Introverts in the Church by Adam S. McHugh

(Introverts in the Church: Finding our Place in an Extroverted Culture.  McHugh, Adam S.  IVP Books:  Downer’s Grove, 2009.)

Here are some quotes and summaries.  I am just gonna share now, and maybe provide more response and interaction after I have read more, but I am enjoying it and highly recommend it. (the author discusses in the introduction that he is speaking in broad generalities, so he is not saying all churches are bad extroverts and introverts are better)

from the Introduction

  • “…pastoral ministry requires a person to move quickly in crisis situations, to float from one circle to the next, to mobilize people of contrasting personalities.  In other words, I knew that ordained ministry required social skills, and I wasn’t sure I had them.  Even when I was able to muster enough energy and warmth to connect with people, I was soon drained and exhausted, ready for a nap.” (The book is written from a personal perspective by an introvert who struggled with his identity in ministry.  I can relate.)
  • “…it is my experience that evangelical churches can be difficult places for introverts to thrive, both for theological and cultural reasons.”

Chapter 1–The Introverted Church

  • When college students were asked to rate Jesus according to MBTI (Meyers-Briggs), most rated Jesus according to their own placement except that 97% rated Jesus as extrovert, although only half the class were extroverts.  Meaning:  Jesus, the perfect man, is perceived as being extroverted even by introverts. (p. 15)
  • “People who enjoy reflection and solitude, and listen more than they speak, are often viewed as enigmatic, antisocial and passive.”
  • One introvert’s experience in an extroverted church:  “The idea of ‘intimacy’ in this community was people constantly together, and the implicit assumption was that the more activities and social interaction a person engaged in, the closer she was to God.”
  • “Three  theological anchors…that are often expressed in strikingly extroverted ways”:
    • A personal relationship with God:  “…sometimes our value for community life can become a substitute for relationship with God.” (concerning an extrovert-biased mentality)
    • Centrality of the Bible:  “A love for the Word of God easily translates into a love for words about God..and words in general.  Put more bluntly: Evangelicals talk a lot.”  “Our (introverts-bpn) spirituality may be grounded in Scripture, yet is quieter, slower and more contemplative.  In an upfront, talkative, active evangelical culture, we can be viewed as self-absorbed, or standoffish, and we can feel like outsiders even when we have faithfully attended a church for years.”
    • Personal Evangelism: “A disinterest in small talk makes us reluctant to approach strangers, and we do not always have the energy to engage people in long conversation.  Confrontation is not usually a comfortable approach for us, as our inner processing slows us down in a debate format.  Our sense of personal uneasiness about evangelism is compounded by a spiritual guilt that creeps in when we fear we are neglecting the Great Commission.”
  • Mark Noll quote:  To put it most simply, the evangelical ethos is activistic, populistic, pragmatic, and utilitarian.  It allows little space for broader or deeper intellectual effort because it is dominated by the urgencies of the moment.”
    • often heard about Christian culture, “busyness is next to godliness”
  • the author was told during an interview for position as associate pastor:  “This is a really high-octane environment.  We’re looking for someone who is excitable and high energy…We work full throttle.” (just go read listings for churches seeking minister for our fellowship.  “energy” will come up often-bpn)
  • a therapist who has many introverted pastors as clients says they “struggle to find balance in their lives and often wrestle with depression”
  • One final quote is a good summary of the first chapter and the problems that introverts face in the church:
    • “…the up-front piety of evangelicalism, and the expectations for outward, emotional displays of faith, can feel invasive and artificial to introverts.
    • Meanwhile the anti-intellectual stream can alienate some introverted thinkers who find that their love of ideas, comfort in solitude and powers of concentration translate into a life of intellectual pursuits.
    • Furthermore, the pragmatism that seeks measurable, tangible gauges for success strikes many introverts who appreciate depth, as superficial and oversimplistic, and our action-oriented culture does not always value people who are thoughtful and reflective.”

