Christian Retailing

Adam McHugh on 'Introverts in the Church' Print Email
Written by Staff   
Tuesday, 06 October 2009 04:57 PM America/New_York
The author of the new book explains what it means to be introverted in an extroverted world and how the church can create a welcoming environment for all personalities.

Name: Adam McHugh
Current Project: Introverts in the Church (IVP Books)
Currently reside in: Claremont, CA
Currently reading: Tell it Slant by Eugene Peterson (Eerdman's), Culture Making by Andy Crouch (InterVarsity Press) and Mad Church Disease by Anne Jackson (Zondervan)
How have introverts been overlooked in the church?
“That’s an excellent question, because it often seems like introverts are invisible in a community context. Many of our churches reflect our society as a whole, valuing gregarious, action-oriented, assertive people. But introverts are relatively quiet, often hovering around the fringes, preferring to observe and reflect before entering into the action. We generally do not have the same 'presence' when we enter a room as many extroverts do. We are not likely to share our opinions until we have considered them and we are uncomfortable interrupting others to make our voices heard. As a result of all this, churches often miss out on the gifts that we have to bring because they don’t give us the space to express them, or slow down long enough to listen to us. Some churches feature an extroverted model of discipleship, which only cements our position on the margins of the community.”

Is there an assumption that people who tend to be quiet and alone are sad?
“In many cases, yes. Many extroverts assume that introverts need to be constantly 'drawn out,' and that if we are alone, we are just waiting for someone to come over and chat us up, because we are languishing in self-pity and isolation. But in truth, we may be relishing our solitude and savoring our times of reflection. Some of my most joyful times come in a quiet moment of thought or prayer. One of the hallmarks of introverts is that we find energy from solitude, and that even though we may enjoy social interaction, those experiences drain us. We need to be restored into shape through time alone. So, even though people may assume I’m sad and lonely when I’m alone, I’m actually gaining energy during that time, not losing it. Extroverts wilt through too much time alone, but introverts are lifted by it.”

What are some of the benefits that introverts can bring to the ministry?
“Through my diverse experiences as a church pastor, hospice chaplain, and college campus minister, I have become thoroughly convinced that introverts bring tremendous gifts to ministry. Perhaps the most profound of those gifts is our ability to listen. People in our culture so rarely have the experience of being truly listened to – having not only their words and thoughts but also their feelings taken seriously and reflected back to them. Because introverts process internally, instead of talking in order to understand, we are natural listeners and we also offer a non-judgmental posture which helps others open up to us. I think that we can become a contemplative presence in whatever setting we are in – listening for what’s underneath the words being said and also paying attention to the movements of the Holy Spirit, gently guiding others to hear God’s voice in their lives and in the community.”

What is the challenge of being an introvert and a leader at the same time?
“As much as I cringe when I hear it, the truth is that much of the ministry is an extroverted profession. The social demands that are placed on church leaders, or really leaders in any setting – corporate, social, educational, etc. – can be pretty staggering for introverts. We are expected to interact with many different groups of people, motivate people of diverse personalities, deal with and mediate situations of conflict and pain, and the list goes on and on. Many churches expect pastors to be the 'lead socializers,' the first ones on the church patio and the last to leave. It can be utterly exhausting for introverts. The challenge for introverted leaders lies in finding and maintaining our rhythms of engagement and retreat. We must become experts in self-care and know how to save and restore our energy if we want to thrive, carving out niches for solitude, spiritual refreshment, and intellectual stimulation.”

What can extroverts do to make church a more welcoming place for introverts?
“From a broad perspective, churches need to acknowledge a diversity of personality types, patterns, habits, and experiences. I want for extroverts, especially those in leadership, to acknowledge that are different, and equally valuable and viable, ways of following Jesus. Extroverts could go a long way in helping us to thrive by acknowledging the gifts introverts offer – spiritual depth, listening, creativity and imagination, compassion, intellectual and spiritual insight, and a calming, non-reactionary presence. I think there are also some very practical things churches can do as well. Greet us, but do not linger if it seems we want to be alone. Place chairs and tables on the sides of a social gathering so that people can remove themselves a little but still be in the room. Don’t dominate discussions by jumping in with the quick answer, but give others a chance to think before speaking. Select both extroverts and introverts to serve in leadership capacities, so that there are different models of leadership and discipleship visible in the community.”

Anything else we didn't discuss you'd like to add?
“A couple of things. First, this issue is larger than you might think, because introverts are not a minority demographic. Past research, still commonly cited, said that introverts comprised 25% of the population, but better, more thorough research in the last 10 years have actually yielded the result that introverts are 50.7% of the population! So when you’re mulling over these issues, be aware that you may be helping half of the brothers and sisters in your communities. Second, some of the most influential and inspiring leaders are introverts. Eugene Peterson, Brian McLaren, Barbara Brown Taylor, and Erwin McManus all test as introverts, as did leaders like Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King Jr. Great theologians like John Calvin and Jonathan Edwards would have also likely rated as introverts. There is no mold of leadership in the kingdom of God, and God clearly calls introverts to lead alongside of extroverts.”