Confessions of a Ministry Introvert

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 in enthusiasm, and unlikely to volunteer? Perhaps they feel the way I did in a world of Butt Charades and all-night parties. They might believe they don't have a place in ministry.

When churches recruit for ministry roles, many emphasize extroverted gifts like "high energy," "people person," and "outgoing." We want quick-thinkers, fast-acters, polished communicators, high-energy handshakers, and outreachers. It's easy to see how to plug extroverts into people-oriented ministries, and to assume that introverts fit best in behind-the-scenes roles with little people contact and little obvious connection to ministry strategy and vision. Such tendencies show a fundamental misunderstanding of introversion and the gifts introverts can bring to a ministry. This is a serious and costly mistake. According to Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking, "Groups also tend to follow the most dominant person in the room even though there's zero correlation between good ideas and being a good talker. The best talker might have the best ideas, but she might not." Any ministry team that's missing the influence of introverts is far less deep, wise, and effective than it could be.

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Spring 2013: Money  | Posted
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