October 24, 2017

IM Book Review: Introverts in the Church

By Chaplain Mike

I think I may have found my doppelganger.

There were times as I was reading through Adam McHugh’s wise and helpful book, Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture, when I thought he was reading my mind, representing my exact thoughts in the very words by which I would express them.

He and I are introverts, you see. We live among you. You will often find us out on the edges of the room, engaged in conversations with other individuals rather than participating in the raucous partying of the crowd. We may sit by ourselves in church. We don’t always speak up or initiate conversation in small group settings. We may disappear for awhile from all the banter taking place during the family reunion and everyone will wonder where we’ve gone. And you might find us taking a walk or sitting under a tree away from the din of the festivities.

If I were your pastor, you might wonder why I am not up front all the time or engaged in lively interaction in the center of the room at church fellowship events. I might be off in a corner talking to one or two people, in the kitchen checking with those who are serving, or down the hall seeing how the nursery workers are doing. When you think about what I do throughout the week, you might wonder why anyone needs to spend so much time in his study. If you are on the board, you might question my requests for regular personal retreats. You feel insecure sometimes because I don’t have a quick answer to a question or solution to a problem. You may inwardly wonder if I have the leadership skills to run a church. Me too.

Adam McHugh, fellow introvert, can identify with this. He writes:

My struggles to be an introverted pastor are representative of the struggles many introverts face when navigating the waters of Christian community, which can be unintentionally, or intentionally, biased toward extroversion. As a pastor who has participated in both independent and denominationally affiliated churches, it is my experience that evangelical churches can be difficult places for introverts to thrive, both for theological and cultural reasons. Just as I have had a difficult time squaring my own temperament with common roles and expressions of the pastoral ministry, so also many introverted Christians struggle with how to find balance between their own natural tendencies and evangelical perspectives on community and evangelism. A subtle but insidious message can permeate these communities, a message that says God is most pleased with extroversion. (p. 13)

It’s the story of my life, and I, for one, am glad Adam McHugh has told it so well.

Defining Terms
In Introverts and the Church, Adam McHugh helps us understand first of all what introversion is and is not. It is not a category of person. The words extroversion and introversion describe the balance of certain tendencies within all people. Each of us leans one way or the other. And there is no “mold” for what an introvert always looks like. Nevertheless, there are some basic characteristics of those who tend toward introversion as a way of encountering the world and relating to others.

  • Introverts get their energy from solitude and from within, whereas extroverts derive their energy from external stimulation.
  • Introverts process information internally through observation and reflection, whereas extroverts process more externally, through conversation and interaction.
  • Introverts prefer depth over breadth and tend to invest energy into a limited number of topics, activities, and relationships. For extroverts, on the other hand, there may be no limit to the breadth of experiences and acquaintances they can have.

McHugh summarizes:

Because introversion is not synonymous with shyness or aloofness, true introverts are harder to identify than you might think. You can’t always look for wallflowers or people staring at their feet to determine who the introverts are. Healthy introverts are not recluses. Just because we are oriented toward our inner worlds does not necessitate that we live in a private world, devoid of social contact and activity. It means that whatever context we are in, we are predisposed toward what is happening inside of us more than we are in what is taking place around us. Introverts can be in an unruly crowd, still immersed in our internal worlds. (p. 42)

An Extroverted Church
So, what do these characteristics mean for introverts in the church, especially in America? In his book, McHugh describes how American evangelicalism is, by and large, an extroverted enterprise. Theologically, evangelicalism’s emphasis on a personal relationship with Jesus leads to religious practices that are social and relational in nature. Its emphasis on the Bible as the authoritative Word of God and the prominence of preaching and proclamation evangelism leads to a culture in which speaking, crowds, and group activities are highly valued.

