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Posts Tagged ‘Adam McHugh’


Finally! This was the reason I really bought the book. I’ve been pondering on how to foster evangelism among the members of my congregation, many of whom are introverts. Our congregation could be identified as “introverted.”

This does not relieve the congregation of the responsibility to bear witness to Christ. Jesus won’t say, “Oh, it’s okay. I know you are an introvert.”

But introversion will often shape how such a person and a congregation bears witness and evangelizes.

The term “evangelism” often strikes fear in the hearts of introverts. This is frequently due to false assumptions about what it must look like. We may picture open air preaching, or going door-to-door to talk to complete strangers. We think it means engaging the person next to us on the airplane. We think it requires the mental dexterity, speed of thought (not thoughtfulness) many of us lack.

For some people it does mean those things. Most of those people are quite extroverted. We see them doing their thing on YouTube, and they write the books on evangelism that make most of wish for the 2nd Advent, now.

“Truthfully, most introverted Christians I know would be delighted to bless the evangelistic efforts of extroverts and return to their lives of solitude and contemplation with a sigh of relief.”

In Introverts in the Church, McHugh notes that introverts must be wary of falling into a private understanding of our faith. But neither should we assume that we must evangelize like Billy Graham, the local expert in Evangelism Explosion or some other gifted evangelist you know. God doesn’t want you to be them, He wants to use YOU.

Evangelism isn’t about being the best “used car salesman” and closing the deal. I know people who seem to be “closers”, but most of us aren’t. We are ordinary people trying to be faithful and trusting that God is working thru, above and beyond our meager efforts.

McHugh proposes that we be people willing to explore mystery together rather than the salesman pitching salvation to people who didn’t think they needed it. This reveals some of his more emergent leanings (based on names he dropped earlier in the book). So it is difficult to differentiate between how he thinks introverts share the gospel and his postmodern leanings at times. Particularly this one.

There is also some confirmation bias for me. His approach is more relational, which confirms much of what I’ve been thinking. Introverts generally don’t talk to strangers, but as we grow in relationship we share more of ourselves, including our faith. Our faith is not shared out of our strength, but often out of our weakness. This treasure is in jars of clay. Our weakness often reveals the connection point for the gospel. This means witnessing is less confrontational (the gospel still confronts them even as it invites them).

“Our deepening friendships with seekers involve a deepening process of intimacy and vulnerability. … The gospel paradox is that when we reveal our own weaknesses, we come in touch, and put others in touch, with the One who has the ability to heal. … We subject ourselves to the same questions we pose to others, and as we traverse them together, we may arrive at surprising conclusions we could never have reached when simply trying to defeat another’s logic.”

His understanding of evangelism ends up looking very much like spiritual direction. He notes much changed for him when he started to realize he was not initiating spiritual conversations so much as responding to how God was already at work in that person’s life. It became about “cultivating spiritual awareness.” As I ponder this, the entry points may often be the places where they are emotional (angry, glad, anxious) or depressed.

Bearing witness to Christ, his sufferings and subsequent glories (1 Peter 1) can take different forms. At times it is confrontational as a person’s double-mindedness draws forth the bluntness of the Gospel (choose you this day…). I’ve had those conversations. At some point the person must believe or not, leaving their excuses behind. But leading up to that, you can leave plenty of hints or bits and pieces rather than a packaged gospel presentation.

In my own evangelism I should remember the lessons I should have learning in my counseling training. When encountering resistance, point it out. Don’t try to plow thru it with “shock and awe”. Rather, “you seem to be putting up some walls right now. What’s going on?”, inviting them to share their fears, doubts or whatever is going on, if they want to.

McHugh notes the quote often erroneously attributed to Francis of Assissi- “preach the gospel at all times- if necessary use words.” He fully affirms the need for words. He also reminds us that our words often need to be backed up by actions that adorn the gospel and make it attractive. We love them. After all, didn’t God love us when we were ungodly, weak, enemies and sinners (Romans 5)? Isn’t the gospel that God loved us first and sent the Son as an atoning sacrifice (1 John 3)? As a result, we can and should embrace a holistic approach to evangelism. Some may call that a “social gospel” but only if the goal isn’t the gospel. Many conservatives are allergic to “justice” or “mercy” as a part of evangelism. We are showing them justice and mercy so they will have a better grasp of who God is, not making justice and mercy the gospel. Nor calling them to justice and mercy apart from Christ who is just  and One in whom the ungodly are justified.

He has told you, O man, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6

McHugh offers some more practical suggestions at the end of the chapter.

  1. Narrow your focus. Instead of trying to share the gospel with everyone you meet, develop a few relationships you already have. These are people you’ll be friends with whether or not they come to faith. But share that part of your life with them.
  2. Ask open ended questions. Don’t do it out of the blue or in a heavy handed fashion. They can be natural out-growths of your conversation or current events.
  3. Ask for time when you don’t have a good answer. It is okay if you need to research a question they ask. It shows humility, that you don’t have it all together and expect them to have it all together.
  4. Don’t accept the premise of their question. He gets this from Leo McGarry (West Wing chief of staff). This has to do with accusatory questions. Flip the question to challenge their premise. The example he gives is flipping “How can you possibly believe in a God who would condemn people to hell?” to “Perhaps the real question is how could humans rebel against a God who created such a beautiful world?” Not really the best example. Perhaps, “What do you suggest God do with wicked people?”
  5. Find a comfortable environment. You could invite them to Christianity Explored, or a Bible Study that investigates the claims of the gospel. Maybe discussion boards. Don’t debate. Explore.
  6. Know your role. You may not bring that person from darkness to light. You are, or should be, a part of a community of faith. Getting them in touch with your community is a great thing. A healthy body will contribute to the process according to each person’s gifts and strengths.

