Someone mentioned Adam McHugh’s new book to me: Introverts in the Church: Finding our Place in an Extroverted Culture (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2009). As a pastor, the topic fascinated me so I quickly ordered it. It wasn’t exactly what I expected, but I wasn’t disappointed. I can even identify with introverts, since there are times when I’d like to avoid all people and just read for a few days straight (with some bold peaberry coffee). In this book, McHugh discusses in-depth the differences between intro- and extroverts. He writes about introverts in community, leadership positions, evangelism, and a bunch of other related topics. Here’s one emphasis I appreciated.
“In mainstream American culture…those who are talkative, outgoing, energetic, and assertive have a decided advantage. People who enjoy reflection and solitude, and listen more than they speak, are often viewed as enigmatic, antisocial, and passive” (p. 16).
McHugh says the evangelical church follows suit: to be extroverted is to be a good, energetic Christian while introversion is often viewed as a spiritual problem. “Whereas in some church traditions you enter a sanctuary in a spirit of quiet reverence, in evangelical churches you walk into what feels like a nonalcoholic cocktail party. There is a chatty, mingling informality to evangelicalism, where words flow like wine.”
“At the center of most megachurches is a big personality: a dynamic, larger-than-life pastor who is able to hold everything together with his charisma. Time magazine and other various Christian publications now release lists of the most influential evangelicals, so fame and stardom have crept into evangelical culture” (p. 27).
McHugh remembers the job description of one church seeking a pastor: “This is a really high-octane environment. We’re looking for someone who is excitable and high energy. You have to be totally sold out to work here. We work full throttle.” McHugh had to double-check to make sure it wasn’t the job description for a pit crew position at the Indianapolis 500 (p. 26).
Some of the theological inferences in this book were less than satisfying to me, I must note. He really emphasized the monastic orders of solitude, discussing how introverts find God in the quiet of the universe. I’m not too gung-ho about finding God in our rhythms, or “centering prayer” (p. 83). I’m don’t like the notion of quiet art being a witness for the gospel (p. 176), nor do I think we should, as McHugh advocates, “view the world sacramentally” (p. 182). I don’t think women should be pastors (aka spiritual formation coaches), nor do I think we should let people sculpt during worship as an introverted way to “express worship” (p. 192). I’m not a big fan of Taize, and I doubt we should listen for God in the fissures of the universe. I have some serious disagreements with big parts of this book, in short.
At the same time, getting back to the positive, I’m glad I read it and I’ll for sure read parts of it again. I do think it is worth reading, and I think McHugh had quite a few excellent points that are well worth pondering – like this: “We might say that modern evangelicalism has a hearing problem. We often preach before we seek to understand a situation or before we sit in prayerful silence. Our verbal effusiveness can devolve into breezy clichés, hollow sound bites, and repetitive song lyrics…” (p. 25). Yahweh said it to the psalmist: be silent and know that I am God (Ps 46.10) and to Job: “Sit down and shut up!” (my rough paraphrase of ch 38.1-18ff).