Why the church needs to pay attention to introverts

For more than 30 years I have served as a church leader in some capacity—as pastor, missionary, denominational worker, and as a lay person.

I am also an introvert.

Church leader. Introvert. To some people, those two things are a contradiction. (There are more of us than you might think.) In all honesty, there have been times when it seemed like the ministry God called me to do is incompatible with the way He has hard-wired me. It’s been a slow and sometimes painful lesson to learn, but introversion is not a liability in ministry; it is a God-given gift. I wish I had come to that understanding earlier in life, there would have been less doubting, less insecurity, less frustration, and more contentment.

CHURCHES INADVERTENTLY FAVOR EXTROVERTS

Our society favors extroverts and undervalues introverts. There’s little doubt a deep bias exists in American culture in favor of extroverts. The ideal self is considered the gregarious, outgoing personality who thrives on social interaction and is comfortable in the spotlight.

The same bias toward extroverted qualities unfortunately exists in many churches. Adam McHugh, author of Introverts in the Church, observed that “entering your average evangelical worship service feels like walking into a non-alcoholic cocktail party.” Church can be an extroverted place that inadvertently favors the gregarious and marginalizes the introvert. It’s hard for an introvert to thrive in that kind of culture.

McHugh also warned about “the tendency of evangelical churches to unintentionally exalt extroverted qualities as the ‘ideals’ of faithfulness.” This, I think, is the greater and more subtle danger. He wrote:

“Too often ‘ideal’ Christians are social and gregarious, with an overt passion and enthusiasm. They find it easy to share the gospel with strangers, eagerly invite people into their homes, participate in a wide variety of activities, and quickly assume leadership responsibilities. Those are wonderful qualities, and our churches suffer when we don’t have those sorts of people, but if these qualities epitomize the Christian life, many of us introverts are left feeling excluded and spiritually inadequate. Or we wear ourselves out from constantly masquerading as extroverts.” (“Introverts in evangelical America,” http://www.faithstreet.com/onfaith, 9/17/2010)

In other words, many churches associate Christian devotion and spiritual health with extroverted qualities. Or, as Susan Cain has said: “many evangelicals … associate godliness with sociability.” (Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking)

Christian maturity and devotion cannot be defined by personality type. This kind of thinking is harmful to individuals and to the body of Christ.

CHURCHES NEED THE GIFTS OF INTROVERTS

McHugh identified in Introverts in the Church some gifts introverts have to offer the church:
Compassion — Introverts are capable of powerful compassion.
Insight — They are able to offer insight into difficult situations, perhaps because they tend to observe and process information before speaking.
Listening — Introverts are better listeners.
Creativity — The most creative people in a group are typically the introverts.
Loyalty — Introverts value close friendships and are loyal friends.
Service — Introverts are eager to volunteer to serve behind the scenes.

If you are an introverted believer, know that you have been hard-wired that way by God. You have gifts your church desperately needs.

Churches need to pay attention to ways they can intentionally make church a more hospitable place to introverts—and tap into their gifts. If you’re not sure how to make the church that kind of place, just ask an introvert.

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