I love to read. When someone suggest a book to me, I either put it my list of book recommendations or buy it right then and there for my Kindle. Earlier this year, someone (and I wish I could remember who) suggested I read a book called Introverts in the Church: Finding our Place in an Extroverted Culture by Adam S. McHugh. As an introvert, I thought this would be interesting. I was wrong; it was challenging, enlightening and thought provoking. I learned a lot and for the last few months have been wrestling with many things he said.
I don’t really do book reviews here, but I’m going to pull out a few quotes and share them with you. One of the things he talks about in the first part of the book is the tendency for the church to equate spirituality with extroversion. That may sound odd at first, but think about this for a moment.
"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. To participate in the evangelical church is to join the conversation. Introverts, however, spare our words in unfamiliar contexts and often prefer to observe on the fringe rather than engage in the center. Our spirituality may be grounded in Scripture, yet is quieter, slower and more contemplative. In an upfront, talkative, active evangelical culture, we can be viewed as self-absorbed or standoffish, and we can feel like outsiders even when we have faithfully attended a church for years."
If you are an introvert, and you feel like you are somehow less spiritual because you don’t chat everyone up every week, perhaps you can relate. After reading this book, I’ve actually begun to notice some things that the Church does that make perfect sense to extroverts, but can be really uncomfortable for us introverts. Like greeting times. Or silly games at staff parties. This is not to say that we shouldn’t engage, but too much of that will take its toll on us. So we need space to recharge. Unfortunately, sometimes it’s hard for extroverts to understand what we’re doing. To wit:
"One of the big mistakes Extraverts make is to assume that if someone is not engaged with another person, that individual is simply not busy."
You’ve had this happen; you’re sitting in your office, mulling over an idea, process or thinking about a way to do something differently. You’re making good progress when all of the sudden, someone bursts into your office and starts talking. They figure that since you’re not talking to anyone, you’re not doing anything. I’ve talked before about our tendency to think everyone is just like us, and the extrovert can’t imagine sitting alone, thinking about something for very long. But for us introverts, this is golden time.
Now at this point, you may be thinking that we introverts need to rise up and defend our right to be unmolested in our thinking time, and perhaps we should start an introverted church where we don’t have small groups, greeting times or pot luck dinners. Hold on a second.
McHugh does a good job in this book of legitimizing our natural bent as introverts, while reminding us that we do need to get out there and interact. With people. There is good reason for this, and he says it better than I can.
"I cannot escape the fact that growth invariably involves the messiness of genuine human contact and the struggles of intimacy."
We really can’t grow as people, or as disciples unless we get out there and interact with other people. I am learning that the best way to do that is different for me than it is for extroverts, but it still involves being around other people.
I have cultivated a small but trusted group of people in whom I can confide, and who challenge me to grow. I typically meet with or talk with them one on one, and find my best times of growth come after a talk with them when I have time to process what we discussed.
I’ve learned that I’m an internal processor, and when someone confronts me, challenges me or rebukes me, I need time to go off, think about it, mull it over and later, come back with a response. That’s OK. In fact, things go a lot better for me when I take that time (even telling the other person that’s what I’m doing).
There is a lot more in this book, and next time I’ll touch on a very specific topic that I think affects a lot of us introverted technical artists; internalizing criticism. Stay tuned.