Introverts in the Church

The Hellenist widows were the first group in a local congregation to cry “Foul,” and to complain that their needs were not being met (Acts 6:1-7).   The latest are the introverts.

Thanks to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), based on Carl Jung’s work and first published fifty years ago, almost every church member now knows his or her “personality type.” Some persons function as “introverts” (or “I’s”), while others function as “extroverts” (or “E’s”).  (For the sake of full disclosure, I am an “I”:  INTJ.)

Introverts are now speaking up and speaking out.  This is hard for them to do, since introverts by nature prefer staying in the background and remaining quiet.   This is the title of a current New York Times bestselling book by Susan Cain:  Quiet:  The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.  She passionately argues that our society undervalues individuals who prefer listening to speaking, reading to partying, innovating and creating without self-promotion, and working alone rather than in teams.  Extroversion is our cultural ideal.

Of particular interest is Cain’s brief discussion of the schism between introverts and extroverts in the evangelical church.   She contends that the contemporary congregation is designed by and for extroverts.  Introverts follow along, but often with great (and quiet) discomfort and difficulty.  They find the packed schedules of frenzied activities and meetings, the public expressiveness of worship experiences, and the emphasis on high-octane leadership to be taxing.

Adam S. McHugh, a Presbyterian minister, writes out of his own experience for all introverts who are feeling out of place in the church.  In his book Introverts in the Church:  Finding Our Place in An Extroverted Culture, he calls upon the local congregation to reach out and welcome the introverts in their company, to understand and value them, recognize and properly use their leadership gifts, and be shaped more by their thoughtfulness, spiritual depth, compassion, and slower pace of life.  Both the church’s ministry and its witness will be enhanced.

I believe this is a movement that all of us Christian introverts can join.  We live in an age of diversity.  Both in culture and in church, our condition is that of “difference.”  We are of varying ages, genders, races, opinions, and so on.  Why not acknowledge that we also have different ways of perceiving, coming at, and living in this world; and that faith is shaped, expressed, and practiced differently in persons of different personality types?

However, I do have one major concern.  Given our emphasis on diversity, how do we “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace”?  (Eph. 4:3).  How do we practice our baptismal faith in such a way that “there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female, (and no longer introvert or extrovert); for all of you are one in Christ Jesus”? (Gal. 3:27-28)

How do Hellenist widows and Hebrew widows come together in the faith-community’s daily distribution of food? (Acts 6:1-7)  How do those who belong to Paul, those who belong to Apollos, and those who belong to Cephas ALL belong to Christ?  (1 Cor. 1:10-17).  How do members who prefer traditional worship and those who prefer contemporary worship maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace?

In a world lauding diversity, our witness as the church will be this unusual unity that the world can neither understand nor produce.

N. Keith Smith

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