By Mark D. Roberts | Thursday, December 17, 2009
Yesterday I began an interview with Adam McHugh, author of Introverts in the Church. Today I’ll pick up that conversation where I left off.
Mark: Adam, I paused the interview yesterday after asking you what it means to be an introvert. Your definition pointed to three main characteristics: 1) An introvert finds energy in solitude and loses energy through social interaction; 2) An introvert processes internally, thinking before speaking; 3) An introvert prefers depth over breadth. The first item in your list seems morally neutral. But the second two items could suggest that you see introverts as morally superior to extroverts. Introverts think before they speak (generally a good practice) and are deep (rather than shallow). Is this what you mean? Are you in some way dissing extroverts?
Adam: Well, I’m certainly not being derogatory of extroverts. I’m married to an extrovert, so obviously I have much appreciation for the qualities of extroverts. Another way of putting the depth versus breadth issue is to say introverts tend to have fewer interests than extroverts. But that actually makes extroverts sound superior, so I’m open to another way of putting it. I’m borrowing the language of Marti Olsen Laney in her book The Introvert Advantage. Introverts usually enjoy a few close relationships and often like to probe deeply into a few topics, which can produce depth but also can be very limiting. As far as the thinking before speaking issue, it IS a good thing in situations of conflict, but can also be a handicap in situations that require quick thinking and decision-making. That’s why I’m much better in online interviews than I am in radio interviews!
Mark: Amen to that! I’ve done a fair amount of radio interviews, including a three-hour debate with Christopher Hitchens. I often feel like I’m a step behind those who are verbally quick. Anyway, getting back to our conversation, let me ask you this: What are some of the gifts that introverts have to offer their communities?
Adam: Once introverts stop trying to act like extroverts, they realize they have tremendous gifts to give others. We are natural listeners, and because we process internally, we offer a non-judgmental presence that helps others open up to us. Because we probe deep into our inner depths, we are capable of a powerful compassion for other people. We have an insight that comes from our tendency to observe in social situations; we often see things that people who throw themselves into the center of the action don’t see. We can model self-awareness and introspection to others. We have a calming presence that helps other people slow down and find peace around us.
Mark: In your book, you also explain that introverts, who are naturally inclined to study, can be very strong teachers and preachers. I think this is true. Of course there are extroverts who excel in both areas, too. Speaking of preachers, do you think introverts can be effective evangelists? We often think of evangelism as reaching out to strangers, talking freely about faith, etc. etc. This seems inconsistent with an introverted personality. So, do you think introverts can do evangelism?
Adam: Yes! As long as we discover ways of evangelism that fit who we are. I devote a chapter to “introverted evangelism,” and I argue that many of our models of sharing the gospel are ill-fitted for introverts. Evangelism styles that require fast-talking, debate, and starting up conversations with strangers will likely be discouraging for introverts. Instead I encourage introverts to ask “Who is already in my life and how is God at work in their lives?” Introverts will do best in ongoing, deepening friendships, slowly and prayerfully nudging others towards God, using our strengths of listening, compassion, and creativity to point them to Jesus.
Mark: Great. So, thinking about the church in general, how can churches be more hospitable to introverts?
Adam: Broadly speaking, churches can acknowledge the diversity of people in the community, and that God has created people with different temperaments and tendencies. Pastors can affirm that the diversity in the body of Christ is a beautiful and necessary thing, and that conformity only creates legalism and inauthenticity. Practically, churches can select both extroverts and introverts as leaders, so that people can see different styles of leadership. They can take simple, but helpful steps like incorporating silences into worship and offering contemplative kinds of structures like evensongs or lectio divina groups. They can bring in local scholars to lead in-depth biblical and theological studies. They can place chairs on the fringes of big social events so that people who are tired by interaction can rest and observe, but still be in the room.
Mark: I’ll bet it would make a huge difference if, once in a while, a pastor would simply mention something about introverts, “how many there are in our congregation,” etc. etc. Of course another possibility would be to hold up and recommend your book, right? Okay, let me change gears and ask about those who are considering ordained ministry. What is your advice for introverted seminarians who are considering the pastoral ministry?
Adam: The first thing I want to tell people is that at least 25% of Protestant pastors are introverts. I would say, “You are not alone, and it is possible to thrive as an introvert in ministry.” However, burn-out is more common among introverted pastors and self-care is absolutely critical. You must be thoughtful about your rhythms, and carve out regular niches of solitude, which may require you to learn to say “no.” Give space for your devotional life and well as nurture your closest relationships and find opportunities for intellectual stimulation. Follow the model of Jesus in investing deeply in a few people , who will be co-leaders in the ministry of the church, rather than trying to be all things to all people. Lead out of who God has created you to be, and the gifts God has given you, rather than trying to act like someone else.
Mark: That’s great. I wouldn’t be surprised if the number is higher than 25%. Introverted pastors have learned how to deal well with groups of people, so they usually don’t seem to be introverted. Well, let me finish up with a “big question.” What is your hope for the book, other than you sell a million copies and get to be on Oprah? Seriously, though, what difference would you like to see your book make in people’s lives and in the Christian community?
Adam: The subtitle of the book nicely captures my hopes: “finding our place.” Many introverts feel displaced in Christian community, and I want for that to change, not only for their sake, but also for the sake of our churches that have been damaged by a hyperactivity and a restless urgency that may actually distance us from the abundant life Jesus offers us. I want for my introverted brothers and sisters to claim the gifts they have and to lead the Christian life in a way that is authentic and freeing. I want for churches to encourage introverts (and extroverts) to follow Jesus as they are, not according to some culturally determined mold of faithfulness.
Mark: Excellent. Thanks, Adam, for taking time to do this interview. I’ll have a few more things to say about your book when I put up my review.
Topics: Introverts in the Church |
4 Responses to “Introverts in the Church: Interview, Part 2”
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