I grew up with the Four Spiritual Laws, door-to-door evangelism, and massive loads of guilt for not telling my unchurched neighbors and classmates all about how Jesus changed my life. As a young adult, I studied methods of evangelism in which I was expected to walk up to a stranger at the mall and “convert” her. There is nothing in the world that makes me more uncomfortable, and nothing in the Bible that suggests we should do this.
I went to church every Sunday, too. There was a designated time in the service to greet everyone sitting around me. If I finished my greetings quickly—which I usually did—I stood awkwardly staring forward, waiting on the singing to resume, or I rummaged in my purse, pretending to look for something.
Before worship, we sat in age-level or stage-of-life groups in which we made small talk (working hard to avoid any meaty or controversial topics), drank coffee, and planned our next “fellowship” event. Then we spent a few minutes taking turns reading from a “quarterly” (at worst) or discussing a Scripture passage (at best). When I was younger, the leader would call on people. Thankfully, adult classes wait on volunteers, but some leaders aren’t comfortable with silence and rush on before slower thinkers have time to answer.
I am an introvert. I’m not shy, but I’m an introvert. I prioritize a few long-term relationships over scores of shallow friendships. I relish deep conversations and avoid small talk. I like to collect my thoughts and examine every angle before I speak up. I think a good birthday celebration involves four people around a table with a good bottle of wine. I need time away from crowds and groups to recharge.
How are people going to be
attracted to Jesus if we aren’t
charismatic and entertaining?
I love the Church universal and the individual churches of which I’ve been a part. In my experience, however, the Church (as a whole—I know there are exceptions) pushes Christ-followers to be outgoing, friendly, life-of-the-party types. How are people going to be attracted to Jesus if we aren’t charismatic and entertaining, if we aren’t smiling all the time and worry-free? Obviously, the ideal evangelical is an extrovert.
I am not your ideal evangelical, and I spent years feeling less-than because of it.
So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. –Galatians 3:26-28
Jesus loves, chooses, and
uses all types of people.
Paul wasn’t saying our maleness and femaleness, our ethnicity, or our state of freedom are erased when we follow Jesus. He wasn’t even saying such things are unimportant. (For more on conformity to Christ, read Popcorn Conformity.) Paul was saying we all stand equal before Christ. Jesus loves, chooses, and uses all types of people.
If Paul were writing Galatians today, he might include “introvert or extrovert, Democrat or Republican, SEC or Big10 fan.” These verses are about unity, but they are also about equality. We are all one–all number one–in Christ Jesus.
Here are a couple of thoughts on how introverts fit into evangelical church.
On making room for introverts in the church
Some churches don’t do the “shake hands with your neighbors” thing anymore, but they simply skip it. It would make the talkative extroverts squirm, but churches could offer a few minutes for quiet reflection in which, rather than greeting each other, we all (figuratively) greet God, whom we’ve come to worship. Some liturgical-leaning congregations do this.
Small groups could propose a Bible passage this week, then talk about it next week. This gives introverts time to assemble and test their thoughts before they share. Many introverts prefer to write rather than speak. What if there was a chat board where people could share ideas about the passage all through the week? Also, people who take time to prepare should be given priority in the conversation over those who are talking “off the cuff.” In typical small groups, the loudest get heard, not the most thoughtful.
“If you don’t have charisma you can be the most brilliant person in the world and you’ll still be disrespected.” -Preston Ni, Professor of Communications, Foothills College, California, quoted in Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain.*
On why introverts make good evangelists
My introversion is not an excuse to avoid sharing my faith.
“We know from myths and fairy tales that there are many different kinds of powers in this world. One child is given a light saber, another a wizard’s education. The trick is not to amass all the different kinds of available power, but to use well the kind you’ve been granted.” -Susan Cain, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking
As an introvert, God created me with the power to listen, empathize, and go deep in one-on-one conversations. Those tendencies, properly honed into skills, are what He uses to reveal Jesus to my neighbors and classmates. I don’t have to be the life of the party. I have to care. It may—no, it will—take me longer to get to the gospel than my extroverted friend with the gift of evangelism, and I’ll never share with the quantities of people he does. When I do share, however, I’m able to speak straight to my friend’s heart because I know and care about her.
I can expect God to work through
me just as He created me.
One day, the Holy Spirit may lead me to sit down beside a total stranger at the bus stop and point-blank share the plan of salvation. I think I would take a deep breath and, with shaky hands, obey Him. I hope I would. Most of the time, though, I can expect God to work through me just as He created me and raised me up in newness of life (Romans 6:4 ESV) as a Christ-follower. That’s empowering!
As a Christ-follower, being an introvert doesn’t excuse me from anything. It just means I approach life differently, and God uses me differently. My #personalitytype is #NotAboutMe via @Carole_Sparks. (click to tweet)
Do you know your personality type? How does it inform your life as a Christ-follower? Have you used it as an excuse or does it empower you? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!
Book to read: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. Part anecdotal, part research, always approachable and somehow entertaining while also challenging. This is the book that helped me “own” my introversion as a strength rather than a weakness to overcome. She also distinguishes between introversion, shyness, social anxiety, high-sensitivity, and other labels that are often lumped together. Personally, I don’t think any non-expert should write or speak about introversion before reading this book.
Has anyone read Introverts in the Church by Adam S. McHugh? It looks like he’s saying what I’ve said here, but probably much more eloquently.
*Full citation available upon request.