As I noted, much of this confirmed what I was thinking already. That might be helpful. I could have done without the postmodern approach at times. I’m not advocating modernism. But we can’t assume a person has a postmodern world view. Or that the best way to grasp the gospel is thru the postmodern lens. The Bible, and the gospel, transcend philosophical frameworks and actually challenge them. But that is a different discussion.

 

 

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While the world generally sees extroverts as making the best leaders, truth is that introverts also have leadership skills. They can be leaders too, and often are. How they lead will differ from how extroverts lead. This is the question Adam McHugh addresses in the next chapter of Introverts in the Church.

He begins with Moses arguing with God, as many prophets did, about being called by Him. McHugh may be guilty of some eisegesis here since I don’t think he’s essentially saying, “Look, don’t you know I’m an introvert.” He does rightly point out the theme of hiding found in the early chapters of Exodus. He was hidden as an infant so the Egyptians wouldn’t kill him. Hidden in the reeds of the Nile until Pharaoh’s daughter came to bathe. Moses hid the body of the Egyptian he killed. Moses hid from Pharaoh in the mountains of Midian. Now Moses is trying to hide from God’s call.

Most sane people do, initially. Shepherding people is harder than shepherding sheep. Not many people choose this for themselves. I didn’t. I love it now, but resisted my sense of calling initially.

This is particularly true of introverts. The social demands of ministry are draining. So are the expectations others place on us, particularly in a smaller church where there are no additional staff to help. Being in ministry is about people and involves people.

“Just because we lose energy doing something does not necessarily indicate we are not a good fit for it. I am convinced that calling, not personality type, is the determinative factor in the formation and longevity of a leader.”

As a Christian, we should recognize that God doesn’t promise that leadership will be easy, or feel natural. It takes place within the context of a world of sinners, including yourself. There is also the reality that His strength is made perfect in weakness. God promises to be with us, and strengthen us. It is not intended to be pursued by the powerful and highly competent. Christian leadership is not about you so much as about Him.

Thriving in ministry requires a few things. The first he mentions is self-care. In caring for others we cannot forget our own needs. Because introverts tend to internalize everything, dealing with failure (real or perceived) and disappointment can be constantly draining. We can carry the burden for everything and end up crashing and burning.

Moses, McHugh notes, was frequently on the brink; exasperated with the Israelites complaining and rebellion. They were often complaining about him. He tried to judge Israel all on his own, a long line of issues to be resolved piling up outside the Tent of Meeting. It all culminated when he struck the rock he was supposed to speak to in a fit of anger. This was why he never entered the Promised Land (an earthly, not eternal, consequence).

People in caring professions, like pastoral ministry, can experience compassion fatigue. They can become either depressed with the unending needs of others, or become callous to those needs. Self-care has internal and external dimensions. Internally, we tend to our own spiritual and emotional health. We pursue Christ, resting in His promises. We make use of the spiritual disciplines to enjoy healthy and health-giving communion with Christ. Feeding on the promises fights our typical internal pull toward despair and catastrophic thinking. We need to regularly hear His voice (in the Word) to combat the pessimism of our own (as well as the world’s & the devil’s). Additionally, some pastors take periodic personal retreats.

There must also be an outward dimension. He must have a support system, other people who encourage and listen. They help us to normalize our experiences so we aren’t catastrophizing. McHugh goes so far as to think therapy or spiritual direction should be mandatory for introverted leaders (I suppose it should also be mandatory for extroverts who lack self-understanding). I’d say it can be helpful for many. A good wife and a few good friends fulfill that need for many people.

In addition to self-care, introverted leaders learn how to monitor their energy levels through scheduling. Make sure to schedule time in the office, alone. This helps to reduce the compassion fatigue. After particularly busy seasons, I may take comp days, which is really taking an afternoon for a movie or a hike. I also work out after work most days. It deals with the stress, keeps me healthy, and prepares me to be home with the pressing needs there.

He then moves to ways in which we direct people toward God. He begins with preaching. Many introverted pastors feel quite comfortable preaching. It is a controlled environment (in most churches) and you prepare for it all week. You know what you will say, approximately how long you’ll say it, and there will be no questions requiring you to think on your feet. He then notes a number of ways to let your introversion shine in your preaching. Use pauses to “add gravity and contemplativeness”. You don’t have to fill every second. Modulate your voice (wisely) to maintain interest and indicate the important material. Use stories to make the abstract accessible. Use sermons as an opportunity to share something of yourself with them, so they can know you better. It is a way of building your relationship with the people that often doesn’t happen in small talk opportunities for introverts.