The author shows how the extroverted expression of faith grew out of the revivalism of our past. We are heirs of a historic tradition that has developed into the modern ethos of evangelicalism which is, to quote Mark Noll, “activistic, populist, pragmatic, and utilitarian. It allows little space for broader or deeper intellectual effort because it is dominated by the urgencies of the moment.” (p. 26) This kind of church, frankly, is suspicious of contemplative faith, seeing it as narcissistic and uninterested in mission. However, McHugh believes the introvert’s perspective has much to offer the dominant religious culture:

In our day, I am convinced that introverts are an important ingredient in the antidote to what ails evangelicalism. Our slower pace of life, our thoughtfulness, our spiritual and intellectual depth, and our listening abilities are prophetic qualities for the evangelical community, calling us to a renewed understanding of God and a fresh reading on the abundant life Jesus came to give us. Yet because of the extroverted bias in many of our churches, introverts are leading double lives. We are masquerading as extroverts in order to find acceptance, yet we feel displaced and confused. We are weary of fighting our introversion, and we long to live faithfully as the people we were created to be. (p. 31)

Help for Introverted Christians and Christian Leaders
That last sentence describes Adam McHugh’s purpose in writing this book. He wants to enable those of us who tend toward introversion to learn to accept that this is how God has made us and it is the temperament from which he wants us to relate to him and others in this world. We have a unique perspective to offer as a gift to the church, and we must learn how to live that out faithfully.

And so Adam McHugh gives counsel regarding:

  • Spirituality: He encourages us to enthusiastically embrace the contemplative tradition and develop a rule of life that fits our introverted approach to life.
  • Community and Relationships: He describes ways that introverts can participate meaningfully in the community of faith, offering unique gifts to others, and he identifies some pitfalls and challenges we will have to face.
  • Leadership: Though Americans typically want their leaders to be extroverts, McHugh gives voice to alternative models of leadership that are gaining acceptance, models that carry with them many of the best features of introversion. Introverted leaders may not make as wide an impact as an outgoing, charismatic, dominant leader, but the results may be more lasting. There are particular aspects of Christian leadership, such as teaching, equipping, and spiritual direction that call out for the gifts inherent in a faithful introvert. He even describes honored Christian leaders, such as Mother Teresa, Jonathan Edwards, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who were introverts yet had great influence through their leadership.
  • Evangelism: In the minds of many, the word “evangelism” conjures a picture of the extroverted “salesman” type, who is gregarious, talky, and persuasive, a style that obviously doesn’t suit introverts. However, our models of evangelism are more likely the problem than the fact that some of us do not fit them. McHugh points out many ways that introverted believers can faithfully plant seeds, engage in spiritual conversations, and “explore the mystery” of faith together with those who need Christ.
  • Church Organization and Practice: McHugh encourages church leaders to be thoughtful about their church program, to recognize that many things they do may be excluding people who tend toward introversion. He asks them to consider the worship services, the way they welcome and celebrate people in the church, the balance of personalities on the leadership team, the variety of service opportunities, even the way they use technology. He asks churches to “affirm the variety of personalities, gifts and experiences in the Christian life” rather than to “conform people to a mold of faithfulness.” (p. 196)

Introverts in the Church ends with an appeal to introverts to find our place in Christ’s church through making two movements. First, we must move into solitude to contemplate the great gifts our Creator has given us, to accept and relish his goodness and wisdom in making us as we are. Second, we must move into community, because this journey is not about self-acceptance or fulfillment, but about loving God and others. It is not only about finding a place, but living in that place for God’s glory and the good of our neighbors.

For a time, Adam McHugh served as a hospice chaplain, and I identified with what he writes about the pleasure he found in visiting people in small settings and being with them in meaningful situations. And on the other hand, like me, he also found that there are ministry settings in the evangelical world that are simply too much about high-powered activism. As one pastor who interviewed him for an associate pastor position said, “This is a really high-octane environment. We’re looking for someone who is excitable and high energy. You have to be totally sold out to work here. We work full throttle.” (p. 26)

I’ll be honest with you—I not only have a problem with a statement like that temperamentally, but also theologically. But that’s a post for another day. Let me just say that, as an introvert, I can only imagine how uncomfortable I would feel in such a setting. Now, factor in that slightly more than 50% of people in the U.S. are introverts, and you can see one reason why so many of us find ourselves in a post-evangelical wilderness.

