The Christian Introvert
November 26, 2010 7 Comments
Adam S. McHugh has written a wise book of guidance for the Christian introvert. I’m convinced by his argument that the Christian church in the West is, by and large, an “extrovert church,” and that this has stifled and confused many members of the church and enervated the church’s influence in the world.
Here’s my chapter-by-chapter review of Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture, by Adam S. McHugh.
Chapter 1, “The Extroverted Church,” documents the extroverted tone of the Christian church today. The author’s citation from Eugene Peterson gets right to the point: “American religion is conspicuous for its messianically pretentious energy, its embarrassingly banal prose, and its impatiently hustling ambition.” Such “hustling ambition” is part of the legacy of the first and second Great Awakenings. I would add that it is also a capitulation to modern western culture. Approximately half of the church’s demographic is temperamentally introverted, and so a large sector of the church is made to feel alienated and inadequate to the call of God in their lives.
Chapter 2, “The Introverted Difference,” helpfully describes the differences between two temperaments, the extrovert and the introvert. Any Christian reader will probably know whether she is an extrovert believer or an introvert believer after reading this chapter. And if she is an introvert, she will probably feel considerable relief that someone understands her. McHugh’s affirmation of the introvert temperament begets inspiration to own your introvert temperament and re-engage with the church and the culture in ways that draw on your strengths as an introvert.
The fundamental difference concerns the direction of energy flow in the life of the individual, especially in relation to social interaction. The extrovert, of course, seeks out and is energized by interaction with others. The introvert, though capable of participation, feels the energy drain away as a result too much interaction. This affects her perception of herself as a member of an extroverted culture. And it can be misunderstood by the extroverts who set the tone for this culture of extroversion.
Note: Being an introvert doesn’t make you shy, or inhibited, or anti-social. And being an introvert is no better or worse than being an extrovert.
Chapter 3, “Finding Healing,” addresses the need of so many introverts for healing from the wounds inflicted by the exclusivity of our extroverted culture. Often lonely and confused about the role they should play within the church and the world leads, introverts are vulnerable to depression, isolation, and despondency. McHugh distinguishes between introversion and shyness, and helps the introvert reader understand how participation in communal life is possible and why it is necessary.
The next few chapters explore ways the Christian introvert may thrive as a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Chapter 4, “Introverted Spirituality,” introduces ways that Christian introverts may deepen their relationship with God. These ways complement the introverted temperament. McHugh describes contemplative spirituality. His outline of the examen on page 74, though concise, is practical. And his counsel to adopt a “rule of life” is especially good. He speaks several times of learning to discern the voice of God. Though I would gloss this differently, what he says is consistent with my own take on divine guidance.
Chapter 5, “Introverted Community and Relationships,” admonishes the introvert to re-engage in communal life and offers practical suggestions for doing this, consistent with the introvert temperament. McHugh speaks as an introvert who has practiced what he preaches. He attests to the refreshment that becomes possible for the introvert in community, and to the joy that accompanies meaningful participation.
Chapter 6, “The Ability to Lead,” speaks to me. On the Myers-Briggs personality evaluation, I’m an INTJ. Translated, this means I have stronger tendencies to probe below the surface for what is important, rather than seek out concrete experiences, to make decisions based on deliberation, and to prefer structure over spontaneity in many (though certainly not all) areas of my life. For all of my adult life I’ve had a leadership role of some kind within the church and within society. Leadership feels and looks different for the introvert. But the introvert leader brings important skills to the table. Models of introverted leadership include Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr., and Jonathan Edwards. Old Testament saints Moses and Jacob probably were introverts. The young pastor Timothy, so important to the ministry of St. Paul, may have been an introvert (see 2 Timothy 1:7). Then there’s Mary, the mother of Jesus, and Mary, who was Martha’s sister (see Luke 10:38-42). I suppose Esther, the Old Testament figure who changed the course of history for Israel, was an introvert. Not bad company, really.
(Diane Hamilton offers a sample list of celebrities, showing some famous extroverts and some famous introverts.)
