You are currently browsing the daily archive for December 5, 2014.

This week’s posts have concentrated on the poor reception of introverts in today’s extroverted churches:

Going to church to worship God — the ‘frozen chosen’

Have you taken the Jungian personality test?

Church life: notes on introverts for extroverts

What bothers introverts about today’s churches — parts 1 and 2

In 2009, a Presbyterian pastor and chaplain, Adam S. McHugh wrote Introverts in the Church, a widely read book addressing this very issue.

McHugh is an introvert and describes his personal challenges in ministry as well as the growing pressure on reserved churchgoers to become more extroverted.

Excerpts — the introduction and first chapter — appear on publisher InterVarsity Press’s site. This is a well written and well considered book which is useful not only for introverts but also for extrovert clergy and lay leaders who would like their congregants to enter more fully into the life of the church.

McHugh traces the history of extroverted churches back to the Second Great Awakening and George Whitefield’s ministry in the 17th century. The movement continued to grow and expand in the 19th century. Emotion, experiences and interaction came to become the hallmarks of the Evangelical — independent church — worship and fellowship we know today.

Furthermore, traditional denominations have embraced more interpersonal worship. Growing up as a Catholic in the 1970s, I noticed that Mass and new church layouts became more man-centred. Post-Vatican II reforms introduced the ‘kiss of peace’, an emulation of the early Church in the Book of Acts. This later spread to the Anglican Communion as well as some Lutheran denominations.

Evangelicals, McHugh explains, believe that close interpersonal relationships are Christlike. Those brought up in these churches are oriented to setting aside parts of the service to greet other churchgoers, to welcome guests and to set aside times of open, individual prayer.

Now other Protestant denominations are borrowing from the Evangelical tradition and incorporating the same elements into their liturgies or group activities. Extroverts, with their outgoing personalities, welcome this openness. Introverts, on the other hand — who naturally gravitate towards more traditional, structured worship — find that they do not adapt as well. Sometimes they do not adapt at all.

Another aspect of Evangelical life which is permeating more traditional denominations is committing oneself to activity outside of Sunday worship. Declining to participate appears as disloyalty to clergy and lay leaders alike. Again, whilst extroverts look forward to this type of fellowship, introverts struggle with it.

What has confused me in reading about the book is the overwhelming references to Evangelical Christianity by Presbyterians who consider themselves part of that grouping. A case in point is a review of the book which the Revd Mark D Roberts wrote is a case in point. Dr Roberts was McHugh’s spiritual mentor during his years at seminary and has been a good personal friend ever since.

Roberts writes:

Like Adam, I grew up and spent most of my adult life in the context of evangelical Christianity. During my elementary and secondary school years and then during my first seven professional years, I was part of Hollywood Presbyterian Church.

Even for some Presbyterians decades ago, Roberts says that a change in mindset was already beginning to take place. Some of their clergy were moving towards a mandate of extroversion (emphases mine):

One of the hallowed saints from that church’s history was the Rev. Richard Halverson, who spent many years as the chaplain of the U.S. Senate (a position later held by Rev. Dr. Lloyd Ogilvie, who was the Senior Pastor of the Hollywood church during much of my time there). I found it ironic that Introverts in the Church includes, right near the beginning, a quotation from one of Richard Halverson’s books, The Timelessness of Jesus Christ: “The extrovert God of John 3:16 does not beget an introvert people” (Introverts, ch. 1; Timelessness, p. 98).

Roberts analyses what Halverson meant by that:

Knowing Dick Halverson, I’m quite sure he did not mean to criticize introverted people with this statement. He used the word “introvert” to describe ourselves when we “make the gospel serve us” or “use it as a protection against the realities of life” or “make us more comfortable,” rather than reaching out to the world with God’s love. But, even though Dick was not intending to censure introverted people, his use of language is quite telling. And it tells against those who are anything other than consistently extroverted.

It is an interesting choice of words and, possibly, meant to be so.

