Fortunately, disappointment has not been my only fellow traveler on this road. I have also been accompanied by hope: hope in the calling, healing, and transformative power of God. My journey has not been guided by my own heroism or impressive displays of faithfulness, but by God's sovereignty. The same mysterious force that seemed to prevent me from depositing my resignation that day has also been a constant voice calling me into church ministry, parachurch ministry, and chaplaincy. God is bringing me through a process of self-acceptance, both in terms of my introvert identity and also in terms of the gifts and contributions I bring to the Christian community.
Hiding out with Moses
In the archetypal story of a reluctant leader (Exodus 4:10-13), Moses protests the call of God every time God's voice summons him. Though leaders of all personality types have balked at God's calling, Moses' personality and life exhibit the telltale signs of introversion. Exodus 4:10 literally reads "I am not a man of words … but I am heavy-tongued and heavy-mouthed." Most introverts can relate to the feeling of our tongues sticking to the floors of mouths, our lips straining to move. We have hesitated and stuttered, not out of torpor but out of the need to think before speaking. We have hoped, along with Moses, that God will excuse us from the harrowing task of leadership because of our fears of failure and rejection, because of our nightmare of ineloquence on a public stage.
From the beginning of Moses' story, the narrative theme that stands out is that of hiding. Under the cover of two fierce midwives, Moses' mother looked into the eyes of her newborn son and knew she must hide him from the bloodthirsty Egyptians. After he became too big to conceal, she made an ark for him and hid him among the overgrowth of reeds along the river bank. Discovered, he was raised in the home of the Pharaoh's daughter until, one day, he came across a fellow Hebrew being beaten by an Egyptian.
So Moses killed the Egyptian and then hid his body in the sand. After Pharaoh heard of this, he aimed to kill Moses, who fled and hid in a foreign land. Then, as a shepherd in Midian, Moses drove his flock "beyond the wilderness" (Ex 3:1). I get the sense that Moses was escaping as far away as he possibly could, a warrior turned shepherd, a leader turned alien, an introvert turned refugee. Even when the Lord appeared to him in a blaze of fire, with a voice declaring the transcendent Name, Moses hid behind his fears, and then behind the elocution and charisma of his brother, Aaron. Moses went before the Hebrew people and into Pharaoh's throne room clutching his brother's coattails.
As I look at my own leadership experiences and as I talk with introverted pastors, seminarians, and those considering leadership in some capacity in the church, I see a similar theme of hiding. We may hide in the shelter of our studies and in the warm embrace of our books, behind our lofty theologies and nuanced understandings of vocation and spirituality. We may conceal our true personalities behind extroverted personas, out of fear of not meeting the expectations of others—or of ourselves. Sometimes we play "the introvert card" in order to avoid taking a risk or doing something uncomfortable.
However, in more than a decade of Christian leadership I have come to see the significant contributions introverts make to others and have learned effective introverted models of leadership. So we must distinguish between our energy level for a task and our gifting for that same task. Just because we lose energy doing something does not necessarily indicate we are not a good fit for it. I am convinced that calling, not personality type, is the determinative factor in the formation and longevity of a leader. It was no coincidence that God met Moses in the very place that he tried to flee, nor was it accidental that Moses would later drive another flock, the people of Israel, into that same wilderness to the mountain of God. God's call sheds light on our darkest hiding places.