April 24, 2010

Introverts in the Church: Finding our place in an extroverted culture

Genre: Religion & Spirituality
Author:Adam S. McHugh

Applying the Meiers-Briggs Type indicator (MBTi) to issues of spirituality and church life appears to be a trend of late. Phil Douglass sorted churches into various personality types in his book What Is Your Church's Personality? and Sandra Krebs Hirsh and Jane Kise addressed preferred worship, prayer and spiritual interaction styles for each of the 16 MBTi categories in their book Soul Types. Adam McHugh’s book, Introverts in the Church, is the latest in this "personality types and spirituality" trend to arrive on the scene. McHugh takes on the difficulties introverts face in an extroverted evangelical culture. He describes several innate differences between introverts and extroverts and encourages introverts in the church that they are not less spiritual just because extroverts are placing expectations of extroversion upon them. And he addresses strengths that introverts have and how these strengths can be helpful and balancing for the church as a whole.

I suspect there are areas in each of our lives where we act or think a certain way and think, "well, that's just me." A good example of this in my own life is my reticence to make phone calls. There is a call I was asked to make 4 weeks ago that I have yet to make. If I had been given an email address, I would have already made the connection and passed on the info that I was asked to convey. But because all I have is a phone number, it just hasn't happened yet. It's not like I deliberately avoid making the call. It's more like the phone and I are oppositely polarized magnets that just can't seem to get together. It dawned on me a few years ago that perhaps it wasn't just me. Maybe there were others out there that had a similar struggle. I asked several INTJ's about this in an online community I was a part of and was delighted to discover that they weren't fans of the phone either. It was liberating to realize that there was a reason I struggled with phones. I wasn't just being contrary or rude or lazy. I could point to a reason, my introverted tendencies, to explain my aversion. This feeling of liberation is something that I think most introverts will feel as they read the first few chapters of McHugh's book. (The fact that I can pinpoint a reason for my phone reticence doesn't mean that I shouldn't still push myself outside of my comfort zone at times, of course.)

The evangelical church in the United States applauds activity and overt (even "loud") Christianity. A "good" Christian is one who is out evangelizing complete strangers, who is demonstratively excited about being a follower of Jesus, and who jumps feet first into church projects without necessarily spending time in planning or prayer beforehand. Introverts, by their very nature, are more likely to take things slowly and with aforethought. They are more contemplative, often more academic or bookish, and they prefer relating to people one on one or in small groups. McHugh points out that both extroverted and introverted means of interactions are important and helpful (rather than only valuing extroverted modes of operation as is common in Evangelical churches today and making introverts feel bad, or even less spiritual, if they don't fall in step).

McHugh spent a chapter explaining not only the differences in personality traits between introverts and extroverts, but he also delved into the physiological differences, which I found incredibly fascinating. (I posted about it in the INTJ group here if you'd like to read more.) He spent a couple of chapters exploring the types of spirituality and community interactions that introverts prefer. (I would recommend the Soul Types book if you're interested in hearing even more on this. McHugh not only skims the surface on these issues, but he also doesn't take into consideration how Thinking vs. Feeling, Judging vs. Perceiving, or Intuitive vs. Sensing personality differences affect personal worship preferences. His focus is introversion in a more general sense, which he covers admirably.) McHugh spends the second half of his book focusing on the strengths introverts bring specifically to the areas of church leadership and evangelism. (More on introverted evangelism here.) Rather than being "movers and shakers," introverts are more likely to be contemplative leaders who help to lead their congregation toward the bigger picture. (It was at points like this that I felt like McHugh was attributing to introverts traits that fit better with other parts of the Meiers-Briggs Personality typing. In this case he seemed to be describing intuitive leaders as opposed to sensing leaders.)

Though I didn't agree with all of McHugh's conclusions, I definitely agree with the idea that both extroverted and introverted strengths are helpful and necessarily in a healthy church. (In fact, in my mind, the ideal church is one in which all personality types of the MBTi are integrated in such a way that strengths of each type are equally valued rather than only valuing the strengths of one personality type and downplaying or even criticizing the strengths of other personality types.) Introverts shouldn't feel like "lesser Christians" simply because their personality traits don't fit in with the accepted "norms" of American Christianity in today's day and age.

Though I've been familiar with the concepts of Introversion and Extroversion for a couple decades now and I've studied them specifically in the context of church and spirituality for the past few years, I still found Introverts in the Church to be an excellent summary of Introversion (a summary that even non-Christians might find interesting and helpful) and an encouraging look at how the strengths of introverts can be a pillar of strength for the American church (right alongside the already accepted pillar forged from extroversion).