We also share our lives, investing in others. Let people into your home instead of treating it like the fortress of solitude. As a young Christian, the most important relationships with older men were forged by hanging out at their homes helping them with projects. Sadly, for them, I wasn’t much help. But we talked while working on roofs, replacing toilets and that kind of thing.

Lead by writing. Think out loud, so to speak, by blogging. Let people see or hear what you are thinking. I blog on a number of things particularly for the people I lead. The rest of you are welcome to eves drop.

We lead by spiritual direction, helping people to grasp what God may be up to in the patterns and rhythms of life. Much of that is listening and assessing. I wish more people came to me for this. But since many of them are introverts, they are already thinking about their lives. They are probably more self-reflective and don’t need me to help them reflect. At least this is what I tell myself as I ponder it.

He then shifts to what introverted leadership looks like. We will tend to impact fewer people, but often more deeply. This is like Jesus with the three. Introverts tend to invest in a few. I do this, in part because I can’t invest in everyone. Trouble is matching up those I want to invest in with those who want me to invest in them. Some people want more attention. Attention, not really investment.

Introverted leaders are more likely to equip others to do the work of ministry instead of trying to do the work of ministry themselves. Yeah, we can struggle with control too. I found in my previous pastorate that I was reluctant to let the worship team plan the music. Part of it was the friendship- I enjoyed those meetings as we often laughed together. But I had to trust them to do well to free myself up to do other things. In this pastorate I quickly realized they knew what they were doing and after a year let them doing on their own. Perhaps I need to pop in periodically to invest in those relationships, but they do a good job.

Introverted leaders are more likely to build leadership teams, not simply a group of ‘yes’ men. I want to collaborate even as I want to be in control. That joyful battle between the Spirit and the flesh. Perhaps it is hiding behind them, but I want us to do things together. We share responsibility for better or worse. Things move slower than I’d like at times (okay, most of the time) but that probably saves the church from my impulsiveness. I’ve seen too many pastors with dictator powers continually shifting the direction of the church instead of slowly moving in the same direction. One of the important lessons is that you need to make decisions as if you’ll have to living with them the rest of your life (instead of leaving them for the next guy because you’ve moved on to ‘greener’ pastures).

Finding y0ur place can be tough. I’m 7 years into this pastorate and still trying to find my place in Presbytery. I was thrust into my place when I was in FL. People saw gifts in me and put me in places of responsibility. Here? Not so much. Then there is the internal battle between being a faithful steward of the grace I’ve received and selfish ambition. In FL I didn’t seek those positions. I don’t want to seek them now. Maybe I should, but I am leery of my prideful heart. McHugh notes that many introverts actually thrive in larger churches. This is because people don’t expect pastors to be accessible. I want our church to be larger for a number of reasons. One is the gospel impact; I want more people to hear (and then share) the gospel in our area. One is being able to limit my responsibilities because there are other staff to do other things. I recently preached at a much larger church. It was great not having to lead liturgy and play guitar. All I had to do was preach and offer the benediction. It was refreshing. It would be great to invest in young men in ministry. In the past I’ve mentored younger men working at other churches in the same town. I miss that. I wish we were big enough to have interns, associate pastors etc. People who are there all day so we can talk and learn together.

McHugh then talks about leading different types of people. Leading extroverts is difficult because “they can view this internalizing tendency with suspicion.” I’ve seen that! Since we are processing things internally, instead of acting, they can perceive us as apathetic or indecisive. We will need to communicate more with the extroverts. There are certain people I clue in on what I’m thinking so they know their concerns and dreams aren’t being ignored even though nothing dramatic is happening. They can learn that progress is happening behind the scenes. You also make time to listen to their input.

This means I “over-communicate” for our introverts. Too many emails they think. But we need to repeat things, use body language, for our extroverted friends.

In leading introverts we need to give them space to speak. You have to wait them out in small groups, Session meetings etc. The extroverts will speak quickly, but the introverts will wait. If you move too quickly, you won’t hear from them. When I’m in a class, not teaching, I’ll often wait to see if someone else says something. But might wait too long for that teacher who moves on. Give people time to process their thoughts and gather the courage to express them.

Many of the things in this chapter were things I learned the hard way. Perhaps this chapter will help others to learn them the easy way.

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The next topic in Adam McHugh’s book, Introverts in the Church, is leadership. This was a painful one for him, I imagine, since he so often questioned his call as a result of his introversion and comparing himself to others. Lest some misunderstand, I’ll say this out front, he is saying that there are characteristics for good leadership that may be found in greater measure among introverts. He’s not saying leaders should be introverts.

I’m being self-conscious here for some have seen me as singing the praises of the introvert at the expense of the extrovert. That is not the point of McHugh’s book, not my blog posts. My point has been to better understand how introversion may affect church life. This includes how people tend to view introverts, the wounds some carry as a result, and how introverts participate in church life. I think churches have personalities, often rooted in the original formation of the church (DNA) as well as experience (nurture). Churches that are comprised of many introverts tend to be … introverted. How those churches view ministry will be different. Not better. Not worse. Different.

He begins with a story of one morning in the office. He and the Sr. Pastor came in at the same time. The Sr. Pastor was greeting all the staff, making talk small and large. He was quietly getting his horrible tasting coffee and slipping into his office where his copy of Calvin’s Institutes awaited him. Couldn’t get any more stereotypical than this, but it happens. As the pastor of a smaller church, the office is where I go to work. Were I the pastor of a larger church, I’d spend more time talking with staff as I made my way deeper into the bowls of my building to get to my office.

