature on introversion and helpful summaries a great deal about introverted personality types and how they engage in an extroverted culture. As I read this book, I kept telling my wife, "Wow, you should read this--you'd finally understand me!" It was a helpful, fast-paced, narrative of the characteristics of introversion.
McHugh also helpful distinguishes introversion (a personalty type) from shyness or social anxiety. Introverts tend to go through a cycle of engagement and retreat; we move toward people in relationship, but then back away to recharge in order to reengage again. Social anxiety or shyness retreats out of fear and intimidation and moves toward becoming a "loner" in which he or she refuses to engage the other. While introverts have the temptation of becoming loners, they must force themselves to "stretch" out toward others--God made us to be in relationship and so we must engage others even when we would prefer not to do so.
Also worthwhile were McHugh's two chapters on leading as an introvert. Most important was the notion of self-care, which is important for all of us but especially for introverts. He notes the tendency of introverts to develop "compassion fatigue" and the need of self-care to work through those times of emotional drainage. In order to accomplish such self-care, careful planning is needed. At one stage of my ministry, I scheduled monthly day-long retreats where I left the office and went to a location where my phone was off, where I could take a nap if I wanted, and where I could read or write.
There was part of me that wondered how extroverts would read a book like this. I especially thought this as I read the last two chapters on introverted evangelism and introverts in the church (which especially dealt with worship). Would such extroverted people read this and say, "Stop whining and get to work"? After 200 pages or so on all of this, would extroverts think it all a bit much, wondering why they have to accommodate the inward ones in their midst?
Maybe so. But for those of us who have struggled with making sense of our inwardness in a world that prizes extroverted, charismatic leaders and workers, I'm grateful for a brief, fast-paced book like the one McHugh has written to reassure myself and others that I'm fearfully and wonderfully made by the Lord for service in his Kingdom.