Perhaps Introverts in the Church can lead some congregations to become oases for quiet travelers like Adam McHugh and me.

Comments

  1. I find that I feel more comfortable speaking with more introverted types when I struggle with the Christian faith. I feel as if they will listen and don’t have to immediately come back with some answer in order to prove that they theologically have all of the answers. In fact, the more extroverted the pastor/teacher especially the type that talks about “high octane ministries” makes me totally shy away from them.

  2. This guy’s been reading my mail!

  3. One more book I’m going to have to buy. I see myself in a lot of what is written here. It’s a struggle when everything is shaped for the extroverted personality. It’s part of what’s driving me toward the mainline denominations where there’s a little more intentionality, order, solemnity and appreciation for the contemplative.

  4. Christiane says:

    Christ sought solitude for prayer at times.

    I think there is room in the Church for those who find that they are ‘called into deep silence’ as it were,
    and for those who have been endowed with a contemplative spirit..

    But the need for community is then all the more important, so that the strength and peace found in the contemplative life can be shared in service to those whose lives are care-worn and in need of someone to listen to them, someone who knows how to keep silent and to really, really listen. Such people are able to hear even what is not said.

    We have ‘different gifts’ for a reason. A quiet spirit in a person can be restful and healing when shared with someone who is suffering.

    The early Christian Fathers knew well the value of ‘stillness before the Lord’.

  5. Oh thank God. I am not alone. No wonder why it is so frustrating to be at my church. I always knew I was introverted, but I never could put my finger on how much it affected spirituality and the church and my relation to it. It’s like the fly buzzing around in my head just hit a brick wall. I pray I would have more compassion now on my extroverted brothers and sisters instead of getting so frustrated about being misunderstood. May we all seek not so much to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand. Thank you for this, Chaplain Mike.

  6. I’m not sure if i am an introvert or an extrovert. Sometimes I get my energy from people, sometimes from myself, and there doesn’t seem to be any clear trend towards either.
    I have never been great at speaking to people i don’t know (les femmes especially), but i am often open and relaxed around people I am comfortable with. I also particiapte regularly in bible studes and discussions.

    Does a person have to subscribe to just one, or could both categories be valid?

    • Mike (the other chaplain) says:

      Ben, Myers-Briggs personality tests are useful in figuring out where you fit on the spectrum. Like you, I’m a little of both…….I enjoy making people laugh, telling jokes, being the life of the party, but then I crash and just want hide in my office and play guitar, pray, and read.

      • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says:

        +1 to what Mike (the other chaplain) said. The Myers-Briggs INFP is spot on for me. It took me two times taking one of the tests, though. The first time on stuff I wasn’t sure about, I arbitrarily chose. This led to false conclusions. The second time I left those things blank.

        Like Chap Mike said above, folks are rarely 100% introverted or extroverted; there’s a scale and you may find yourself more toward the extroverted side than other introverts. For example, as an INFP, I’m introverted in feeling, but extroverted in intuition.

      • +1 from me too. There are some free knock-offs on the web as well. Highly recommended for any organization to make sure that people are in roles that fit with their personality. Also really helps you understand people that you are having difficulty getting along with, along with how better to interact with them.

  7. I found this author’s blog several years ago, and it was like a breath of fresh air. It’s painful sometimes to be an introvert living in an extravert society. Go, go, go, do, do, do. I see it in churches, businesses, schools, and sometimes want to scream for somebody somewhere to slow down, stop, and think! One of the biggest differences I see between introverts and extraverts is the ability of introverts to understand that extraverts need constant activity while extraverts have no clue that everyone is not like them. I understand some people’s need for the whoop it up church, but I can tell you, they don’t get my need to avoid that. I will definitely have to get my hands on this book.

    • scrapiron says:

      “extraverts have no clue that everyone is not like them. I understand some people’s need for the whoop it up church, but I can tell you, they don’t get my need to avoid that.”

      AMEN!

