This week’s posts are devoted to introverts in the church.

As I mentioned on Sunday, churches — as is the world — are now focussing more on extroverted forms of worship and ministry.

Whilst this makes extroverts happy, once-comfortable introverts are wondering what has happened over the years. The frozen chosen are now left out in the cold.

For those who would like to know more about who they are as people, the Jungian Typology Test can help. Its results will provide the appropriate Jung-Myers-Briggs acronym description with percentages of principal personality characteristics.

Two books which might also help extroverts understand introverts and vice versa are Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, Crown, 2012 and Adam McHugh’s Introverts in the Church: Finding our Place in an Extroverted Culture, IVP, 2009.

I have not read either, only readers’ reviews, but both sound as if they are excellent resources to help bridge the gap in misunderstanding personality types. I shall look at Introverts in the Church later this week.

For now, it is useful for extroverts to understand a bit of what introverts experience in the 21st century church environment.

Otto Selles teaches French at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He not only recommends the aforementioned books on introversion but also shares with us his own church experience as an introvert. Writing for Banner, he says:

It’s not the sermon but the coffee fellowship after the service that makes me feel uncomfortable. I usually wait on the edge of the group and try to talk to one person. If that doesn’t work out, I retreat to the church library, where I’m sure to run into someone I know well or find the company of a good book. And then I feel guilty for not being more gregarious. Shouldn’t it be easier for me to elbow my way into the crowd at my church and join the conversation?

According to Susan Cain’s recent book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, I shouldn’t feel so guilty. In fact, I probably represent the feelings of 30 to 50 percent of the population. Psychologists call us introverts.

Selles’s article suggests ways, based on Cain’s book, in which introverts can gradually enter more fully into the life of their churches.

He points out five problematic areas for introverts. Each one has a little advice for extroverts who might find these difficult to understand.

Introverted pastors

Selles alerts extroverts that introverted pastors are not uncommon. Whilst the congregation may feel engaged and energised by their beautiful sermons, once the service is over, these pastors may be more reserved in personal conversation.

Not surprisingly, church members who expect more of the same from the minister when saying hello on the way out are often bemused to find a different personality on display. This is because introverts often work on a contextual basis. The minister feels comfortable in preaching and conducting a religious service, but, once that context has come and gone, he reverts to type.

If the pastor does not respond too well to compliments and invitations during fellowship after the Sunday service, Selles suggests:

Realize that your pastor is probably an introvert, and that the sermon required an exhausting amount of reflection and concentration. Respect that effort with some space and time: send a card, an email, or an invitation to share a coffee.

Introverted committee members

Extroverts sometimes wonder why conflicts in church committees or other related groups arise when everyone appears to be in agreement during a meeting.

The truth of the matter is that, with all the extroverts talking and managing proceedings, introverts think that their opinions and suggestions do not matter. Furthermore, even if they tried to speak up, they assume they would probably be drowned out by another extrovert of opposing views. So they remain silent.

What happens is as follows:

The introverts then go home and send off a memo about the extroverts’ bossy behavior. The extroverts promptly complain that the introverts didn’t say anything at the meeting. Both parties are miffed and refuse to compromise.

More give and take is required from both sides:

In other words, extroverts need to listen, and introverts need to speak up.

Introverted children

Children’s and youth groups are another difficult area. Extroverted parents and lay leaders do not always understand or appreciate a quiet child or adolescent. Children might need to be eased into such situations gradually, if at all:

Consider that youth group may not be for every young person.

Selles suggests:

It’s better to let quiet kids be and instead to encourage their passions, which will do a better job of giving them confidence in a large group. The same advice applies to mentoring youth group activities: mix large-scale events with small group discussions.

Conclusion

My perspective as a borderline INTJ/ISTJ (see aforementioned test) is that introverts generally do the following, often from childhood:

– Quietly observe a setting from the margins to assess whether they will fit in.

– Think carefully about a situation or dynamic before committing themselves.

– Choose their friends and associates cautiously.

– Avoid saying much unless it benefits a situation or relationship.

– Become self-contained and self-sufficient; they can amuse and take care of themselves.

– Appreciate orderly, calm, low-noise environments.

– Eschew style over substance, especially where they see a false construct. They seek meaning in much of what they do.

– Need time alone to recharge their batteries.

Introverts do have social skills and wish to be of service. However, they often prefer to be involved with less people-intensive activities.

Tomorrow’s post will address what introverts dislike about the modern church.

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