Chapter 7, “Leading as Ourselves,” is one of the longest and most valuable chapters. McHugh extends his treatment of leadership and gets into specific details of preaching as an introvert, functioning as a spiritual director, the differences in leading extroverts and leading other introverts. He writes very candidly on this subject.
A consistent critique of my ministry has been a lack of communication. What people sometimes consider to be my flaws betrays their extroverted expectations for communication.
Speaking from experience, I can say that there is real lived wisdom in that statement. University students, for example, expect—and often prefer—extrovert communication. This is reinforced in countless ways. At the graduate level, many of them aspire to be the kind of teacher that they expect their teachers to be. Which is to say: extroverts (in the Jungian sense). But they are not all extroverts themselves, and they never will be. So they need models of introvert leadership in teaching and mentoring. Also, they might benefit from considering what an introvert teacher offers that most extrovert teachers do not, because of how they’re wired. (This topic deserves several posts at another time!)
Chapter 8, “Introverted Evangelism,” begins, “An introverted evangelist? Isn’t that an oxymoron?” Very little has been written about personal evangelism that doesn’t assume a extrovert personality. This chapter is an exception. McHugh stresses that evangelism is needed and occurs in different contexts. Many contexts—some of them very natural and routine—are overlooked. And these often are contexts where introverts thrive. Here’s one tidbit that may interest you in this aspect of evangelism:
My evangelistic conversations these days resemble spiritual direction more than they do preaching. . . . Because introverts process internally, we can offer a nonjudgmental posture and others will be comfortable opening up their lives to us.
I’m a big fan of “conversational evangelism.” But many extroverts are clumsy in their use of this approach.
Note: McHugh and I differ about how rational argumentation and lifestyle persuasion relate to each other. Whereas he places them in tension with each other, I see them as complementary, no matter who we happen to be conversing with.
Suggestion: For more on conversational and lifestyle evangelism, I recommend the book Lifestyle Evangelism: Learning to Open Your Life to Those Around You, by Joe Aldrich, and Conversational Evangelism: How to Listen and Speak So You Can Be Heard, by Norman Geisler and David Geisler.
Chapter 9, “Introverts in Church,” surveys the diverse ways that Christians do church, and relates each of these to the interaction styles of introverts, who may or may not be Christians. McHugh describes some wonderfully creative ways to energize the worship experience and communal life for the many introverts who are otherwise neglected by standard protocols. I know of Christians who have never felt at home in churches they’ve attended. After awhile, many of them begin to feel that something is wrong with them. Some even begin looking beyond Christianity for spiritual sustenance. It is a grievous error of the church to miss what’s being done to these dear believers.
Introverts in the Church includes “Questions for Reflection and Discussion” for each chapter. How fitting it is, in a book for and about the Christian introvert’s discipleship, to place reflection and discussion in that order! These are not perfunctory questions. They probe and delve deeply in ways that will help the introvert understand herself more fully and will inspire new ways of being in community with and leadership among other believers.
There pages of “Further Reading” include categorized lists of other resources. On evangelism, McHugh recommends Mike Bechtle, Rebecca Manley Pippert, and Rick Richardson. He lists three memoirs by “introverted authors,” Anne Lamont, Donald Miller, and Lauren Winner. For more detailed study of introversion, he suggests Susan Cain, Laurie A. Helgoe, and Marti Olsen Laney. There are other recommendations for “Community and Relationships,” “General Personality Type,” “Leadership,” “Spiritual Direction,” and “Spirituality.”
The book I’ve found most useful for delineating personality theory and personality types is Please Understand Me II: Character, Temperament, Intelligence, by David Keirsey. Basic to the theory is Isabel Briggs Myers, Gifts Differing: Understanding Personality Type. McHugh also recommends and frequently cites Type-Talk: The 16 Personality Types That Determine How We Live, by Otto Kroeger and Jane M. Theusen.
Two books I would add to McHugh’s list are:
- Who We Are Is How We Pray: Matching Your Personality and Spirituality, by Charles Keating
- Prayer and Temperament: Different Prayer Forms for Different Personality Types, by Chester P. Michael and Marie C. Norissey