    • “extraverts have no clue that everyone is not like them”

      This is an unfair generalization. See my notes about Myers Briggs above.

  8. I can definitely relate. The church needs both to compliment each other vs be adversarially involved. Extroverts have helped me to engage in action when I’ve been overly reflective. I have encouraged “listening sessions” to counterbalance “brainstorming sessions” when we gather to make decisions. But when your in a culture that seems to only value doing, suggesting we listen and wait rather than run off to the next seminar on how to save the world falls on deaf ears. It is often interpreted as interference, laziness and the typical response: “What do you expect us to do, sit around and do nothing?” It’s also been pointed out to me on several occasions that we are not Quakers – not that there is anything wrong with that! 🙂

    • Kind of like the person who tells someone who is reading to “get up and do something!”, As far as I can tell, reading IS doing something. It does make me sad, though, that our culture seems to have lost any sense of reflecting on things, letting ideas “stew”, meditating. Look at any high school graduation; the students winning the most accolades are invariable the ones who have been in constant motion and are rewarded for what they have done, not who they are.

  9. Moonshadow says:

    A sample of this book is available online.

  10. Oh yes, I can relate…I am an introvert and have known so all of my life. It’s just that my church is very demonstrative and many in leadership are so also. I have thought at times, is my faith & love of God not as strong as theirs? I do enjoy my time alone with the Lord reading the bible & contemplating on Him. It’s so nice to know that I am not alone in my feelings. I must read this book.

  11. I was just having this same conversation with a friend last night, how lonely the journey is when you lean introverted and seek to be more contemplative. Everyone wants you to fit into their ‘church’ mode–and I just don’t; my gifts and ministry look completely different–and well they should. I’m thankful that.
    “I not only have a problem with a statement like that temperamentally, but also theologically. But that’s a post for another day.”
    I will look forward to that future post:) as I agree with you.

  12. I would guess that a large percentage of the people who go regularly to Internet Monk are more introverted in approach than extroverted. Monks tend to be introverted and that very word is what first drew my attention to this site. I would call myself a gregarious introvert. I’m very social with a full quiver of jokes and stories but my foundation is firmly established in solitude and silence. Alone is not lonely.

  13. Interesting that all of you introverts (save Ray A.) have blank avatars. Coincidence? I don’t think so 🙂

  14. So are you mildly introverted?

    • I mean that’s not a real photo is it ?

      • Sadly it is a real photo, with a little bit of Photoshop posterization thrown in to reduce some of the ugly.

        I’m definitely an extrovert, and for those familiar with the Myers-Briggs, I’m listed as ENTP, which is the polar opposite of my lovely wife of 25 years who I believe is an ISFJ.

  15. Clay Knick says:

    Good review of a very good book. I thought he was writing about me, too.

  16. I just purchased this book for my introvert husband and he has been devouring it – often reading entire paragraphs to me out loud. I will also be reading it when he is finished with the hope that I can better understand his perception and experience in the church environment.
    The descriptions that the author gives of extroverts have also been helpful in giving him a better understanding of my (extroverted) way of relating and functioning in life – in ways I could not really explain myself. The book has already helped foster a greater acceptance of each other’s unique personalities, opened our eyes to false-assumptions and encouraged some great conversations between us.

  17. Charles Fines says:

    What surprised me most was the claim that introverts are slightly in the majority. This of course would depend on definitions, but if asked to guess I would have put introverts at 10% and wouldn’t have been surprised at less. I’ll bet extroverts are in the majority in evangelical churches. This helps explain my extreme discomfort in their company. I’m sure they would have other explanations.

    Looking for historical models of the introvert as described here, I can’t think of a better one than Jesus.

  18. @Chap Mike: thanks for the book notice; This has been a very busy day at work, so I havent’ had time to digest the post yet, but I’m thinking this book will be one of the first that I’ll get when I make my Kindle purchase in a month or two.

    And it may be one of the few books that I hand to my wife and say “you really have to read this”.

