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Introverted Christians…an Oxymoron? (Pt. 1)

19 Nov

I just got Adam McHugh’s book, Introverts in the Church, as a birthday present. It was my fault—I asked for it. Quite literally.

My teenage brother thinks that the gift is hilarious. He’s very much an extrovert, although he insists that he isn’t an extreme one, because when he goes to social events he likes to wear dark glasses, stand to the side, and freak people out.

Right.

I’m rather sensitive about being an introvert and would prefer for him to be quiet about the whole subject. But—because I’m sensitive about being an introvert—I haven’t broached the subject. What my brother doesn’t understand is that being introverted, particularly in the Christian community, can cause a lot of pain.

It seems appropriate that the third chapter in McHugh’s book is titled “Finding Healing.” All too often introverts feel inferior—sometimes because of an implicit sense that other people disapprove of their preferences, and at other times as a result of being confronted about their failures to be extroverted enough.

As a young teen, I spent several years in a church that heavily emphasized evangelism. “Heavily”—as in, the pastor said that it didn’t matter if the kids in the church memorized much Scripture, so long as they knew a few key verses that mattered for witnessing. (Witnessing was also more important than prayer.) Witnessing meant putting gospel tracts in restrooms and handing them to random strangers and passing them out door-to-door.

I hadn’t encountered that sort of pressure before, and I began to think that I needed to witness everywhere I went, to strangers, to be a “good Christian.” If I couldn’t pass out tracts like candy at a parade, then I was a spiritual failure. So I tried to pass out tracts everywhere I went—and still felt like a spiritual failure. If I was being a “good Christian” by doing that, why didn’t it make me feel closer to God? Why would I feel worse after passing out a tract?

God got my attention several times, reminding me that I was essentially trying to work for His favor when I ought to be resting in His work on my behalf. But it wasn’t until the last two years that I really began to understand what went wrong. I was trying to witness as an extrovert when I am not one. In other words, I was trying to act like someone God didn’t make me to be. And I found that my introverted tendencies gave me opportunities to show God’s love that I would not have if I were an extrovert.

Yet I’m still recovering from the wounds that period of time left. My mother—also an introvert—spent an even longer period of time in a similar sort of church when she was a child. Her wounds go even deeper than mine, and they have not yet healed.

It’s very tempting for me to hole up in my bedroom and rehearse anti-anti-introversion rants, directed against anti-introvert extroverts in general or certain extroverts in particular. But that isn’t healing. That’s brooding–which, according to the Myers-Briggs system, is typical for my personality. Typical, but not very healthy, particularly when the brooding extends into a long-term resentment.

Healing begins with me, not with the people who warped my early teenage spiritual growth. It would be nice to go back and tell certain individuals that what they actually did was unhelpful at best, no matter what their intentions were. But I’m not likely to have that opportunity.

McHugh emphasizes that it’s important that injured introverts don’t turn into yet another victim group for the church to deal with. Healing is important. Playing the victim is not. Our primary identity must be found in Christ, not in what circumstances have done to us.

Neither is introversion an excuse for spiritual atrophying. Being a Christian is about being “stretched” as clay in the hand of our Potter. Christian extroverts may have to slow down, think about what they say before it comes out, and learn to listen. Likewise, Christian introverts may have to focus more on ministering to other people, even when it tires or intimidates us. “Servant leadership” is important for both groups–putting the needs of others before our own.

In the end, it’s that servant’s spirit that is most likely to bring about unity between extroverts and introverts. We may not immediately understand or appreciate one another, but in Christ, we are one. In the words of Paul: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”

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2 Comments

Posted by on November 19, 2012 in Nonfiction, Spiritual Writings

 

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2 responses to “Introverted Christians…an Oxymoron? (Pt. 1)

  1. Joe Quatrone, Jr.

    November 19, 2012 at 11:23 pm

    Good post. I am an extrovert; my wife is an introvert. When I was a young Christian, I also thought the central task of the church was evangelism.

     
  2. A. Carroll Crowe

    November 20, 2012 at 3:40 pm

    My idea of evangelism when I was younger was of the “salesmanship” variety. For a long time it never occurred to me that I would be irritated if someone else used many accepted evangelism methods to convince me of their viewpoint. McHugh uses an example of an “airplane evangelist” he met in college who talked nearly nonstop to the unsaved man next to him for the entire flight. McHugh left praying that the man would not be turned off Christianity by that presentation of the gospel! That’s not to say that you should never talk about Christ on an airplane, but that, at the very least, more emphasis should be placed on listening. And less emphasis should be placed on guilt-tripping people who are uncomfortable with making use of their “captive audience.” I’m slowly beginning to learn that Francis of Assisi’s statement about using words if necessary isn’t automatically a cop-out, even if some people have used it that way.

     

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