He then moves into a study, cited by Olsen Laney, which was repeated three times. All three times, both extroverts and introverts preferred extroverts as both their own ideal self and their ideal leader. Apparently, rather than being arrogant, introverts have serious self-esteem issues. They wish they were more extroverted (just as their extroverted friends long them to be).

At this point I wondered about our “shadow”, which is a part of Jung’s psychology but not often mentioned in discussion of personality type. This shouldn’t be taking as a sinful “shadow”, hiding in the darkness to deceive. But it is the “face” or personae we put on to function in the world for short periods of time. At least that is how I’m using it. I sometimes feel that way; that I have to be my opposite to fulfill some functions. That’s not wrong. It’s putting on your big boy pants and doing your job. It’s moving out of your comfort zone (the very thing some seem to think this series advocates against).

One of the wounds he points out is the general perception that introverts aren’t leaders and leaders aren’t introverts. For instance, he points to Richard Daft who cited numerous studies to arrive at his “Big Five personality dimensions”, one of which is …. extroversion. This can be seen as charisma, gregariousness, driven (better than dominance which he used) and “superstardom” or the person who seemingly excels at all they put their hand to.

Sadly, this has sifted down into the church. He notes the J. Oswald Sanders’ classic book Spiritual Leadership paints Paul as quite the extrovert because he had significant relationships with so many people. It shows up in expectations of congregations regarding pastors. You pretty much have to be awesome at everything (this is actually what team ministry is about whether the staff or the Session). There is little awareness that “we aren’t strong here, so we need a guy who is strong here, but we’ve got these things handled pretty well ourselves and he doesn’t need to be as strong.” This list would kill any mere mortal, and their marriages!

“Further, this model of leadership only validates the common, unbiblical expectation that pastors play the role of benefactor while everyone else in the congregation is beneficiary.”

I’ve known some great leaders who started great movements (no, I’m not dropping names). Some had great personal charisma. You wanted to be with them. Others, no so much. Or maybe they just didn’t like me or notice me. Yeah, I often wonder if people actually like me or just put up with me.

What happens when an organization, or church, depends on the personality of its central leader? Take away the leader and it falls apart. It may not cease to exist, but it shrinks and doesn’t know what to do because they’ve always just done what the “big guy” said. The church never learned to think biblically and implement biblical principles in leading. They either find another “big guy” or end up in ruins.

In Good to Great, Jim Collins explains that while charismatic leaders attract people, they tend to be “less effective at drawing people to the mission and values of the organization itself.” They are committed to the “man” not the mission. Paul’s friends were committed to the mission, not the man. They weren’t “Paul is so awesome”, but they were working with Paul to fulfill Jesus’ mission. That mission was clear. Great leaders aren’t about the short-term but the long-term.

Collins, in a book that is on my shelf but hasn’t been read yet, pushes back against the common understanding of leadership. His “Level 5” leaders are not charismatic but have “compelling modesty, are self-effacing and understated.” They are “more plow horse than show horse.” They also set up others for success.

There are people who are good at getting the job, and those who are good at doing the job. Sometimes they are one in the same. But I’ve seen too many people get hired who are ultimately lousy at doing the job, and people who are really good at the job struggle to get hired because they aren’t good at selling themselves (which is the opposite of Christian character, by the way). Humility, self-sacrifice and a commitment to something besides personal glory don’t show up well on a resume or that initial interview.

Collins isn’t alone. Drucker also notes that character matters more than charisma. Charisma creates an initial, unearned success that can make leaders inflexible and arrogant. They have figured it out, they think.

“Character in a leader is the quality that has the ability not only to draw others but also to maintain their loyalty. Character is more than personal integrity and ethical decision-making, though it certainly includes those elements. The central component of character is authenticity.”

McHugh mentions that leaders in the Scriptures were noted for character. Not perfection (they had plenty of imperfections). But they were “admirable and consistent”. This is true whether introverts or extroverts.

“True leadership is not cultivated in the limelight; it’s won in the trenches. Character is something that is built. Thus, the mark of godly leadership is not a magnetic personality; it is discipline, because discipline develops character.”

Back to business. I struggle with all the references to books on business, but I see this as revealing the glaring lack of work done in this within the church. So he draws on Peter Senge and The Fifth Discipline, which discusses the learning organization. It is one that includes “processes of reflection and evaluation into their organizational systems”. They don’t just do what they’ve always done but evaluate it. This means, McHugh notes, that people who listen and think before acting can be quite effective leaders. Introverts often have these qualities.

There is the blessing and the curse. I can tend to over-analyze. I can waste time going over conversations, meetings and decisions. I can’t just turn it off when I want to. The reason I was blogging this before 7 am is that I woke up early thinking about a few things. But decisions our Session makes are not impulsive and we are (I hope) implementing more reflection and evaluation in our processes.