Approximately 75% of clergy are extrovert. The rest have been struggling with their need to retreat, regroup and recharge. Roberts noticed this in his own ministry:

Years ago, I wondered if there was something wrong with me because I wasn’t as outgoing as many of my evangelical Christian compadres. Yet if I tried to push myself to be exclusively extroverted, the result backfired. I’d quickly lose the energy needed to be friendly, and would end up isolated in a way that was neither healthy nor loving. But when I realized that being with people took energy rather than giving it to me, and when I allowed that this was simply part of my personality, then I was able to make sure I got the alone time I needed to be refreshed, ready to reach out to people with the love of Christ.

This is one of the reasons McHugh wrote the book. Clergy — and laity — will feel reassured that they are not freakish, selfish or disloyal. Yet, God has a plan for their gifts, too.

McHugh ends his introduction with his purpose for the book:

My hope is that, through this book, God will begin or continue a process of healing introverts—helping them find freedom in their identities and confidence to live their faith in ways that feel natural and life-giving, the way that God intended. I want introverts to embrace that “you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God” (Eph 2:19). Further, I hope that God will unlock in introverts the tremendous gifts that they have to bring to the church.

McHugh rightly believes that healing is one of the purposes of ordained ministry. He does not mean hands-on, but extending compassion, comfort, reassurance and the Good News to the broken.

As for Halverson’s mandate for an extroverted church, McHugh writes in Chapter 1 (p. 18 of the PDF):

If we are broadly defining the extroverted church as “outwardly oriented,” then a wholly extroverted church is liable to lose its center, lapsing into spiritual compromise and excessive cultural accommodation. Just as a church that is turned in on itself is stunted, a community that is thoroughly turned outward could lose its internal cohesion and disintegrate. Furthermore, as I will discuss, one of the ways we discover the compassion that lies at the heart of mission is to look inward. I believe that the truly healthy church is a combination of introverted and extroverted qualities that fluidly move together. Only in that partnership can we capture both the depth and breadth of God’s mission.

We are already seeing plenty of ‘spiritual compromise and excessive cultural accommodation’ in the Anglican Communion. Despite that, and all the pressure to conform to an extroverted ideal, our church attendance in the West continues to decline.

McHugh has excellent points to make, not only about opposing personality types, but the future of the Church as a whole.

Having scoured the Internet for reviews, here is a sampler:

Al Hsu, InterVarsity Press editor, Anglican and PhD student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois:

The book suggests practical ways for introverts to navigate extroverted Christian subcultures and to practice introvert-friendly ways of doing community, spirituality, leadership, evangelism, worship, preaching and more. If you’ve ever left church early to avoid the coffee fellowship time, this book is for you. If you have ever been frustrated with church culture that seems to equate being more extroverted with being more spiritual, this book is for you. And if you are an extrovert who wants to better understand the introverts in your life or welcome introverts to your church, you must read this book.

The Revd Sean Lucas, pastor and contributor to Reformation 21:

As a confirmed INTJ (that’s Myers-Briggs personality speak for introvert, intuitive, thinking, judgment), I’ve struggled at time with my personality …

… for those of us who have struggled with making sense of our inwardness in a world that prizes extroverted, charismatic leaders and workers, I’m grateful for a brief, fast-paced book like the one McHugh has written to reassure myself and others that I’m fearfully and wonderfully made by the Lord for service in his Kingdom.

The Revd Jamie Arpin-Ricci, pastor:

His solutions are very practical and helpful.  Though limited in scope, that limitation is easily understood when you’ve seen the volumes that have been written about the topic.

And in a subsequent comment to a reader:

What I did not add to this review was my years of experience working with people in the church who have been crippled by these very dynamics. Just recently I saw a mature Christian leader almost walk away from their calling because of what the book addresses. It is an important message.

The Revd John Chandler, pastor:

I agree that there is a bias toward extraversion in our churches. It’s one that I’ve experienced as an introvert. And I also recognize that is it something I’ve perpetuated as a leader. What I like about McHugh’s book is that he is able to describe the fullness that introverted voices can bring to our churches experiences without diminishing what extraverts have to offer.

Introverts who feel excluded from church life would do well to investigate the book.

Similarly, clergy and lay leaders from the opposite spectrum will find it gives an insight to the way introverts function as people and as Christians.


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