Review: Introverts in the Church

Introverts have been quietly making their entrance into the reaches of society, as introverts tend to do. We’ve always been here, but not everyone has taken notice. Susan Cains’ book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (Amazon’s #1 seller in their “Behavioral Psychology” section) has been a big success. Movies with introverted characters, such as It’s Kind of a Funny Story, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Donnie Darko, She’s All That are nothing new. But introverts are not topics only for books and movies. They are real people, and they are in (or they lead) your churches.

In the revised edition of his book Introverts and the Church, Adam McHugh explains the general personality of an introvert, how they are often perceived and understood in church, how they ought to be perceived and understood in church, and how introverts can minister to others given through their unique personalities.

Summary

“The extrovert God of John 3:16 does not beget an introvert people,”

-Richard Halverson, The Timelessness of Jesus Christ

I was quite introverted as a teenager, though I didn’t know there was a title to it. I’ve heard plenty of quotes and ideas like the one above and always felt like there was something wrong with me. In his first chapter, McHugh “paint[s] with broad strokes” features of evangelical churches which are unnatural for introverts: equating spirituality for sociability, “chatty” churches before and after the service, and personal evangelism (at least the emphasis to always be “on” and ready to talk to anybody and everybody).

After covering the church’s extroverted roots and introverted ancestors, McHugh (chapter 2) defines the “introvert” (talking briefly about the Meyers Briggs Type Indicator) and the general differences between introverts and extroverts so that, by reading this, the extroverts can understand their quiet friends better and the introverts can understand themselves better. McHugh says, “While extroverts may gauge their day by the quality of interactions and experiences they had, introverts often gauge their day by the thoughts and reflections they had” (45). He lists seventeen of the most common introverted attributes, most of them I embodied all too well at one point or another.

“Introverts focus on the meaning they make of the events swirling around them; extroverts plunge into the events themselves,”

-Susan Cain

The third chapter is about healing, mostly figuring out life knowing it is not bad to be introverted. We should be careful not to make our introversion an excuse to avoid sacrificially loving others around us. Chapter four looks at an introverted (or ‘contemplative’) spirituality. We enter into solitude to set our eyes on the God whose ways are higher than ours so that we might be transformed. Since introverts “live in their heads,” McHugh’s suggests we go about our day paying attention to our inner thoughts and desires to see what God is doing in our lives. Because much of the western world is taken up in living a maximum-efficiency lifestyle, introverts need time to recharge. When ministering to others, it is often the case that there is always someone who needs ministering to whether it be inside or outside your home. McHugh provides a few questions for you to ask yourself to figure out the best times when you have the most energy. He suggests developing a daily/weekly schedule so you know what to expect in your day and can plan for the times you will need to recharge.

Within community, introverts can find it difficult to say ‘no.’ If this continues, they may find themselves in the “introvert spiral” where they use a lot of social energy and then “spiral out” to recharge for a period of days or weeks (a form of “burning out”). Introverts have plenty of gifts to offer, one of them being the ability to listen and give space. Certainly there are extroverts who are good at listening, but for an internal processor as myself, if someone wants my advice on a matter, I appreciate when they give me as much information to work with as they can. I sit back and let them talk so I can take the whole gamut and give my opinion.

On the flip side, we need to be available to our community. We need to ask questions, over-express ourselves, and reveal the inner workings of our minds to people. For myself, I don’t like when people look over to read an email (or a sermon) I am writing. I may want them to read through my finished rough draft, but I don’t want them to see my poor thinking in my rough rough draft! We need to be able to be vulnerable before our family in Christ and share with them who we really are.

“Without knowledge of self there is no knowledge of God.
Without knowledge of God there is no knowledge of self,”

-John Calvin, The Institute of the Christian Religion

One big question I had throughout high school and college was: as an introvert, how can I lead? My wife? A congregation? A field trip? Anyone? McHugh spends two chapters dealing with the misconception that introverts can’t lead. Period. But what is a leader? McHugh says, “Leaders give people a lens and a language for understanding their work and experiences in light of larger purposes” (134). As Christians, we are living lives of “day-to-day monotony and ordinariness.” We living in the kingdom of God under the resurrected and ascended divine Son who redeemed us through our sins through his death and poured out his Spirit into us. God’s presence is always with us. That is not ordinary.

To know God, you must know who you are. Extroverted or introverted, you are a redeemed sinner. To lead as an introvert, you should have a good understanding of yourself too and what introversion is. I can’t rehearse all that McHugh says here (though I wish I could), but in leading, teaching, evangelism, and communal life, you will be operating out of weakness and relying on the sacrificial Son we serve.

Recommended?

McHugh’s first edition came out 10 yeas ago, right around when I would have graduated high school. I wish I would have known about it then. Not only is it not wrong to be an introvert, it is actually a good thing! There are traits that I have that come more naturally and more easily than they do to extroverts (in general). If you’ve taken the Myers Briggs test you’re certainly aware of the many personalities people can have, yet still we are more complex than merely 16 personalities. People of all personalities ought to sit back, listen, and relax as they humbly figure out and acknowledge the strengths and weaknesses of others and yourself. Christ’s body needs one another. The extroverts certainly need the introverts, and the introverts certainly need the extroverts.

Lagniappe

  • Author: Adam S. McHugh
  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: IVP Books; Expanded, Revised edition (August 1, 2017)

Buy it from Amazon or from IVP Academic!

Disclosure: I received this book free from IVP Academic. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

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