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)