“Introverts in the Church” — Interview with Adam S. McHugh/Part 1
Back in the early part of the fall I made a comment on Twitter about being exhausted from all the deep conversations I was involved in at a conference, and Adam McHugh wrote an @reply to me asking if I was an introvert. It was an interesting observation and comment, and a question I have never really been asked before. Later that weekend I had the chance to chat briefly with Adam at the Christian Web Conference about his then soon to be released book Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture. I told Adam that I would love to have a copy of his book to read and review for my blog, not thinking much about it after that.
Then in early November I received a copy from InterVarsity Press, and once I began reading the book I couldn’t put it down. In fact, I was sad to finish it. You know a book is a good book when you are sad it’s over. In fact, I think it was a great book.
Let me just briefly say what I loved the book so much and why I think it’s a must read for people, especially those in ministry positions, whether paid or volunteer. Scot McKnight in his review said, “We need this book, and every (especially an extroverted) pastor needs to read it.” Totally agree. For me the book has done several very important things:
- Has totally shifted my perspective on how I view leadership, and more importantly, how I recruit/raise up leaders especially in a ministry context.
- Has me re-evaluating my own personality characteristics, and where I fall on the introverted/extroverted paradigm.
- Has helped me understand that knowledge of introversion/extroversion can better aid someone in understanding vocation, gifting and calling.
- Has given me a better sensitivity to what extroverted practices take place in the church and how it may actually stand as a hindrance to a large population of church goers who are introverts (i.e. required small groups, fellowship/gathering times, lack of silence, etc.)
- Has helped demonstrate how much of the extroverted leadership in the church can actually discriminate against introverts, as well as making introverts feel like less of a Christian because they don’t meet extroverted expectations of what Christianity should be like.
- Has put in to context how introverts can better serve in the church, and what role they may play in actually saving and redeeming parts of church culture that extroverts can not.
But now I have the privilege to bring you the first part of my two part interview with Adam about the book.
R: As I was reading through the book I was wondering if there was a catalyst to you writing the book (event, conversation, etc.)? As an introvert you had a desire to write about that topic and ministry but I was wondering what compelled you to write a book on it?
A: Honestly, the book began as somewhat of a personal apologetic, but I soon understood how I was speaking for many introverted believers out there who feel displaced in their churches, particularly evangelical churches. I knew that I was called to be a leader in the church, but I so often found my introversion to be at odds with the expectations for pastors. As I started talking with others about my questions, I realized how many other people – some pastors and some not – were asking many of the same questions. I was leading a group of introverted leaders at the time these ideas were taking root in my mind, and our leadership meetings became a sort of lab for introverted ministry, evangelism, spirituality, and leadership. And as an introvert, writing is a very natural outlet for my thoughts, and so the logical step was to write a book!
R: You dedicate a chapter to “finding healing” as you state that many introvert’s wounds begin in childhood. Would you say that finding healing as an introvert is essential for growth, moving forward, working in ministry, etc.? Why?
A: I can’t speak for every introvert, obviously, but in my interviews and conversations with my fellow introverts, the topic of wounds and healing came up frequently. Because much of our culture idealizes extroverted ways of thinking and acting, many introverted children become confused or depressed, especially when their parents are extroverts and constantly push them into social activities. Sometimes teachers mistake introversion as unintelligence or anti-social behavior. In other case, people label introverts as shy or timid or passive or standoffish, and unfortunately sometimes we end up becoming what people say we are. We feel rejected, so we reject others and isolate ourselves. All of these things put us in need of healing, both an inner healing as we re-discover our God-given identities and how profoundly we are loved, and an outer healing in our relationships and ability to participate meaningfully in community, in the ways we are individually called to participate.
R: From your research, what did you find to be the most difficult aspect of church culture for introverts? Why do you think that is?
A: There are a few difficult elements in church culture for introverts – like mingling fellowship and greeting times, certain methods of evangelism, or required small groups – but I think I would answer that question more abstractly. I think many churches implicitly, or sometimes explicitly, promote certain “ideals” of faithfulness that actually have as much to do with cultural norms as they have to do with biblical values. The “ideal” believer is one who is social and gregarious, assumes leadership positions quickly, participates eagerly in a wide variety of events, groups, and teams, opens their home up often to church groups, is well acquainted with many people in the community, witnesses to strangers often, and the list goes on. The problem is that that “ideal” person is an extrovert, and introverts often end up feeling spiritually inadequate and marginalized, or else masquerade as extroverts but still end up feeling exhausted and discouraged. In my book I talk about how introverts can both live the Christian life as themselves, and I also give suggestions for how churches can encourage introverts to live and love authentically.
R: You say that we all have extroverted and introverted qualities in our personality, but I was wondering how one ultimately determines which way they lean? Is it the energy source?
A: Yes, that’s the main distinctive. Where we fall on the introvert/extrovert spectrum starts with where we find our energy. All our personalities move in two directions: 1. Extroversion – outwards, towards the external world of people and objects and experiences and 2. Introversion – inward, towards our thoughts, impressions, ideas, and feelings. But most of us have a preference towards one of these directions, and we find our primary energy from one of those worlds. Introverts, as much as they may enjoy socializing and people, lose energy in that arena and find their energy renewed through solitude or through deep conversation with a close friend. Extroverts, as much they need times of solitude, find themselves energized in interaction and movement. These tendencies play a large role in determining the rhythms, habits, and behaviors that we live by.
R: Burnout seems to be a bigger topic these days in evangelical circles as more leaders are addressing the issue of it in church leadership (i.e. Anne Jackson, Wayne Cordeiro). How important is it for an introvert, or extrovert for that matter, to really determine the best position for their gifting in order to avoid burnout?
A: And thank God it is a bigger topic nowadays! I love Anne’s book Mad Church Disease and recommend it to all the leaders I know. While all leaders are vulnerable to burnout, I do think that introverted leaders are more susceptible, since we have less social energy and when we have long standing patterns of overexerting ourselves, we are in danger of compassion fatigue and depression. I do think it’s important for us to find positions that enable us to major on our gifts, since the power of the Holy Spirit flows through the gifts God gives us. At the same time, through my diverse experiences in ministry, I’ve learned that we’ll always have to do things that are uncomfortable, risky, and unnatural, and that that is part of taking up our cross and allowing God’s strength to move through our weaknesses. And God often calls unlikely people to do tasks we could never do on our own. While we can’t determine our calling, we can protect our souls so that we can have life and joy in ministry. I think self-care is absolutely critical for introverts in leadership capacities; we need to find our rhythms for engagement and retreat, carve out niches of solitudes in our days and weeks, practice spiritual disciplines like silence and solitude, and cultivate our most important relationships.
Check out part 2 of our interview later this week.
Also, check out Adam’s blog here.