Are you an extroverted church leader trying to mobilize introverts for ministry? To become more effective in your task, you may want to read Adam McHugh’s book Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture. Here are reviews from the Amazon.com page:
“As a fellow introvert, I well know the tension, irony and even contradiction of being in vocational ministry where public speaking and being with people are major and vital parts of our roles. This book puts together extremely helpful thinking to better understand who we are and how to navigate and celebrate being introverted and in leadership in an extroverted world.” –Dan Kimball, author of They Like Jesus but Not the Church
“As an introvert who has experienced both the strengths and weaknesses of my temperament, I appreciate the way McHugh goes well beyond the facile stereotypes and conclusions of armchair psychologists. If you’ve ever felt vaguely sinful for not being a gregarious Christian I suggest you spend some quality time alone with a copy of Introverts in the Church.” –Don Everts, minister of outreach, Bonhomme Presbyterian Church, Chesterfield, Missouri, and author of I Once Was Lost
“Introverts, take heart! As an introvert myself–an off-the-chart ‘I’ on the Myers-Briggs–I find certain aspects of church life, like speaking to other human beings every Sunday, really taxing. McHugh thoughtfully explores the gifts introverts bring to the church, and he considers both how introverts can live well in the church and how churches can be more hospitable to us.” –Lauren F. Winner, Duke Divinity School, author of Girl Meets God
Marriage and Family Therapist Rhett Smith interviewed author Adam McHugh about his book. Here are excerpts:
R: From your research, what did you find to be the most difficult aspect of church culture for introverts? Why do you think that is?
A: There are a few difficult elements in church culture for introverts – like mingling fellowship and greeting times, certain methods of evangelism, or required small groups – but I think I would answer that question more abstractly. I think many churches implicitly, or sometimes explicitly, promote certain “ideals” of faithfulness that actually have as much to do with cultural norms as they have to do with biblical values. The “ideal” believer is one who is social and gregarious, assumes leadership positions quickly, participates eagerly in a wide variety of events, groups, and teams, opens their home up often to church groups, is well acquainted with many people in the community, witnesses to strangers often, and the list goes on. The problem is that that “ideal” person is an extrovert, and introverts often end up feeling spiritually inadequate and marginalized, or else masquerade as extroverts but still end up feeling exhausted and discouraged. In my book I talk about how introverts can both live the Christian life as themselves, and I also give suggestions for how churches can encourage introverts to live and love authentically.
R: What are the 2-3 most important things that can introverts teach us?
A: I’m glad you asked this question, because too often it seems that introversion is viewed as a liability, rather than a gift. I know I’ve been guilty of defining introversion in terms of what I’m not rather than what I am. Here are the two most important things I think introverts bring to the church: 1. The value of listening and 2. The need to slow down.
People in our culture so rarely have the experience of being truly listened to, of being given the space to express what’s on their hearts. Too often we speak over one another, interrupt one another, compete for space to speak. Because introverts process internally, and consider what they say before they speak, they can be incredible listeners. We offer a non-judgmental presence that helps others open up to us. Now, there’s more to listening than just not speaking, and it’s a discipline to be cultivated (my next book is about listening!), but introverts have a good start in becoming excellent listeners, communicating deep love for others through listening. I think listening is a tremendous asset in evangelism, which I talk about in chapter 8. Second, introverts often lead a slower, quieter, more contemplative lifestyle and we help people in our fast-paced culture slow down. We bring a calming presence to people and to our churches. Modern-day evangelicalism tends to be so full, so busy, so hurried and weighed down by agendas, and I say in the book that introverts are part of the antidote to what ails evangelical culture.
R: Let me throw out a couple of technologies that are being used in the Church and let me just get your response in regard to introverts. What would introverts think of twittering in the church? How about online church?
A: I knew you were going to ask me this! I’ll say first that, as an introvert, I am grateful for social media like Facebook and Twitter. It has helped me make connections, and deepen relationships, with people that I just don’t have the energy for in face-to-face situations. I’m often much better in writing than I am in person. But I do think there are inherent dangers in online communication, especially when it becomes a substitute for in-person relationships, and I worry when introverts spend far more time online than they do with people. Again, I address these issues in the book.
Twitter in church seems to be becoming the 21st century version of note-taking, but I actually think it’s an extroverted form of processing. Since it’s not acceptable to talk during a sermon, tweeting is a way that extroverts can think “aloud.” As a preacher, I can’t say I’m wild about the idea of people tweeting while I’m preaching. It seems like people in our technologically driven culture are in so many places at once, and perhaps worship should be one time a week that we seek to bring all of ourselves into unity– heart, mind, soul, body, and typing fingers.
As far as online church, I’m ambivalent. For people in countries where Christianity is banned, and for those people who simply will not cross the threshold of a church, then it’s a great thing. But, no matter how introverted you are, we all need embodied relationships and if we can’t find them in the body of Christ, then I’m not sure where we can find them. Second, people who are uncomfortable being in church are usually not resisting church attendance because of introversion but because of shyness, experiences of rejection, and other wounds. If we have been wounded by people and churches, then it seems to me that full healing will actually come when we find those people and churches, who communicate, in full, embodied form, the gentleness, compassion, and love of Jesus. I’m really grateful that the Son of God didn’t just get on a web-cam in heaven but actually incarnated into full human form and walked and lived among us. Online church may be an excellent step for many of those people, but my hope is that it is only a step.
R: What do you think is the most important takeaway for ministry for pastors who read this book? What will pastors learn from this book that will equip them better as a leader?
A: I devote two chapters in the book trying to demonstrate how pastors and other Christian leaders don’t have to keep masquerading as extroverts and can actually lead as introverts. That’s the main takeaway: lead as yourselves!! In chapter 6 I draw from biblical models of leadership, which center around character not personality, as well as models of leadership from the corporate and non-profit worlds which emphasize servant leadership, humility, reflection, and introspection. In chapter 7, the longest chapter, I go into ministry practicals for introverted leaders and discuss partnering with extroverts, following the model of Jesus in investing in “the few,” preaching as an introvert, and tailoring our jobs and schedules to suit our introverted rhythms and strengths.
R: I think you do a great job of dispelling the myth that those who retreated to the desert or to solitude were doing so to escape. Instead you seem to say that when we seek solitude we are better able to move forward into action because of the contemplation/solitude. Is that an accurate statement?
A: Henri Nouwen said that compassion is the fruit of solitude. When we go deep into ourselves and invite God to show us as we truly are, we find true identity. We find the good things about ourselves, our gifts, and also the ugly things – the jealousy, the fear, the anger, the desire to objectify and control others – but if we open ourselves to God’s grace in those ugly places, we can find deep compassion both for ourselves and for others. That compassion propels us to action and to works of mercy and justice. Before Jesus began his public ministry, he spent 40 days in the wilderness with only the word of God to sustain him. Throughout the history of the church, great leaders and highly influential people like St. Anthony, St. Patrick, Martin Luther, and countless others have found the impetus to love and to lead in solitude.
Rockbridge Seminary students who completed the online course “Lead Like Jesus” may be helped by reading the full interviews: Part 1 / Part 2.
Also, an interesting companion blog is Tony Morgan’s interview with Jennifer Kahnweiler, author of The Introverted Leader: Building on Your Quiet Strength.
Could 2010 become the “Year of the Introvert”?