    I guess if a pastoral candidate is single, female, and introverted, there odds are about the same as that Mega Millions ticket out there ??? Keep up the good work, Lisa Dye, Damaris, Jeff D. , and all of “you-ze”

  19. I would expect extroverts might struggle with quiet times, but as an introvert I hate them – the typical go off by yourself and “talk to God” and sit quietly and listen carefully for voices inside your head. It actually seems like a form of prayer that an extrovert would invent. That’s not how I experience contemplation. Prayer can be very non-verbal. I think that is why I like recited prayers, because the words of the prayer are not what I may be praying; the prayer what is going on in the background. This is what praying the rosary is like for me.

  20. Thanks so much for this post. I now know why I feel so very uncomfortable in the church in which I am a member. It is geared toward the extrovert. A church I visit and dearly love is much more contemplative, quiet,
    reverent and Christ centered. I long to join that church but often wonder if it’s right to move my membership to another body. I also agree with their theology to a much greater degree than I do with that of my own church.

  21. Very nice post Chaplain Mike!

  22. As an introvert myself, I have noticed that before and after services I feel quite uneasy trying to “mingle” in the (what I call) cocktail-party atmosphere. Even though I have been at this church for years and know a number of people, I am still uncomfortable initiating a conversation – and that is sometimes the case even with those I know well. However, if I was meeting the same people in a home or at a restaurant, I would be much more talkative.

    I guess I think “church” should be a refuge from all the incessant demands of the “extrovert” world outside the doors. While I know a certain amount of socializing is inevitable, I don’t want to feel like I “have” to be engaged with others every minute or else feel as though I am being unfriendly.

    I like the lines I read from an Episcopal church bulletin – “Before the service, speak to God in prayer. During the service, let God speak to you through the word and sacrament. And after the service, speak to one another.”

  23. *claps* I love the review and the comments. I’ve tested on the MB as an INFJ consistently since high school. I’m a quasi-psychologist, and study introversion/extroversion. I plan on writing my thesis about it. I’ll pick up this book for sure, as I have NEVER felt “home” at a church, and I always assumed it was for other reasons, yet my being introverted makes complete sense. INFJ’s love people, we are social chameleons even, but that doesn’t mean we’re any less introverted than the other seven “I” types. If anyone is interested, the link above is to my blog. I started writing years ago to help the world understand INFJ’s since we are such complicated creatures. In all my years of study, I’ve only come across ONE other INFJ in person. Yet I meet hundreds on the internet! Introverts unite! But, at home ;}

  24. In my church setting I get a double whammy! Using the test in David Keirsey’s “Please Understand Me II” I identified as an INTJ/INTP (the J and P are about 50-50). In the Pentecostal environment where I grew up, being introverted is bad enough, but to be one who values logic and reason (the NT-Rational part) has gotten me into more trouble than I care to remember.

    And then people call me asking about some difficult theological question because they know that I took the time to study more than they did…Go figure.

  25. A double life conundrum being an introvert in an evangelical church- Yes I can relate. I too consider myself an introvert. Yet God has seen fit that I should be in the sales profession most of my life, another “extrovert is best” world. After church service, I am usually comfortable just observing/listening instead of the “norm” of mix & mingle. Sure I can be an “extrovert” when needed but, usually under duress. I have even had a professional counselor ask me how I can be an actor on stage (which I occasionally do at church) while being uncomfortable in a personal conversation. For me the answer is simple, when I act, I am not “me” which is fun. Besides why would anyone be interested in “me?” Certainly a conundrum of the Christian life.

  26. I have only just found time to read this. Wow! As an off the scale INFP (seriously high scores on all of them) I beat myself up for 25 years of my husband’s ministry as a Church of England vicar. I was convinced he had married the wrong woman as I failed to live up to the perception I had of other people’s expectations.
    Five years after an emotional implosion I still do not yet feel able to return to church services but my inner life with God and the creativity I have experienced by allowing myself to stop all the activism are blossoming!
    I shall be buying this book for my very understanding husband and his leadership team. Thank you for reviewing it.