Introverts in the Church

book cover 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).

shane lems

sunnyside wa

9 thoughts on “Introverts in the Church”

  1. Shane–

    Interesting you should post this today. At noon I had lunch with my pastor. We discussed how we are a church filled with introverts and how that impacts how we do certain things in the church.

    One year when I was on council, we did a little survey to see if personality styles were behind some “issues” we’d been having. The pastor and I were the only extraverts out of the 16 elders/deacons/pastors in the whole room!

    Maybe Reformed folk are more introverted than evangelicals. Or maybe Hollanders tend to be introverted (neither the pastor or I is Dutch, although, to be fair, we’re nowhere near as Dutch as many CRCs, especially the ones back in NWI.)

    Chuck

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  2. Thanks guys.

    Chuck – maybe you’re right by way of generalization. Or maybe there are “levels” of “Dutchness.”

    Alternatively, I was thinking maybe you’d mention baseball fans and intro/extroversion. You guys are Brewers fans, right? How do they compare to Mariners fans?

    shane

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    1. Well, I haven’t run into too many Mariners fans who aren’t related to me (your kids, my nephews in Lynden.) Brewer fans are good fans–perhaps not as knowledgable as Cardinal fans or as loyal as Red Sox fans, but certainly not as abusive as White Sox fans, as demanding as Yankee fans or as disinterested as Dodger fans.

      And to bring this back to the topic, many Brewer fans are extraverted–when we have gone to away games around the country we invariably meet some Brewer fans who have moved away and who love to chat with people from the land of beer and cheese! And baseball is a game that encourages friendly chats with neighbors–one reason I love baseball!

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      1. Great assessment – baseball is in some ways an antidote to excessive introversion. Nice!

        Next time we’re face to face, we can be extroverted about the Twins.

        shane

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  3. Shane, I appreciated these comments as a natural introvert. There are times, however, when introverts can use this designation as an excuse not to talk to someone about the Gospel (for example). But, it is something I continue to struggle with and pray that I would not be hindered by my shyness. Anyways, thanks for the thoughts.

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  4. As an introvert, I find it hard to believe that any of us would like to ‘sculpt during worship’.

    This posting did get me thinking though, I would like to get to know people better at my church but it has been hard for me. Most often I think its my fault or that something’s wrong with me. I pray about it but not as regularly as I should. My church is biblical with good preaching, so I don’t feel it is a valid reason to leave (nor do I feel things would change else where).

    Oh and by the way I am Dutch.

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    1. Garrett: Glad you hesitate about sculpting during worship!!

      I like your notes about getting to know people at church better. We do live in a culture that pulls everyone in 100 different directions, so it takes deliberative work to cultivate friendships, especially in the church context.

      Also, good to note that the biblical preaching is what keeps you at your church – you’ve got it right there.

      Blessings,
      shane

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