By Mark D. Roberts | Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Today I want to post the first of a two-part interview with Adam McHugh, the author of Introverts in the Church. If you haven’t heard of this book, you might be startled by the title. You might even think it’s a joke. Then again, reading this title might resonate with something deep inside of you, something you feel but haven’t expressed in words, or not very often, at any rate. If you’re an introvert, and there are many of you who read my blog, the fact that somebody has written a book called Introverts in the Church may just touch your soul in an unexpected and welcome way.
Let me reassure you, Introverts in the Church is no joke. In fact, it’s a thoughtful, faithful discussion of a topic that desperately needs more attention in the church today. I’ll say more about this book when I review it in a couple of days. But, first, I want to interview the author, Adam McHugh.
A word about Adam. According to his website, aptly named Introverted Church, Adam is:
an ordained Presbyterian minister, a spiritual director, and an introvert. He has served at Presbyterian churches, as a hospice and hospital chaplain, and as campus staff with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.
Adam grew up in Seattle, Washington, and graduated from Claremont McKenna College and Princeton Theological Seminary. He and his wife life in Southern California, where Adam focuses on writing, teaching, and speaking. I got to know Adam over ten years ago when he interned at Irvine Presbyterian Church, where I was the Senior Pastor. I’ll say a little more about my relationship with Adam later. Now, let’s begin the interview.
Mark: Hello, Adam. Thanks so much for taking time to do this interview. Let me begin with a fairly obvious first question: What inspired you to write the book?
Adam: It started out as deeply personal. I knew two things: first, that I was called to be a leader in the church, and second, that I was an introvert. I often found these things to be in deep tension with each other, and so I set out to discover how to lead as an introvert, or even if I could lead as an introvert. But I realized, as I started talking with others, that my struggles as an introverted pastor were representative of struggles that many introverts have in Christian community, whether leaders or not. Those conversations became the springboard for my research and eventually, the book.
Mark: Okay. That makes sense. It’s hard to imagine a book like this being written by an extrovert. Anyway, one of the claims you make in the book is that while many Christian traditions have a bias towards extroversion, evangelicalism in particular may be a difficult culture for introverts. Why is that?
Adam: If you think about what it’s like to enter your average, mainstream evangelical worship service, it feels like walking into a non-alcoholic cocktail party. There is a mingling, chatty informality to evangelicalism that can be daunting for people uncomfortable with small talk and who may prefer a quieter, more contemplative sort of environment. When you walk into churches of other traditions – like Catholic, Quaker, or high-liturgy Protestant churches – there is more of a quiet reverence in their sanctuaries and their worship features more silences and fewer words. Evangelicalism is a highly talkative, social, upfront, active tradition, and those of us who tend to listen before we speak and like to observe before we engage may feel marginalized, or even spiritually inadequate in such an atmosphere.
Mark: If you’re right, and I think you are, for the most part anyway, this would suggest that many introverts wouldn’t even settle in an evangelical church. Are you suggesting that introverts should consider participating in traditions other than evangelicalism?
Adam: My point in writing the book is not to encourage people to change churches, but rather to help them find their place in whatever tradition they are a part of. I make suggestions for how introverts can discover and relish their rhythms of engagement and retreat, and how we can participate in community in ways that feel authentic to who we are. I also hope that my book will shed light on some of the extroverted tendencies of many church cultures, and that it will help churches become more hospitable to people with introverted temperaments.
Mark: I can just hear some people’s response to what you’ve just said: “But we’re welcoming to all people. We don’t prefer extroverts.” I think it’s sometimes very hard for extroverts to understand introverts. A little later I want to ask you something about how churches can become more hospitable to introverts. But, before we move on, I want to ask a question I probably should have asked earlier: Can you clarify what it means to be an introvert?
Introversion is not synonymous with shyness, passivity, arrogance, timidity, or insecurity. An introvert is someone who first, finds energy in solitude. We lose energy through social interaction, no matter how much we may enjoy it, and we recharge in private, or with a close friend. Second, introverts process internally. For us, thinking precedes speaking, and when we are presented with new information, we reflect internally on it before we discuss it. And third, we tend to prefer depth over breadth. We would rather have a few close friends than a large circle of acquaintances, and we may enjoy exploring certain topics in great depth rather than spreading ourselves thin over many interests.
Mark: This is a crucial description, I think. Of course you say much more about introversion in your book. And, I should add, that your claims are carefully researched and backed up with psychological data. I think it is common for people to think of introverts as people who are shy, passive, timid, or insecure. They may be perceived as arrogant. Of course all of these adjectives are negative, not neutral. But you’re saying–and, indeed, the psychological literature is saying–that introversion isn’t a personality or character defect. Rather, an introvert is someone who is energized by being alone (or perhaps with one other person). This person doesn’t dislike social situations, but finds them emotionally, physically, and even spiritually draining. By contrast, extroverts get energy from social interactions, and find themselves drained by time alone.
Well, that’s enough for now. I’ll continue this conversation with Adam McHugh tomorrow.
Topics: Introverts in the Church |
8 Responses to “Introverts in the Church: Interview and Review, Part 1”
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