Back to the Bible. He rightly notes that office is not something that is earned but rather a gift from God. The God who calls is also the God who equips. God does not call people based on personality type. He actually delights in reversing expectations. He chose Jacob, not firstborn Esau which was customary. He chose a disgraced former member of Pharaoh’s family to lead Israel out of bondage to Egypt. He chose the “runt” of the litter to displace big, handsome Saul as a king after His own heart. He put Jesus in the home of a humble carpenter in the backwoods of Galilee instead of a prominent family of Jerusalem.

So, some of the leaders God chooses and uses are introverts.

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Because introverts can experience pressure to change, or be shamed by others, or even participate in self-recrimination, Adam McHugh has a chapter on Finding Healing in his book Introverts in the Church.

I’ll confess, I struggled with this chapter. At least the early parts. He begins with the words of Veronica who hopes that God’s glory might be displayed through her introversion, “not in spite of it.” That latter sentiment is how many feel; that their introversion is a flaw that hopefully won’t prevent God from using them. Introverts wrestle with self-doubt, often having received the messages of others which are critical of them.

“In an extroverted culture, introverts can become the silent screens onto which others project their insecurities.”

Psychological projection is a real thing, and introverts are often victims of this. People can project the worst possible reasons onto you for being quiet- arrogant, angry, independent etc.

“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.”

I know what some of you may be thinking: snowflakes. That would be the point. You can’t see the wounds and think they don’t exist or cut deeply. That doesn’t mean they aren’t there. Just yesterday I told someone I’m highly self-critical. If I took Mondays off I’d probably destroy myself going over my sermon repeatedly and finding the mistakes, things I forgot to say, illustrations that didn’t seem to connect etc. in my sermon. It may have been a perfectly good sermon used by God in the lives of His people for exaltation, edification and evangelism but I can go on a personal crusade to evaluate each second of it. Many introverts, seemingly inactive, are busy re-living their moments in society discovering each moment they didn’t live up to the expectations of others or themselves.

McHugh spoke to 50 introverts (not a great sample size) but 49 of them expressed feeling reproached and maligned for being introverted. Because we internalize emotions, introverts are at a higher risk for depression according to psychologist Laurie Helgoe.

“While extroverts commonly feel loneliness when others are absent, introverts can feel most lonely when others are present, because ours is the aching loneliness of not being known or understood.”

He recounts the story of Mike whose introversion affected his experience of education. He didn’t participate much. When he didn’t he didn’t think quickly on his feet. People thought he was stupid. He got low grades due to the participation component. He works extra-hard as an adult to over-compensate. He develops expertise in a number of subjects so he won’t feel humiliated. He fights the fear of others thinking he’s stupid. Sound stupid? Yeah, but this is what sinners can do with those moments they have been humiliated. I’ve done it.

“The challenge lies in distinguishing between the healthy components of our personalities, those that are natural and to be celebrated, and the coping mechanisms that are the symptoms of our wounds.”

Making distinctions matters. Doing that can be difficult. It gets to who am I by nature and how have I coped with the pain of life. “Healing” is addressing those wounds so we can be free of the coping mechanisms. But is that always a good thing? Is the coping mechanism part of what makes one useful to God? I think of J.I. Packer who suffered a head injury as a child. As a result he couldn’t play sports and spent time in the library. After he conversion he became one of the great theologians of the 20th century. It is hard to say whether or not that happens apart from the accident. Do I love to read simply for the sake of reading, or am I still coping with a clear childhood memory of being “exposed” for not knowing who BTO was? I didn’t want to be humiliated again (more about my expectations than the reaction of the adult who asked trying to know me better). If you take that away do you take away my tools as a pastor? Difficult to say. But some introverts may ponder that for weeks while extroverts will just move on with a shrug.

He notes that there are two kinds of retreat. The retreat born of fear of engagement, and the retreat born of preparation to engage. The former seeks to avoid the pain of life and relationships, the latter is to gain strength to engage the world outside with “greater perspective and peace.” The former is about being captive to your wounds. The latter is about service to others.

He then moves to the shyness cycle. Introversion and shyness are not the same thing. “Introversion is a natural personality trait where we go inside ourselves to process our experiences. Shyness, on the other hand, is a condition marked by fear or extreme anxiety in social situations.” Shyness is the result of wounds, in other words. You got whacked and are reluctant to get whacked again.

“Introverted wounds bleed in our minds and hearts, and bleed out in our behaviors, actions and relationships.”

McHugh starts to talk about the process of healing. If the wound is internal, you have to “journey” inside. But the healing, like for a physical wound that is infected, comes from the outside. Community and interpersonal relationships are important but not the essential element. He doesn’t quite say it, but to me it sounds like he’s speaking of union and communion with Christ as the source of true change. This is true of sanctification, and if this is a part of sanctification (putting our coping mechanisms to death and putting on new godly responses to life) then union & communion with Christ is the only source of true change for these wounds to our soul.

For instance, we shift our sense of identity to Christ. While we may be introverted, that should be not our identity. It is a data point, something to take into consideration but it can’t be the ruling factor in our lives. “I am a Christian, and called to participate in evangelization. How should I do that in keeping with how God made me?” is different than “I’m an introvert, do I still have to bear witness to Christ?”

