Extroverts and Introverts in the Body of Christ
Last year, we saw a resurgence in interest in personality types. Headlines and studies declared the benefits of being an extrovert, an introvert, an introvert who acts like an extrovert, or even an ambivert (a healthy mix of both).
We seem to always want to know what it takes to get to the top. Is it the strong, silent type? What about the assertive, outgoing one? Like siblings who are always trying to outdo the other, introverts and extroverts often find themselves at opposite ends of the playing field, each thinking they've got the upper hand.
Secular and church cultures share a fascination with personality types. As a resident assistant at a Christian college, I was asked to complete the Myers-Briggs assessment, used to better understand how the staff led and served those under our care in the dorms. Churches and ministries regularly take advantage of personality tests to better gauge their leaders, staff, and congregants.
I am an extrovert, a social butterfly since I uttered my first word. I have never met a stranger and can strike up a conversation with just about anyone. I love being around people, and I hate being alone. You know how some people get anxious when they walk into a crowded room? I am the complete opposite. Silence and solitude terrifies me.
I'm such an extrovert that this recent list on Buzzfeed really resonated with me. I found myself nodding yes to nearly every caption and GIF. Friends to talk it out? Yes, definitely. No plans on a weekend? Shudder. Bored alone? Nailed it.
I also know and love many introverts. I am one of four siblings, and they're not all extroverts like me. I've learned as I've gotten older that each personality is a beautiful depiction of the handiwork of God. Still, extroverts seem to be coming out on top in today's world, which values expression and initiative. In a Wall Street Journal article last summer, the author suggested that research shows introverts might actually be happier if they acted like extroverts.
But not everyone thinks that way. Susan Cain, author of Q: The Power of Introverts, affirms the value of introverts from every culture and generation. In her TED Talk on the same topic she explains that while we live in a society that is more accommodating for extroverts (education, the workplace, social expectations), introverts are pretty great, too. They are so great, she says, that it's not just the extroverts who have changed the world. She provides a helpful list of leaders and influencers who were introverts and yet accomplished tremendous things. Did you know that Eleanor Roosevelt and Rosa Parks were introverts? And yet, look at all they accomplished.
As Christians our response is two-fold. On the one hand, we should be the first to welcome all personality types into the body of Christ and into the service of the church. God doesn't play favorites with any one personality. He created them all. 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 reminds us that the body of Christ would be woefully incomplete if one member suddenly stopped working and serving. This goes for extroverts and introverts alike.
But there is another response to our sudden obsession with personalities. As much as we may identify with the character traits of our personality type, we must also recognize our limitations and seek balance within our personality.
For the extrovert, while you may not like it much, silence and solitude is a necessary part of the Christian life. Many times we have to force ourselves to remove the noise of our own making in order to meet with God. It takes effort. For the introvert, you may have the silence and solitude thing down, but you're also called to enter into the lives of those around you for discipleship and fellowship. Each will have to at some point learn to move a little bit more towards the other, both in understanding and in practice.
Jesus perfectly embodied both types of personalities. He knew when to withdraw from people and he knew when to move towards them. He knew when to step back and pray and he knew when to move forward and heal. He knew when to talk and he knew when to listen.
So while our culture will ever be debating the merits of the sanguine, melancholy, ENFJ, INTJ, and the like we can rest in the fact that though they might be helpful in showing us a little bit more about ourselves, they aren't exhaustive and they aren't a hierarchy. One does not hold power over the other. We can trust that in the body of Christ every hand, foot, eye, or mouth is needed.