“The venerable dead are waiting in my library to entertain me and relieve me from the nonsense of surviving mortals” ~ Samuel Davies
This may hit some people the wrong way, but if I had to choose between reading a book and spending time with people, 9 times out of 10 I would choose the book. It’s not that I don’t like being around people, it’s just that solitude energizes me more than being around large groups of people. I used to view this as a liability, but now I view it as an asset.
What helped me view it as an asset was reading The Introverted Leader. Most people are confused by what it means to be an introvert. Most dictionaries define introvert as “shy.” However, this is inaccurate. Jennifer Kahnweiler (the author of The Introverted Leader) helped me understand that being an introvert has nothing to do with being shy. Rather, an introvert is someone who is energized by being alone (although that’s only one characteristic of being an introvert). In contrast, an extrovert is someone who is energized by being around a lot of people.
So what is an introvert? Amy Simpson, in her article, “Confessions of a Ministry Introvert,” provides a distillation of much of the current research gathered by psychologists who specialize in understanding introversion. She writes, “Introversion is a basic trait of personality, a preference for focus on internal stimuli.” Simpson quotes psychologist Laurie Helgoe who says, “What constitutes an introvert is quite simple. We are . . . people who prefer to look at life from the inside out. We gain energy and power through inner reflection, and get more excited by ideas than by external activities.”
Without getting into all the scientific details, brain chemicals and blood flow through the brain differently for introverts than for extroverts. Apparently it takes longer for blood to flow through the brain of an introvert, which explains why thoughts often come to us more slowly. In turn, this also explains why introverts have a difficult time being put on the spot. If we’re asked a question we weren’t expecting, we may stammer a bit and struggle to provide an adequate answer. We need time to think! (Incidentally, this explains why I preach from a manuscript. I could never preach without notes! At the same time, this explains why I have to write my sermon out completely. I think best when I write.)
How does this affect someone in ministry? For starters, many introverts are made to feel like they have no place in ministry. As Adam S. McHugh writes in Introverts in the Church, “Living as an introvert in a society and a church that exalts extroversion takes its toll, and shame cuts deep into introverted psyches that are bent toward self-examination.” Add to this the fact that when churches are looking to fill a ministry position they’re always looking for extroverts. They want people who are “high energy,” “outgoing,” and “fast thinkers.”
Considering all of this, I thought to myself (as introverts do), “What are some challenges to being an introvert in the ministry?” Here are a things that came to mind:
First, you may find it difficult to have time for personal reading and reflection. In pastoral ministry, you will always be studying and preparing to preach and teach. Although introverts tend to like to study and prepare, we must find time to read other books as well, perhaps something not related to the Bible or theology.
Secondly, you might offend people. Because introverts are not necessarily comfortable with small talk, we may be a bit socially awkward. This awkwardness may push some people away and cause them to think that we don’t like them. In actual fact, it’s just the opposite. As Amy Simpson points out, “Introverts are interested in people at a level that makes shallow social relationships awkward and painful . . . They want to go deep, not wide.” Here’s a concrete example of what’s it like to be an introvert on a Sunday morning: You love preaching your sermon to your people, but you feel awkward after it’s over when you have to greet people at the door. Once again, small talk will be a challenge for an introvert.
Nevertheless, I view being an introvert as an asset. I think my personality helps me study and prepare. I’m not content to preach shallow sermons. I want to take my people deep so that they might be lifted to the heights of praise. As far as I can tell, my people appreciate my sermons and they seem to be handling my quirky personality well. I want more introverts in ministry.