Our union with Christ should also give us stability because it is an unchanging union. Through that union with receive the “double grace” of justification and sanctification. Status as accepted by God through the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, and God’s on-going work in us imparting the righteousness of Christ to us. This is not where McHugh explicitly goes, but seems to be what is lying behind his words or at least my interaction with them. We are safe & secure in Christ.

“Our hope is in his work of freeing us from the false ways we identify ourselves and conforming us to the nature of his Son.”

On the basis of this union we experience communion or fellowship with Christ. One aspect of this is to offer up our wounds to Christ, asking Him to heal them. We confess our coping mechanisms, our sinful response to our pain, to Him and asking Him to help us disentangle ourselves from these sins.

Their is also the outward journey that must take place as we learn to love. To be conformed to Christ is to love others. If God is love (and He is as an eternal community of love), the summary of the law is love (and it is) then we are doubly called to love. And He will work in us to make us loving. Love requires relationship. This doesn’t mean becoming extroverted, but it does mean actively pursuing the well-being of others at cost to yourself. This includes being vulnerable. We take the wounds & sins we have entrusted with Jesus and share them with a few people (not everyone you meet) who love you and you trust.

We will grow in emotional intelligence, also called relational wisdom. This means not only having personal awareness but also social awareness. We are able to process our feelings, and read social situations. This encompasses both the inward and outward journeys necessary for us to become fully like Christ (don’t worry, the extroverts really struggle with the inward one).

In this chapter McHugh realizes that your experience of introversion is not pure. It has been affected by sin and misery. You are bent inward by sin. You’ve been hurt by others. You’ve put unrealistic expectations on yourself. To be a healthy church member (and for the church to be healthy), you do need to change and address the pain & sin (as one of my supervisors used to say with great frequency) of your life that shape you and your experience of introversion. So, this chapter forms a necessary hinge before exploring what a healthy spirituality looks like for introverts.

 

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In the first chapter of his book, Introverts in the Church, Adam McHugh left introversion (and extroversion) undefined. He aims to rectify that in the second chapter of his book. He approaches it both psychologically and scientifically (yes, you read that right), and then identifies some people in the Scriptures he thinks are introverted.

Before we go any farther it is better to think of both introversion and extroversion as continuums. You can be more or less introverted (extroverted). This means it is not a uniform experience for all who fall into the categories.

He begins with noting that inside of each of us a little Freud and a little Jung battle for our soul. He’s kidding, of course. Freud considered introversion unhealthy pre-occupation with the self on the slippery slide to narcissism (let’s ignore the fact that extroverts can be narcissistic). This means it is just plain bad. So, people who are introverted can feel shame about, as though there is something wrong with them.

Carl Jung, on the other hand, thought both introversion and extroversion were normal and healthy. Sadly he sees this as part of his collective consciousness theory. I think he defines it well even if he gets the source of it wrong. He was, generally speaking, far more optimistic about humanity and less sex-obsessed than Freud. One primary way of thinking about introversion is that one gains power from the self (rather being alone), while extroverts gain power from others (rather being with others).

The nature vs. nurture debate emerges as well. Freud saw these traits as the result of nurture. Jung saw them as hardwired into us, the result of nature. Either way, you can blame your parents (okay, just kidding).

“Introverts are targets for a variety of misguided arrows: we are shy, reserved, aloof, reclusive, melancholic, self-absorbed, passive, timid, social rejects, misanthropes, and the list goes on.”

McHugh notes that they are not so much categories as two separate forces within each of us. We all have a capacity for looking in, and one for looking out. We have them in differing measures. He sees them as a preference, just like handedness. I’m left-handed. I write, eat, throw etc. with my left hand. When I started to play guitar I was advised to play left handed, that way my dominant hand would made the chords. Still didn’t feel right. One of my sons is a lefty, but he throws righty. We thought he was going to be ambidextrous, but he does most things lefty. But a few righty. So you have a preference, but it isn’t absolute. The degree of introversion (extroversion) may be influenced by family and culture.

In Jung’s theory, as developed by Myers-Briggs, this duality is part of a constellation of factors that “work together to shape how we act.” The other dualities are sensing-intuition, thinking-feeling, judging (structure)-perceiving (flexibility/spontaneity). So, no two introverts are identical. They may take in the world in different ways, make decisions on different criteria and need different environments to work.

Back to introversion. “Introverts are energized by solitude.” As he notes we are charged from the inside out. It may be completely alone or with a few good friends. But time in crowds are draining. Extroverts need interaction with others to gain energy. Along time drains them. They don’t make good monks.

These, again, aren’t absolute. I gain energy from alone time. But eventually I need to use that energy. Eventually I need to be with people. Each year I’m home alone for about a week while the rest of the family is on vacation. The first few days are great. Then it is not so great. I need social interaction that I’m not getting at home. So I’ll invite people over or go out a few times. Not every night mind you.

Introverts tend to process things internally. Our minds are often incredibly busy places. We need to filter information, and can experience sensory overload. I never liked studying in libraries, and can’t work at a coffee shop. I’m too distracted by all that is going on. Introverts and extroverts have different filtering systems.

I do have times when I have to process thoughts externally. I’ll talk them over with my wife or a friend. I’ll blog them. These help me think they through for when I finally express my ideas in my vocation. Sometimes I’ll just talk to myself or use a white board. Just because we aren’t making noise doesn’t mean our minds aren’t busy places.

