The more I think, write, and talk about introversion, the more I realize how introversion--for better and worse--permeates all aspects of our lives.
I was surprised to learn about the new book, Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture, by Adam McHugh, an introvert and pastor in an evangelical Christian church.
Introversion in the church. Well. That never occurred to me. I am not churchgoing (or synagogue, as would be appropriate for my background), and in my ignorance, imagined such institutions as havens of quiet contemplation, perfect for introverts. But then I read this book and ... of course! All those prayer and Bible-study groups, the fellowship and hugging and, for evangelicals, that obligation to spread the word. Sounds like a hotbed of extroversion to me. In fact, McHugh so struggled with that at one point, he contemplated giving up his theological studies. But he didn't, and now is reaching out to other introverts. He was kind enough to answer some questions about his path and his book for us, and you can visit his website, Introverted Church.
In what ways is the church geared towards extroverts?
I think that in many church communities, the extroverted bias of our larger culture has crept into church practice, especially those churches that associate with the evangelical tradition. Churches sometimes unintentionally equate faithfulness with extroversion; we draw up a composite sketch of the "ideal" Christian--gregarious, with an overt passion and enthusiasm, eager to participate in a wide variety of activities, shares their faith with strangers regularly, assumes leadership positions quickly, opens up their home to others often--and this ideal person starts sounding suspiciously like an extrovert. Add on top of that the talkative, mingling informality of many churches and you've produced an environment that is intimidating to many introverts, who may find these settings distracting for developing their spirituality.
Do you think this is the same in other religions or is it specific to Christianity?
My sense is that other religions, especially of the eastern tradition, may be friendlier to introverts, since they have a quieter, more contemplative bent to them. My hope is that Christian churches will rediscover the contemplative strains in their own historical tradition and help introverts to connect with God in their own quiet ways.
What gifts do introverts bring to their church community?
This is such an important question. So often we define introversion by what it's not, and I would like us to start defining introversion by its assets, not its liabilities.
People in our culture so rarely have the experience of being truly listened to--having not only their words taken seriously, but also having their feelings, questions, and doubts underneath those words paid attention to. Even though listening is always a discipline to be cultivated, introverts may have a head start on listening. Because we process internally, and take up less social space, we can offer a nonjudgmental posture that frees people to open up to us. I also think that people who go deep into their own souls--and find both the good stuff and the bad stuff--are capable of a powerful compassion for others. These are just two of the several gifts I explore in the book.
You write in your book that you still struggle with relationships and the community aspect of church. Have you been tempted to give up and isolate yourself, and what has prevented you from doing so?
Sometimes socializing and relationships take up so much energy, it just seems so much easier to lose myself in the stirrings of my inner world, to treat my books as my friends, and to restrict my relationships with others. I don't know if I've been tempted to isolate myself, because I just really like people, but I have been tempted to limit my relationships and not share much of myself. What keeps me going is that I believe we were made for relationship, and even that the God of the Bible is a very relational God, who pursues us and loves us. I know that in order to be a whole person, I need others, who can sometimes see things about myself more clearly than I can, and that there is something about being loved--in real, concrete relationships, loved as I truly am--that heals me.
Is there a Bible verse or story that you, as an introvert, find particularly comforting or heartening?
I would answer that two ways. On a broader scale, I find the fact that God uses people of all different sorts of gifts, abilities, and temperaments, incredibly comforting. Introversion is not a category in the Bible, but the patriarch Jacob was called "a quiet man" and the great prophet Moses protested God's call by saying he was "heavy-mouthed" and ineloquent on a public stage, something that some of us can relate to. Jesus' mother Mary was deeply introspective and reflective. And God clearly did great things through those biblical characters.
More specifically, there is a text in the Old Testament prophet Isaiah that says "In quietness and in trust shall be your strength." I love the idea that life and the world is bigger than I am, and I don't need to expend all kinds of energy obsessively trying to make everything happen in my life by my own efforts. But I can find strength by quietly trusting in One who is more powerful than I am, and who is even at work when we are silent and at rest.
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Copyright 2010 Sophia Dembling