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Home > Issues > 2013 > Spring > Confessions of a Ministry Introvert
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To see our graphic showing the differences between the brains of introverts and extroverts, click here.

Like many young adults in the church, in my twenties I got involved in youth ministry. It seemed a logical place to use my gifts: I cared about teenagers and was young enough that things hadn't changed all that much since I was in their shoes. I grew up in the church, and youth workers made a tremendous difference in my life. I wanted to lend that kind of help to someone else.

But starting my first Sunday at a new church when the youth pastor welcomed me by calling me up front to star in a game of "Butt Charades," youth ministry left me disillusioned and discouraged. I had hoped to make a positive difference; instead, I became positive I was different—and not in a good way.

I just didn't seem to fit the mold of a good youth worker. Half the time, I felt hopelessly awkward. The rest of the time, I did a very poor job of pretending to be someone I wasn't and didn't even like.

In that frame of mind, at a youth ministry conference, I chose to attend a workshop that promised to help attendees match their God-given temperament with the right role in youth ministry. Finally, I would find my fit.

The presenter gave an overview of Jungian personality theory, then had us form groups based on broad categories of personality. My group was the smallest, about 10 people in a room with hundreds. The presenter then described general categories of personality, talked about how they fit in ministry, and related each to a movie character who typified the people in that category. The movie characters were inspiring, gifted people who made a difference in the lives of young people. The descriptions and ideas were helpful and positive—until she came to the last group. Mine.

Instead of an inspiring, admirable movie character like she had chosen for the others, she chose the economics teacher in Ferris Bueller's Day Off played by Ben Stein ("Anyone? Anyone?"). She laughed, then suggested some ways people with this personality type could help out without boring everyone to death, but this didn't feel like a joke to me.

It felt like confirmation that I was in the wrong place—that I didn't even have a place. I had walked in feeling like a misfit and needing a vision for my relevance. I walked out feeling defective and ashamed.

Alienated introverts

Much of my out-of-place feeling was rooted in one aspect of my personality: introversion. And I'm not the only one. As Adam S. McHugh wrote in Introverts in the Church, "Living as an introvert in a society and a church that exalts extroversion takes its toll, and shame cuts deep into introverted psyches that are bent toward self-examination.

Add into that the hurtful experiences we all have in relationships, and our self-doubts are confirmed, pushing us toward isolation."

In your experience, do introverts seem disengaged, lacking ...

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Amy Simpson is editor of Christianity Today's Gifted for Leadership.

From Issue:Money, Spring 2013 | Posted: April 15, 2013

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Displaying 1–5 of 7 comments

Sherry Anast

July 07, 2013  5:43pm

What a great article. I was aware of many of the ideas but loved the science behind them. Let's give more thought to making space for the introverted student, youth and adult in our churches. If we don't we will miss all they have to contribute . Sometimes they need help to find a place in all the "noise" of the usual church programming. Aleah, thanks for sharing. Know the feeling.

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Destin Mouser

June 13, 2013  1:58am

Thank you so much Amy Simpson and Christianity Today! I didn't realize I needed reminded again about how much my personality affects my life. I am way too self-critical for not being able to do better at things that extroverts find easy. This helps me give myself more grace.

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Bryan Surrett

June 07, 2013  8:55am

Very interesting article, Amy. As an introverted pastor I can definitely relate to the reference about delivering a sermon and then wondering why it is so awkward to engage with others about it afterwards. Been there, done that. I love riding my motorcycle when the Minnesota weather permits, partly because I love the outdoors and partly because...I don't have to talk to anyone or listen to anything. I unplug when I strap on my helmet and hit a winding back road. And the part about retreats....that is almost too funny because it is so true. I love camping...but it is much more enjoyable and refreshing when there is no schedule to maintain or group activities demanding participation. Many times introversion can feel like a curse rather than a blessing. That is just a lie of the enemy tempting us to be dissatisfied with our Creator who made us this way. Extroverts and introverts must serve and worship God as He designed them--that's how He gets the most glory.

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Aleah Marsden

June 06, 2013  1:34pm

This really impacted me, thank you! I have always been confused on which side of the spectrum I fall being gifted with teaching gifts, but struggling to engage after. Perfect example, I lead a Bible study and love leading the group through the material, but afterward I can only do so much conversation & look forward to my alone time on the drive home to recharge. I had always considered my awful small talk a hindrance to my ministry & have prayed often for God to make me less awkward. What a gift you have given me in this perspective. I'll be thinking more about this (classic introvert, how did I not see it?! Haha). Thank you!

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AGAM IHEANYI-IGWE

June 05, 2013  12:02pm

Excellent and thought-provoking article. It is especially helpful in the way it suggests that leaders be more deliberate in placing/calling people into ministry roles. This would apply as much to extroverts as It does to introverts. It definitely requires a lot more thought than just plugging people into ministry 'holes', but (in my opinion) should lead to less ministry burnout.

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