The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?"
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you."
Jesus said, "Feed my sheep."
Sept. 20, 2011
Introverts in the Church
by Adam S. McHugh
Many are heaping praise on Adam McHugh's book about the struggles introverts have participating in typical church culture. I'm among them, with a few reservations. And disclaimer up front: I am strong introvert myself, an INFJ on the Myers-Briggs scale.
First, the reservations. The book does drag for fairly long stretches. Typical of a book like this, the author sets forth the problem, complaining for a while. Then he needs to show how it's not un-Christian to complain, because there's scriptural support for the points he's about to make. Then finally he can make his points and suggest recommendations.
In McHugh's case, the theological part drags on for a long time; it's like climbing a hill to wade through it. But once we crest the hill, the book is on a fine plateau for its remainder, for McHugh has many points to make about introverts, what they bring to the church, and how they can work together wtih extroverts in a satisfying and necessary ministry partnership.
Now the praise. As an introvert himself, McHugh does a marvelous job explaining what it's like to come home exhausted from a large church picnic, dinner or other community-wide event, how tough it is to "greet each other warmly" and "seek out someone you don't know to say hello" on a Sunday morning, and how centering and revitalizing it is to be alone, thinking things through in prayer or scripture study.
This is the world of the introvert, a person whose energy drains by being around others and recharges in solitude. Who is very good with people one-on-one or in a small, intimate group, but who wilts in a situation where mingling and small talk is needed.
McHugh rightly points out that introverts have gifts in strategy, writing, planning, listening, and other things the church needs that require deep thinking and reflection. Introverts tend to be good at prayer, preaching, teaching, and listening to others in small settings. But they are not good at organizing and looking after volunteers, setting up ministries that require widespread participation, or commonly understood "close the sale" forms of evangelism.
They can help the church go deep, but they are not particilarly useful in church growth campaigns, or as the "face" of the church.
McHugh offers many ideas for how introverts can make a difference in their churches. Some are through ministries where they particularly shine, and which are often overlooked in importance by those focused on getting more people in the church. Some are by recognizing their own weaknesses and partnering with extroverts to get things done.
McHugh argues that church culture tends to be extroverted culture, and that church leaders will need to deliberately come to understand different giftings and temperments, to make church a welcoming place for all. He gives excellent ideas of how churches can make spaces in their cultures to accommodate introvets. His suggestions in the final chapters of the book are uniformly helpful and well worth taking to heart for any church seeking to use the talents of and be welcoming to the greatest number of people possible.
©2011 Rebecca Copeland
Participating in typical church activities can be difficult for introverts, who often wonder whether they are displeasing God by not enjoying his community more.