It is helpful to understand these things about yourselves in order to avoid “introvert overload” and think there is something wrong with you, or get angry with others. One reason (among many) I don’t do conferences is introvert overload. I find that I am wiped out near the end and just want to be alone. When I go to General Assembly, I try to find time to be alone as well as with my closest friends.

Introverts tend to prefer to depth over breadth. I have a few very close friendships, or at least did. Being a pastor is difficult and I don’t live near my closest friends. If you are friends with an extrovert, you can often misunderstand the relationship and put too much of a burden on them. Many/most of your relational needs may be met in that relationship, but they are seeking to meet those needs in many relationships. This can lead to a sense of betrayal. Introverts can set themselves up for this if they don’t understand the relational dynamic.

Introverts also like to understand a few things deeply. Extroverts seem to prefer to know a little about a lot. Again, not absolute. At times I will drill down on a subject, reading a number of books to understand it better. There are somethings I know little or nothing about. But you’ve all met the guy who knows something about everything. Extrovert.

Jung argued for nature over nurture. It turns out it was (mostly) right. McHugh gets into the science of this that is now available through brain mapping. The one “flaw” is that we already know these subjects are introverts or extroverts. Which came first, the results of the mapping or the introversion. Are our brains the result of years as introverts or did our brain “cause” the introversion? The chicken, or the egg?

But brain mapping does reveal some very important information that indicates this is not simply psycho-babble. There are biochemical differences. First, introvert’s brains are busier places. The scans register more activity. They also register that blood flows differently in those brains. Introverts have more blood flow which moves along longer paths more slowly than in extroverts’ brains. It flows to other parts of the brain, focusing on internal things like “remembering, solving problems and planning”. Extroverts’ brains have more blood flowing to parts that process sensory experiences, in other words processing the world outside.

Chemically they have different balances. Extroverts use more dopamine. This helps them to generally think and act more quickly under pressure. It helps them access short-term memory. Introverts rely more on acetylcholine which makes them feel good when resting and thinking. This may explain why introverts pull up memories more slowly, and often don’t think well on their feet. They often prefer writing to speaking since it gives one time to properly process their thoughts.

I’m not sure why he included a section on echoes of introversion in the Bible. Yeah, Jacob was probably an introvert and Esau an extrovert. It is helpful to know that God made, redeemed and utilizes both introverts and extroverts.

Let’s think about this for a few moments.

Introverts will likely prefer smaller churches so they don’t feel lost in the crowd. There will be a manageable number of relationships.

Introverts will likely prefer churches with quieter worship. When worship feels like a concert, introverts experience sensory overload. I like concerts, but I need more space, quiet, in worship so I can think, pray. This points to the fact that they will worship differently. That’s alright.

Introverted churches will worship differently. They will avoid having sensory overload. There will be times of quiet for reflection. It won’t be busy, busy, busy. That’s a good thing too, for some of us.

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A recent meeting of our missions team discussed the generally introverted nature of our church, something I’ve mentioned to our congregation before. We have some extroverts, and would like more extroverts. We want to be a faithful church. How that looks for us may not be the same as how it looks for an extroverted congregation.

One of the books I found to help me think through all of this is Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Church by Adam McHugh. I will be blogging through this book. Perhaps much of this will be helpful for the slim majority of people who are introverted. Our context is a Reformed and (dare I say) evangelical church. Evangelical churches, in particular, appear to be largely extroverted in how they understand the faith and how they expect it to be lived out.

One problem is our view of Jesus. Studies indicate that most people consider Jesus to be extroverted. This is probably due to the number of large groups before whom He spoke. This is to overstate the case. We do see that Jesus would retire to quiet places to pray. He also invested Himself primarily in the Twelve and others in the group that traveled with Him (which included a number of women too). My thinking, for quite some time, was that neither introverts nor extroverts could claim Him. Jesus is the perfectly balanced person since He was a perfect man. He was equally comfortable with the masses and small groups with deep, meaningful friendships as well as alone with the Father.

McHugh notes the three evangelical anchors that contribute to the extroverted priority of evangelical churches: a personal relationship with God, priority on the Word of God as our authority, and the Great Commission. McHugh does issue a disclaimer of painting in broad strokes (which is an unavoidable element of the process). Not all evangelical churches are extroverted, or act in these ways. But many do such that many introverts feel devalued, out of place and shamed for not being extroverted. This should not be the case, but sadly it often is.

God is a relational God, revealed to us in a Trinity of Father, Son and Spirit in an eternal community of love. Introverts are also relational, don’t get me wrong. But it looks differently for introverts than extroverts. (One weakness at the beginning of the book is not really drilling down on what these two terms mean.)

Personal Relationship with God

In America, one of the great influences on evangelicalism is the Great Awakenings. These put a priority on public displays of this personal relationship with God. The biblical call to community is often seen through a lens in which everyone in the congregation is your friend (an impossibility). Extroverts are very comfortable with a large number of friends, and a number of activities. Introverts prefer a smaller number of closer friends, and can find the busy church very draining.

“… for some churches spirituality is equated with sociability.”

