Introverts for Jesus, Unite!
There was a time when, after a busy weekend of church activities, I would be so thoroughly over-stimulated that I'd have to go straight to bed when I got home. My extroverted husband would graciously leave me alone and instruct our children to do the same. Those days seem long ago and far away. So little angst remains about my own introverted nature that I wondered if Adam S. McHugh's new book, Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture (InterVarsity Press), was even necessary. After all, I had figured things out for myself.
But then I polled a group of friends—both introverts and extroverts—and heard that differences in temperament are a major source of tension, both at home and in church. The more I thought about my own relationships, the more I realized there remains a good deal of strain because of such differences. I've settled on an attitude of détente when increased awareness could lead to lasting peace. Introverts in the Church is a resource for dissolving the impasse—if it is read by both introverts and extroverts.
The book is founded on the premise that ours is a culture biased toward extroversion, and that churches reflect this bias. Introverts struggle to find their place, especially in evangelical churches, with their emphasis on evangelism, conversational preaching, and group activities. In the introduction, McHugh expresses his hope that God will use his work to "begin or continue a process of healing introverts—helping them find freedom in their identities and confidence to live their faith in ways that feel natural and life-giving." I suspect that for a young pastor like McHugh, introversion presents a more profound challenge than it does for congregants and empty nesters who aren't trying to juggle the demands of church leadership and a growing family.
In fact, McHugh himself very nearly withdrew from the ordination process because of doubts about the compatibility of his temperament and his calling. This dilemma presents both the book's raison d'etre as well as a weakness of it. Introverts in the Church is strongest when it is descriptive, and weakest when it offers solutions, precisely because the author's solutions are too pastor-centric and, by his own admission, theoretical. However, in this case a little bit of knowledge yields significant rewards.
McHugh identifies three primary characteristics of introverts. First, he says, introverts are energized by solitude and drained by social interaction. (Extroverts, on the other hand, derive energy from external sources and find both inactivity and too much solitude draining.) Second, introverts tend to filter information and experiences internally; thinking generally precedes speaking. Third, introverts prefer depth over breadth in both relationships and interests. They may look calm on the surface, but their brains are "bubbling with activity"; thus, they require less external stimulation than their extroverted neighbors.
McHugh says, however, that "introversion and extroversion do not describe categories of people but two separate forces within each person." We all have a "capacity for looking outward at the world of people, things, activities, and events, as well as a capacity for searching inward in the world of thoughts, feelings, imagination, and ideas." The challenge for those who tend to focus inward lies in "distinguishing between the healthy components of personalities … and the coping mechanisms that are the symptoms of our wounds." Because introverts tend to be good listeners, we can get enmeshed in one-sided relationships and masquerade as extroverts in order to be accepted. Both tendencies drain us of vitality.