Quiet: Thinking about Introversion & The Church

Quiet-Susan-CainTechnically, I’m an INFJ – the “I” standing for “introvert.” Sarah is an INFJ as well, but we are in very different places on the “introvert” spectrum I’m sure. When I did my psychological evaluation for the PC(USA) ordination process, I ended up being almost in the middle between being an extrovert & an introvert. In fact, I often find that when I’m in a group of extroverts, I become a bit more introverted, and vice versa when I’m in a group of introverts.

But enough about me. I had the pleasure of reading Susan Cain’s book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” this past week. I highly recommend picking up this book for a variety of reasons that I’ll explain below, but if you want a taste of what Cain talks about, check out her TED talk below:

Cain’s primary argument in the book is that American culture has elevated the value of being extroverted and in the process, has lost sight of the power and importance of introversion. She says that “we tend to think that becoming more extroverted not only makes us more successful, but also makes us better people” (42).

Naturally, the problem with this is that when culture places such a high importance on being extroverted, those who don’t fit in to that ideal, those who fall on the introverted side of the spectrum, begin to view themselves as less than and are therefore failing to take advantage of the gifts that introversion offers. Just last week, I ran across this article in The Atlantic, “Introverted Kids Need to Learn to Speak Up At School.” The author’s premise is that whether a student is an introvert or extrovert, in order to be successful in this world, they need to learn to speak up, communicate in class and have more extroverted skills.

I disagree with that author’s thesis for a variety of reasons, but primarily because I was the student who never liked to raise my hand in class. In college, I dreaded the classes where your grade relied heavily on class participation, and absolutely avoided raising my hand and getting into the discussion.

So I had to laugh when I read this passage from Cain’s book:

“Studies have shown that, indeed, introverts are more likely than extroverts to express intimate facts about themselves online that their family and friends would be surprised to read, to say that they can express the “real me” online, and to spend more time in certain kinds of online discussions. They welcome the chance to communicate digitally. The same person who would never raise his hand in a lecture hall of two hundred people might blog to two thousand, or two million, without thinking twice.”

That’s me, in many ways. And so it may be that introverts have their own ways of being extroverted, that don’t line up with culturally-assumed examples of extroversion.

Cain makes good arguments for the many benefits that introverts bring to our society, and shares a mixture of stories featuring historically popular introverts, scientific studies that reveal American bias toward extroverts, and contemporary research that is helping to shed light on why introverts are the way they are and how they can leverage those personality traits.

This is a great book for everyone – but especially for introverts, or those who love introverts (have kids who are introverts? Is your spouse an introvert?). It will help with both understanding, and appreciation of the gifts that introverts bring to their work and our world.

Relevance to the Church

This book is especially relevant to the church and our work in ministry. Cain quotes from Adam McHugh, author of Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture:

“…evangelical churches often make extroversion a prerequisite for leadership, sometimes explicitly. ‘The priest must be … an extrovert who enthusiastically engages members and newcomers, a team player,’ reads an ad for a position as associate rector of a 1,400-member parish. A senior priest at another church confesses online that he has advised parishes recruiting a new rector to ask what his or her Myers-Briggs score is. ‘If the first letter isn’t an ‘E’ [for extrovert],’ he tells theme, ‘think twice … I’m sure our Lord was [an extrovert]'” (65)

I think that in many ways we do think about extroverts first when thinking about church leadership, and a variety of other issues when it comes to the church. Below are just a few examples:

Leadership: Many churches today are struggling to bring in new people to their faith communities, and so the temptation when searching for a pastor might be to look for the more visibly extroverted candidate, assuming they are the one who will be able to go out, meet new people, and “bring them into the fold.”

Congregational Life / Small Groups: I remember reading a book years ago by Joe Myers called The Search to Belong: Rethinking Intimacy, Community and Small Groups. One of his arguments in the book is that so many churches look to and create small groups as the be-all-end-all when it comes to fostering community and congregational friendships for church members. But, not all people are energized by being around other people. It’s possible that some of our congregants who are more introverted might not get excited about going to someone’s house for a couple hours each week and sharing personal things about their life. It does require that we ask the question of whether we’re also trying to think of opportunities for our introverts to join in on community life when it feels right to them.

Volunteers & Lay Leaders: Small churches often have difficult times filling volunteer roles. You don’t have to admit if you’ve done this or not, but I’m guessing that many people will sit down and pull out their Olan Mills Church Directory and start working their way through it wondering which person is the most outgoing, extroverted and capable of pulling off this specific task. Do we pass by those who are more introverted, assuming that they probably wouldn’t want to be involved in that specific ministry or need? I don’t know – but it does give you something to think about the next time you’re looking for lay leaders.

I’m guessing that this topic affects all areas of our church life. How might it affect hiring? Pastoral care? Worship? Evangelism? What do you think?

Again, I’d highly recommend checking our Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking if any of this discussion has interested you.

This post is sponsored by the Patheos Book Club

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Comments

  1. says

    Adam,

    As an INTJ and parent of an INFJ, this topic (introversion and youth ministry in particular) has been fascinating to me – and is a very worthwhile topic for further discussion. As a parent of an introvert or two and one who works with some strong introverts, the conversations about how introverts feel in youth groups, churches, and small groups have been eye-opening for me. I wish I would’ve understood this better earlier in my ministry days. I’ve just been reading McHugh’s book, “Introverts in the Church.” (http://www.amazon.com/Introverts-Church-Finding-Extroverted-Culture/dp/0830837027) That’s been a helpful read too.

    Good stuff!

    Terry

  2. Lauren says

    I’ve read Introverts in the Church and Hidden Gifts of the Introverted Child… I’ll have to put this one on my list to read. Thanks.

  3. says

    Great post, Adam! Quiet was the most influential book I read last year. I’ve struggled in ministry with my introversion and the expectation that I will speak up more at fellowship hour and parties. At one point I became so anxious that I became even more quiet. Cain helped me realize that I don’t need to let comments like “you’re sure quiet” bother me. I’ve decided that anything I say is a gift and I have God’s permission not to say anything if I don’t want to speak. Coming to this conclusion actually has helped me speak more in social settings. Also, as an introverted pastor (and I am consistently at the far end of the introvert spectrum–not much room to be more introverted for me) I’ve been questioning what I have to offer the church, particularly in my current call. What Cain helped me to see is that sometimes extroverts are better at getting the leadership job done while at other times an introvert will be more successful. She cited a study or two about introverts managing pizza franchises vs some other line of work which I can’t recall. It became clear to me that my current congregation would do much better with an extrovert as pastor while my previous assignment was a nice fit for an introvert. So glad there are a variety of gifts and temperaments as well as a variety of places to serve.

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