It's a bright, warm day today (try 80 F, a true Indian summer day), and I've taken advantage of the Columbus Day holiday and no classes to camp out at the local coffee shop. On my right is a tall mug of coffee, which should get me through this post - the long-anticipated post about Introverts in the Church.
Probably many of you have never heard of Introverts in the Church. Neither had I, until I found it on a friend's bookshelf in Spain.
Introverts in the Church, written by Adam McHugh, challenges extroverted American Christianity, recommending that introverts cultivate their unique gifts and use these gifts to contribute effectively to their church. McHugh speaks out against the overemphasis on action (as opposed to contemplation) in the church, pointing out that "[t]he implicit thought is that the mark of true, progressing discipleship is participation in an increasing number of activities." (91). Not everybody is comfortable with such intense activity, so introverts (defined as people who gain energy from solitude) are excluded from a church that stresses activity so greatly.
The first correction McHugh recommends is restoration for the introvert, which comes as introverts recognize their "gravity and contemplativeness" (147) as a gift and cultivate that gift by scheduling times of contemplation into their schedule. The second correction he recommends is for introverts to become involved in their church as introverts, sharing their greater "longing for depth" (69) with fellow believers in Christ. Although McHugh spells out specific contributions introverts can make, it is not my goal to share these specifics with you. What I want to do is share with you what I, as an introvert myself, gained from the reading and so what these ideas look like in the so-called "real world".
The realization that it's okay for introverts "do ministry" differently than extroverts brings a sense of relief and peace. Extroverts tend to "do ministry" through limitless energy, a boundless sense of humour (something picked up unconsciously from Hollywood), and a huge group of acquaintances, but not introverts, who prefer having a few super-close relationships. McHugh acknowledges, "One of the things I've accepted is that I will impact fewer people than extroverted pastors" (155), but he implies that we introverts also have the opportunity to impact these few people more deeply.
Here at school, I have watched as some teachers eat lunch with a new group of students every day, while others (whom I know to be introverted) pair up with students one-on-one over the plastic lunch trays. Sure, this second group of teachers does not get to know as many students as the first group, but surely the private discussions, even over food brimming with cooking grease, produces deep and lasting fruit. Many students speak highly of this second class, pointing out that these teachers, despite an apparently aloof exterior, are genuinely interested in their students. What McHugh's book does is legitimize this kind of ministry: No longer is there any need to force ourselves to get to know a huge group of people; it's okay to develop deep, meaningful relationships with just a few.
Even for the introvert who is no longer trying to "do ministry" like an extrovert, discovering what her contributions should look like can be a challenge. If we cannot contribute to confrontational evangelism on an airplane at 30,000 feet, for instance, what can we do?
McHugh suggests several possibilities, the most important of which is to impart our own tendency for internal processing and contemplation to a world that tends to avoid contemplation. "We [Americans] have become alarmingly dependent on . . . advertising, mass appeal [and] technology . . . as the basis for our choices and actions," he writes. "People in our culture need models of self-reflection, leaders who will teach them how to look inward and evaluate their motivations and choices" (151). I am still in the middle of figuring out how "teach[ing people] to look inward" looks in the middle of a class on comma usage, but I find the idea itself inspiring.
My freshmen year of college, my RA was (I believe) an introvert; her room devotions were not so much prepared speeches rattled off without pause but shared reflections, spoken contemplations with frequent pauses as she searched for just the right word. Her thoughtful study taught me to think deeply and interpret God's Word accurately, a model that I hope to pass on to my own students now.
If McHugh recommends healthy patterns of life and ministry for introverts, he also refuses to allow them to "play 'the introvert card'" (136).
As someone who prefers to turn on Stargate instead of taking the effort to spend time with people, this final point was particularly important for me. Although (as McHugh points out), the effort in people-time is truly effort for introverts, this does not make such time any less important. McHugh writes that "[w]e who follow a crucified Messiah know that love will sometimes compel us to willingly choose things that make us uncomfortable, to surrender our rights for the blessing of others" (63). The point of embracing introverted tendencies is not solely to bless ourselves, to take care of ourselves (though taking of ourselves is important too); the point is to use these introverted gifts to bless others, to encourage them towards deeper, more contemplative thought and ultimately a closer walk with Christ.
That's all I'm gonna say. Read the book. If you're an extrovert, McHugh will help you understand people who are different than you in your family or in your church. If you (like me) are an introvert, the book helps you (in a way that the contemporary extroverted church does not) to navigate ministry and life in general, to stay healthy yourself and to contribute to the spiritual lives of our brothers and sisters in Christ.