7 thoughts on “Introverts in the Church by Adam S. McHugh

  1. Back in the 80s, at the height of the so-called Boston Movement in churches of Christ, Flavil Yeakley did a study of their movement. He found that people were being pressured to reshape their personality types to those of the leaders of the movement.

    He also commented, however, that our traditional outreach methods (like Bible correspondence courses, etc.), tended to appeal more to introverts than extroverts. He found that the discipling movement was reaching more extroverts, who in turn tend to be more effective at reaching out to others.

    It’s an interesting topic.

    Grace and peace,
    Tim Archer

  2. Rich D.

    I must get this book (I wonder if it’s too late to add to my Christmas wish list). My wife and I are both introverts, her more than me. And yet, we both feel called and gifted to certain areas of service in our Christian walk, but not to other areas — areas which could be considered more “popular” or even “mandatory/required”.

    A few years ago, a family moved to our area and began to worship at our congregation. They are strong, spiritual and gifted people. We quickly discovered a mutual interest and gift of music, and our relationship with them grew rapidly as a result. However, over time, it became clear that they, as a family unit, were far more outgoing and “social” than were we. This eventually led to some friction in our relationship with them.

    We all attempted to work through the issues, but during one discussion they revealed their opinion that my wife and I were too introverted, and not “busy” enough. It was their position that, in Christ, an introvert would (and should) become more extroverted and social, and that our acceptance of our introverted nature was an indicator that we were not truly seeking to belong to God.

    My wife and I were devastated and upset. In many ways, we still struggle with that “assessment” today. I know and believe that Christians are given a spirit of boldness, and not one of timidity. However, I also know that we are all given special, unique gifts — not all of which require an extroverted nature.

    The brief clips and thoughts from the book that you’ve shared here inspire me. I can’t wait to the read this book.

    (apologies for the wall of text)

  3. Brian

    glad to meet you rich, thanks for commenting and sharing.
    sorry you were judged as unspiritual for being introverted.

    sad, but common, and not just extroverts, but we all usually assume our way is the mostly holy, right?

    I hope you get the book, I need to read on it more.

  4. From the other side of the aisle:

    Catholic culture, leadership, and spirituality is overwhelming introverted. In MBTI terms, Catholic priests are the mirror opposite of Protestant clergy, who are majority extroverted. Catholic priests are overwhelming introverted.

    Their formation is more intellectually rigorous (2 years of philosophy before you get the to 4 years of theology!) and less pastoral than the average Protestant pastor’s. And it is much more influenced monastic models. And most of the great Catholic saints and theologians who shaped our spiritual traditions were members of monastic communities.

    In many way, western Catholic spirituality wells up from the lived experience of introverts and is designed for introverts for introverts. (This is much less true for Latin or African Catholicism, I think.)

    An an extroverted evangelical-become Catholic, I struggle with this a lot. And I’ve worked with tens of thousands of Catholics at all levels in 100 dioceses on 5 continents so far.

    In a dominant introvert culture, new people are ignored. I can’t tell you how many times Catholics have told me “if anyone had talked to me when I came to this parish, I would never have come back. It is because they left me alone, that I stayed and am here today.”

    I know. To evangelical ears, this sounds impossible. But it is so true. Catholics are (in general) strong in the introverted areas – contemplative spirituality, the intellectual, etc. and bad at hospitality, evangelism, fellowship, etc.

    Many evangelicals who become Catholics seem to be intellectually inclined introverts exhausted by an extroverted spiritual tradition. But many more go in the opposite direction. Large numbers of extroverted Catholics are being unconsciously drawn to a more welcoming, interpersonally focused Christian culture is part of it, I think.

    There are many other factors on both sides but personality is one factor in these moves – especially among Anglos – that very few people recognize or acknowledge.

  5. b

    sherry, that is fascinating!
    thank you for commenting and sharing that.

    too bad we all can’t be more balanced, but at least there seems to be a place for everyone type.

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