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Posts Tagged ‘extroversion’


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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