What Introverts Wish the Church Understood About Them
You don't have to be an extrovert to be an effective spiritual leader
Sometimes when I walk into church, I like to play the personality game. Having taken a psychology class in college, I feel somewhat qualified to assess different personality types simply by observation.
The youth pastor in the loud plaid shirt, running around and waving his arms with a guitar strapped on his back?
The twentysomething pouring coffee at the welcome center and chatting it up with visitors?
The teenager in the corner alone by the snack table?
With all the extroverts seemingly running the show, where does an introvert like me fit in? Do we even have a place at church?
The line between personality types isn’t always so clear, although it may seem that way. Introverts are not necessarily shy, and the outgoing personalities are not always extroverts. What does this say about society, and especially the Church, if individuals are being boxed into stereotypes?
With the potential for misunderstanding and judgment, here are a few things introverts wish people in the Church understood about them:
1. Introverts Are Not Anti-social.
Introversion and extroversion, according to popular psychological theories, is a difference in where people get their energy. It does not indicate shyness, social awkwardness or being a hermit.
Introverts “prefer to devote their social energies to close friends, colleagues and family,” says Susan Cain in her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. “They listen more than they talk, think before they speak, and often feel as if they express themselves better in writing than in conversation.”
Introverts function differently than extroverts. They need time to recharge. According to George Fox University Psychology Professor Sue O’Donnell, introverts, in their true sense, have been misunderstood.
“It has come to take on a meaning of anti-social, which is not the case,” she says. “We can deal with people—we have no problem with that, but in general, we recharge by ourselves.”
2. Introverts Can Serve in All Sorts of Roles.
When it comes to areas of service in a church congregation, some introverts may prefer more behind-the-scenes roles, like fixing coffee or running sound. But other introverts may want to help in what are thought of as more extroverted roles—serving as a greeter or leading worship. Every person is different, and trying to fit an extrovert or an introvert into a cookie cutter is a recipe for misunderstanding.
“Stay true to your own nature,” Cain says. “If you like to do things in a slow and steady way, don’t let others make you feel as if you have to race. If you enjoy depth, don’t force yourself to seek breadth.”
Simply put, introverts shouldn’t feel pressured to do what is socially acceptable—such as pretending to be outgoing if they don’t want to be. Conversely, introverts shouldn’t feel tied to the stereotype of solitude if they really enjoy talking with people. O’Donnell says that the line between classic extroversion and introversion isn’t always so clear.
“There aren’t two categories,” she says. “Like anything else, there’s a spectrum.”
3. Introverts Aren’t Shy.
Due to their usually reserved nature, introverts are often told to come out of their shell. They tend to observe and listen in social situations, pausing to think before speaking. In a group setting, they may not appear engaged, but this is not always the case.
“Shyness is the fear of social disapproval or humiliation, while introversion is a preference for environments that are not overstimulating,” Cain says. “Shyness is inherently painful; introversion is not.”
Especially in group contexts in church, give introverts room to speak, but don’t call them out if they don’t want to—they’re probably just taking time to process their own thoughts and what’s been said.
Introverts, though not always outgoing in social situations, usually have other talents that are important when working with people. These can be deep thinking skills, listening or respect for others.
4. Introverts Can be Effective Leaders.
God uses all kinds of people for His purposes. Many leaders in the Bible didn’t feel capable of doing what God asked, but He found use for their strengths and even their weaknesses.
George Fox University Pastor Jamie Johnson acknowledges that there are both introverts and extroverts in the Bible—people who were imperfect, but God worked through their imperfections. Jesus included a variety of personalities when choosing His closest disciples.
“Peter was a flaming extrovert,” says Johnson. “But the Apostle John, we don’t know much about him, but he strikes me as an introvert.”
Johnson also mentions female figures in the Bible who were both personality types. Deborah was probably an extrovert, whereas Abraham’s wife Sarah was more contemplative. Sisters Mary and Martha were likely on either side of the personality spectrum.
“God has always been about the business of shattering expectations, and in our culture, the standards of leadership are extroverted,” says Adam McHugh in his book Introverts in the Church. “It perfectly follows the biblical trend that God would choose the unexpected and the culturally ‘unfit’—like introverts—to lead His Church for the sake of greater glory.”
The Church needs all kinds of personalities to function. Introverts (as well as extroverts) are necessary to the Church Body. Ministry requires a variety of positions in which introverts and extroverts can feel comfortable. Both should do what feels natural, not just what they think they’re expected do. All parts of ministry are essential—working with children, organizing events, making food, cleaning, praying, preaching and other responsibilities.
“We need to extend grace,” says Johnson. “[Both personalities] are essential to the ministry of the Church.”
So, back to my game of personality guessing:
That youth pastor at my church, who’s running around, exuding energy?
He might just be an introvert in disguise.
The twentysomething greeting visitors?
She might be stepping outside her comfort zone to make others feel welcome.
These misconceptions about introverts have the potential to cause us to brush off unique individuals with a preconceived stereotype. Maybe it’s time to evaluate the way we put others into boxes, and how we judge those who appear a certain way.
The Church needs all of us.