Quiet: Introversion and the Church

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain, is a literal godsend for the introvert in your life. Not to oversell this book, but no non-fiction, non-theology book has been as paradigm shifting as Quiet has been for me. My first reflection focuses on the role of introverts in the Church.

My calling has been, and was in my time during my undergrad, college ministry. I’ve felt the call to ministry for a long time (five years or so by now), and I was blessed in my undergraduate experience to be able to be a small group leader for a ministry of about 1,400 college students. Now, most people familiar with youth ministry might find a few similarities in college ministry: it’s loud, it’s obnoxious, it’s about constant connections, constant speaking, and constant people-to-people interaction. I personally chose to meet with 10 people a week in one on ones, but between class, church on Sundays, ministry nights on Thursdays, small leaders’ groups on Tuesdays, Wednesday night worship sessions…not to mention “turn your neighbors and introduce yourselves! ask deep questions, no small talk!”… the introvert in me became overwhelmed.

As college ministry is entirely, and incredibly, relational, the leadership focused on meeting more and more and more people per week and focused on spending more and more and more time with the students playing ultimate Frisbee, football, constant dinners. Faithfulness to God was (implicitly for the most part) defined as being extroverted. Or, as Obi-Wan would say,  we would have to be “always on the move”.

Needless to say, I felt useless in college ministry. I frequently felt suffocated, and at times was anxious to the point of not being able to get to my next discipleship meeting or dreading the worship service starting in an hour. I had expended all of my energy the week before going to meeting after group hang-out after meeting to the point where I had no joy in Church. I would skip out on hanging with friends on Fridays because I met six new people at the youth night the Thursday before.

There was no going forward. When you dread going to church, you can’t muster enough energy to ask hard questions at your next meeting, what do you do?

Thankfully (as bad as this sounds) I am not the only one who dealt with these fears and thoughts. Cain records a conversation she had with Adam McHugh, a local to her area evangelical pastor. During the conversation, he mentioned want ads for churches looking for “an extrovert who enthusiastically engages members and newcomers” and another admitted that he asks for Myers-Brigs personality types and second guessing those who aren’t extroverts because “I’m sure our Lord was [an extrovert].”

McHugh and I have a lot in common. He would get up early to enjoy alone time and would leave parties early. We also had this in common: “At first McHugh felt good about carving out more time for himself. But then he got active in evangelicalism and began to feel guilty about all of that solitude. He even believed that God disapproved of his choices and, by extension, of him.”

Cain lists a few reasons she thinks that introverts feel guilty in church contexts: every person you meet might be someone you can save; every party you leave early is a failed opportunity to relate to someone; and the church fosters a sort of guilt about not being in constant community.

McHugh points to a problem he finds in a Saddleback service: “Everything in the service involved communication. Greeting people, the lengthy sermon, the singing. There was no emphasis on quiet, liturgy, ritual, things that give you space for contemplation.” The experiences of being a quiet Christian has made McHugh doubt his salvation and his experience of God. He says that he questions his connections with God because he doesn’t respond like the way the church does.

I’ve similarly questioned my own faith in Christ as an introvert. I see people with hands raised, dancing and singing, while I sit still and worship with my hands in my pockets. As people pray and the listeners utter, “amen”, “oh yeah!”, “yes, Jesus!” while I sit and pray quietly with the person praying. Am I doing enough to sufficiently worship Christ? Is my emotional response “enough”? I can’t always say, so I’m thankful for voices who affirm me in my doubt because of my introversion.

I don’t have much more toward a conclusion at this point in the series. Hopefully, through the remainder of the series and the rest of my posts, I can help myself and other introverts come to a better place of accepting their introversion and dealing with some of the issues that we run into at church. For now, to not leave my readers in an existential doubt, but not to solve the problem, maybe the most helpful thing for me to remember is that God is not always looking for external responses to his grace. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says,

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they loveto stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

(Susan Cain, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, pp. 117-127, large print edition)

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One thought on “Quiet: Introversion and the Church

  1. Chris,

    Your reflection was helpful for me in several ways. First, as an extrovert in ministry, it is a powerful reminder to me that there is a wide diversity in the ways that believers relate to God. As you mention, the church often falls into a rut of only ministering to God in one particular way, at one particular time. More often than not, that one particular way is determined by the “loudest” in the community, in other words, the extrovert. Not to long ago, I preached on the freedom that we have to worship God in a variety of ways.

    Second, in the past few years I have noticed a change, not in my personality, but in how I rest. I have found that the way that I rest, closely resembles introversion. Being a youth pastor, I am constantly with people, expending high levels of energy, and mustering up all the creativity I can. So as you can imagine, spending even more time with people after work, would not be restful. I have found that I need solitude, or time just with my wife, playing dominos and reading fiction (currently immersed in the Fellowship of the Ring!) or a christian book that is not about practical ministry (something more reflective such as Transforming Grace). That being said, while I cannot fully empathize with the struggle of introversion in the church, I can relate on some issues. My wife and I have found ourselves turning down many legitimate opportunities to serve simply to have a night alone. Haha. “We are busy, doing nothing.” To me, there is great risk involved with not protecting my rest. I can definitely empathize with the internal struggle of not knowing if you are doing the right thing. Or even if you faith is a strong because of the comparison of what we perceive others to be contributing to the church.

    On the topic of rest (I realize this is somewhat a departure from the topic of introversion, but it is related), Tim Keller has influenced me greatly. While I cannot remember the exact quote, an idea that he often conveys is that we long for rest. However, in all our effort, we will never find true rest, eternal rest in any place outside of Christ. Christ, who had eternally abided in the rest of the love within the Trinity, left the presence of the Father on the cross, and experienced for the first time in his existence, true restlessness. As the full wrath of the Father was being poured out on him, he was utterly restless. Why? Christ became restless, so that we could rest. So that when he cried out “It is finished” he is declaring once and for all that all striving is done. There is no striving left for you or I. All that is left for you and I, is free access to the Father’s love, which brings what we have longed for: rest to our souls.

    While the church may promote activity (which is good. The church is called to be active in the community in which it is located), it must be a place where weary people come and find the rest they have always longed for. As you know very well, the church is being sanctified, and this may be another area where growth is needed. You are absolutely spot on in your discussion on Quiet. I look forward to reading the rest of your series.

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