Introverts can often be shamed for not being fully invested or involved. They can be shamed for appearing (key word) to be self-involved. I remember one of my extroverted friends years ago calling the rest of our group to get out the Windex and be open with one another. Their personal relationship with God is more personal, meaning more private. They don’t necessarily share the dynamics of this (often deep) relationship with many people. They will share it, but more likely with their closest friends. Even as an introvert myself, I can forget this because my calling includes sharing some of my relationship with God publicly.

“By no means are introverts against intimate relationships; indeed, we are motivated by depth in our relationships. … in community we prefer interactions with smaller numbers of people with whom we feel comfortable.”

For instance, I am closest to those with whom I work most closely (the officers) and my community group. I need to stretch myself in doing this. Sometimes introverts can be called to stretch themselves. But extroverts can expect them to become extroverts as though that is what godliness really looks like.

Centrality of the Bible

God communicates with us through the Word. The gospel is communicated, primarily through words. Evangelicalism places a priority on words. Extroverts have more words to share than introverts. Introverts are often more thoughtful about their words. Their hesitancy can be misunderstood as an unwillingness to talk. Their reluctance to make small talk should not be confused with an unwillingness to relate.

Personal Evangelism

Evangelicalism is rightly concerned with the proclamation of the gospel. The focus on many church is not on “Word and sacrament” as the ordinary means of God’s calling sinners to Himself, but on personal evangelism. Extroverts don’t meet many strangers, but rather future friends. Introverts hear “evangelism explosion” and recoil in fear. Talking to complete strangers in of itself induces terror. Talking about their most personal relationship increases it exponentially. Our evangelism methods are “often tilted toward extroversion, and when we conflate our values with our methods we run the risk of alienating introverts.”

Surely introverts can be stretched and move out of their comfort zone. But the constant drumbeat can often discourage them as if they don’t measure up. How they do evangelism will look differently. For them it will not be with strangers, but with those they have let in. It may tilt more toward inviting people to church to hear the preaching of the gospel, or to sharing appropriate sermons (one benefit of technology), or a book on the particular struggle of a friend. Their efforts at spreading the good news should be applauded too. They may be likely to adorn that gospel with love, as it ought to be. One of our members recently told me that our smaller church tangibly loved her through crises in a way she never experienced before in other churches. Such love is the gospel in action, as faith expresses itself in love (Galatians 5:6).

Contemporary evangelical culture focuses on the immediate and the relevant. We see the rise of megachurches in which people worship nearly anonymously. These churches do have lots of programs to keep people busy. I’m not sure which came first, the consumerist congregant or the consumerist congregation.

“At its worst, it has produced a superficial, consumerist mold of Christianity that has sold the gospel like a commodity.”

There is a move to create “comfortable” environments with coffee houses, a lack of mystery and a removal of the sacred. The pace is fast, and the service is a production. There is little space for reflection that introverts prefer. The pastor is often an big personality who can draw big crowds, show up at all kinds of social events and shake hands.

“Human limitations often lead pastors forming congregations in their own image, presenting a picture of Jesus and of discipleship that matches their own patterns. It is not surprising that extroverted pastors are prone to encourage extroversion in their churches.”

I was called by a church that was generally introverted. My thoughts on ministry appealed to them. The simple church model resonated with me. But not because I wanted them all at home reading theology. I wanted people to have space to serve their communities through parachurch ministries, build relationships and share the gospel. I probably need to make that explicit more often, particularly with visitors and extroverts considering membership. I don’t expect our church to meet all of the members relational needs. I want them to serve one another. I also want those with extra energy for people to serve the community in various ways.

“They love their people, but after expending a tremendous amount of emotional energy to preach, they would prefer to disappear in their offices than mingle.”

That’s me. I don’t hide, but I’m wiped out. I like studying, and am told I deliver deep, meaningful sermons. I’m sure some would disagree. But I am more reflective, not dumping my sermon & text because of a current event that “must be addressed”. I may reference it, but want to let the Word address those things in the ordinary course of ministry.

The introverted church gets a bad rap. McHugh provides a few quotes to make his point. The introverted church is confused with the isolated church, the disobedient church. This is because some confuse methods with values.

“In their minds, the ‘introverted’ version of the church lacks missional identity; it is self-preoccupied and exclusive, worried about polishing the walls that separate it from the world, rather than seeking to tear down the walls that distance people from the love of God. God the ‘extrovert’ has his eye on all the world, and therefore the mark of his true people must obviously be extroversion.”

This view devalues the faith of the introverted. It devalues the practice of the introverted.

“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.”

The Church, and particularly congregations, need both introverted and extroverted people. A church should grow in depth as well as numbers. This will require thoughtful people and out-going people valuing one another for the common goal: maturity in Christ. That maturity should not be defined as either introverted or extroverted. But in the Body of Christ both are needed so the church grows up into Christ.

“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 the breadth of God’s mission.”

A church can be busy. But it should also accommodate those with a slower, thoughtful pace of life too. Often these are its teachers. Not exclusively, obviously. But a deep, meaningful community requires deep and thoughtful people (this often takes time alone) as well as those who build community through friendship and service. We shouldn’t expect extroverts to become introverts, not introverts to become extroverts in order to really love God. We each love God, according to His Word, in a way that fits how the creative Creator has made us. God loves introverts. God loves extroverts. God uses both!

 

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