Beliefnet
Mark D. Roberts

Part 4 of series: Introverts in the Church: An Interview and Review
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Last Friday I posted the first of a two-part review of Adam McHugh’s new book, Introverts in the Church. As you may recall, I called this a “personal review” because it reflects, first of all, my personal relationship with Adam McHugh, who has been a friend of mine for many years. But this review is also personal in that, today, I will share more of my own response to this book and less of an intellectual critique.
When I last took a personality test, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, and that was more than 20 years ago, I came out evenly split between extraversion and introversion. My guess is that I would continue to be more-or-less balanced that way today. But I’m very much more aware these days of my introverted side, perhaps because I feel more freedom to be who I am rather than what my culture wants me to be. I fully agree with Adam’s demonstrated conclusion that both secular and Christian cultures prefer extroverts, and even cast aspersion on introverts. Thus, it’s taken me many years to be able to admit, for example, that although I enjoy being with people (most of the time), social interaction is emotionally and physically draining for me (most of the time).
Like Adam, I grew up and spent most of my adult life in the context of evangelical Christianity. During my elementary and secondary school years and then during my first seven professional years, I was part of Hollywood Presbyterian Church. One of the hallowed saints from that church’s history was the Rev. Richard Halverson, who spent many years as the chaplain of the U.S. Senate (a position later held by Rev. Dr. Lloyd Ogilvie, who was the Senior Pastor of the Hollywood church during much of my time there). I found it ironic that Introverts in the Church includes, right near the beginning, a quotation from one of Richard Halverson’s books, The Timelessness of Jesus Christ: “The extrovert God of John 3:16 does not beget an introvert people” (Introverts, ch. 1; Timelessness, p. 98). Knowing Dick Halverson, I’m quite sure he did not mean to criticize introverted people with this statement. He used the word “introvert” to describe ourselves when we “make the gospel serve us” or “use it as a protection against the realities of life” or “make us more comfortable,” rather than reaching out to the world with God’s love. But, even though Dick was not intending to censure introverted people, his use of language is quite telling. And it tells against those who are anything other than consistently extroverted.
So, even though I’m not a purebred introvert, but rather more of a mutt, I am nevertheless grateful for Adam’s book. Much of what he commends in the pages of Introverts in the Church I have learned the hard way by personal experience, but it is encouraging, nevertheless, to receive Adam’s affirmation of my lessons and my personality.
Over the years, I have come to grips with the fact that being with people exhausts me. I don’t see this as a bad thing, an aspect of my sinful choices or a part of my fallen nature. Rather, I believe that the introverted part of my nature is just part of me, rather like my receding hairline or righthandedness. Now, if I used the fact that I have introverted tendencies as an excuse for unfriendliness or selfishness, if I turned inward rather than caring for others because I believed myself to be an introvert, then this would move me over into the sinful category of behavior and attitudes. Adam makes very clear in his book that introverts are called to love their neighbors just as much as extroverts, and he has lots of counsel for introverts who might find this intimidating.
Years ago, I wondered if there was something wrong with me because I wasn’t as outgoing as many of my evangelical Christian compadres. Yet if I tried to push myself to be exclusively extroverted, the result backfired. I’d quickly lose the energy needed to be friendly, and would end up isolated in a way that was neither healthy nor loving. But when I realized that being with people took energy rather than giving it to me, and when I allowed that this was simply part of my personality, then I was able to make sure I got the alone time I needed to be refreshed, ready to reach out to people with the love of Christ.
For example, in my role as Senior Director of Laity Lodge, I am often a facilitator of retreats. Thus, I spend most of my time being with people: welcoming them, guiding them, talking with them, listening to them, eating with them, etc. I enjoy this work. But, knowing how so much people interaction uses up my internal energy, I make sure that I get some time alone each day I’m at Laity Lodge. That usually comes during free time in the afternoon. While others are working on art projects or hanging out at the dock–avocations that require a fair amount of human interaction–I am usually taking a hike by myself or with one other person. When I’m alone, I get time to think, to pray, and to recharge my batteries.
I did not need Introverts in the Church to teach me that I need alone time if I’m going to be available to people. Like I said, I learned this the hard way. But I know that there are millions of Christians out there, including thousands of pastors and other church leaders, who are introverts by nature and who are desperately trying to be something else. By denying some of the basics of their personality, these good folk are not doing that which they need to be healthy, happy, active ministers of Jesus Christ. Even Jesus, after all, needed time away from the crowds in order to be refreshed for his ministry. I wonder why we so often forget this.
I am thankful for Introverts in the Church, not only because of its impact on my life, but also because I know it will be a great encouragement to others. Many introverts do feel as if they don’t really belong in the body of Christ. This book will help them find their place. And, I hope it will also help churches to make emotional and spiritual room for introverts. This isn’t just about introverts feeling as if they belong, however. It’s also about the church becoming all that God intends it to be, a place where all of God’s people find a home and partners to serve the Lord in the church and in the world.

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