Little Rock, Arkansas was the Sunday stop on the last leg of our cross-country trip. I don’t recall the denomination of the church we visited, but I sure remember its personality: the two-handed handshakes, the over-the-top meet-n-greet . . . and the dear woman who sat next to me and kept touching my arm whenever the pastor made a good point. That church leaned hard toward an extroverted culture. For this introvert with the plexiglass space bubble, I honestly couldn’t get out of that building fast enough. While that church is certainly not typical by any means (thank heavens!), it demonstrates with broad brush strokes the extroverted culture that prevails in the church.
Adam S. McHugh looks at the church through the lens of an introvert. He encourages introverted believers to celebrate their temperament and, rather than being defined by what they are NOT (outgoing, people-loving, gregarious, etc.) to lean into the strengths and gifts that come with their personality. Rather than equating spirituality with sociability and portraying evangelism as a back-slapping presentation of The Four Spiritual Laws, Introverts in the Church argues for a biblical vision of worship that puts God on display through relationships that encourage both introverts and extroverts to go deep into their inner worlds while at the same time moving outward in sacrificial love.
Explaining the Introverted Brain
Research shows that introverts and extroverts function differently because they process life differently. Introverts derive their energy from solitude while extroverts are energized by interaction and external stimuli. In addition, introverts filter that external stimuli through a finer grid, becoming overwhelmed more quickly than extroverts do with their more flexibly filtering brains. Introverts tend to prefer depth over breadth in relationships, in their interests, and in self-examination. Scientifically and theologically, it would not be an exaggeration to say that our Creator knit each one of us together as either an introvert or an extrovert.
Solitude vs. Isolation
While introverts have a reputation for being selfish and isolated, all believers who are operating in health will instead practice solitude which McHugh defines as going “deep into ourselves in order to become more self-aware and more compassionate.” In a culture that thrives on over-stimulation, all temperament types need to formulate healthy practices of retreat, times of pulling away from the noise in order to re-enter with perspective and godly wisdom.
The “Level-5 Leaders” described in Jim Collins’s book Good to Great are not the classic charismatic leaders we associate with success. Their humility, diligence, and willingness to build into the lives of others explain God’s choice of leaders throughout biblical history: the second-borns and the slow-of-speech; the shepherd boys; and the uneducated fishermen. It turns out that “leaders in the real world are about equally divided between introverts and extroverts.”
Thriving as an Introvert of Faith
It is possible for a believing introvert to find a place of fulfillment and influence within the church. This is NOT accomplished by learning and parroting extrovert-ish behaviors, but rather by operating as teachers, leaders, and involved neighbors out of introverted strengths.
I was rather hoping for an “introvert exemption” on the matter of evangelism, but what I got from Introverts in the Church was far better. I was assured that there is an approach to evangelism that does not put me in the role of an answer dispensing content dumper. Introverted evangelists are fellow seekers who share with authenticity how “God’s love has reached the dark parts of [their] lives.” McHugh sees himself as one who shares glimpses of God by responding to the ways in which God is already at work in people around him. A narrow-focus of relationship building, open-ended questions, and non-defensive dialogue open the door for both introverted seekers and introverted evangelists.
Finally, as believers we are called to embrace discomfort for the cause of Christ and for the enlargement of our worship. Both introverts and extroverts will grow stagnant if never challenged. The inward and outward movement of breathing provides a helpful picture of the way a living thing survives and thrives. Believers of all temperaments need the depth and richness that come with solitude alongside the self-giving poured out life that accompanies community. God has created a diversity of personalities and gifts within the church, and this is a treasure we are only beginning to understand.