“Introverts in the Church” — Interview with Adam S. McHugh/Part 2
On Tuesday I posted the first part of my interview with Adam McHugh (“Introverts in the Church” — Interview with Adam S. McHugh/Part 1), whom you can find blogging and writing here. As I’ve already said about a million times already, his new book, Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture is a great book. It’s not too late to pick it up for Christmas…for the introverts and extroverts in your life. Everyone needs to read it. And I will go as far to say that if you are in ministry, it would be a shame if you didn’t read it–I think you would be missing out on a piece of the puzzle when it comes to how you serve, minister, understand and raise up other leaders.
Here is part 2:
R: What are the 2-3 most important things that can introverts teach us?
A: I’m glad you asked this question, because too often it seems that introversion is viewed as a liability, rather than a gift. I know I’ve been guilty of defining introversion in terms of what I’m not rather than what I am. Here are the two most important things I think introverts bring to the church: 1. The value of listening and 2. The need to slow down.
People in our culture so rarely have the experience of being truly listened to, of being given the space to express what’s on their hearts. Too often we speak over one another, interrupt one another, compete for space to speak. Because introverts process internally, and consider what they say before they speak, they can be incredible listeners. We offer a non-judgmental presence that helps others open up to us. Now, there’s more to listening than just not speaking, and it’s a discipline to be cultivated (my next book is about listening!), but introverts have a good start in becoming excellent listeners, communicating deep love for others through listening. I think listening is a tremendous asset in evangelism, which I talk about in chapter 8. Second, introverts often lead a slower, quieter, more contemplative lifestyle and we help people in our fast-paced culture slow down. We bring a calming presence to people and to our churches. Modern-day evangelicalism tends to be so full, so busy, so hurried and weighed down by agendas, and I say in the book that introverts are part of the antidote to what ails evangelical culture.
R: Let me throw out a couple of technologies that are being used in the Church and let me just get your response in regard to introverts. What would introverts think of twittering in the church? How about online church?
A: I knew you were going to ask me this! I’ll say first that, as an introvert, I am grateful for social media like Facebook and Twitter. It has helped me make connections, and deepen relationships, with people that I just don’t have the energy for in face-to-face situations. I’m often much better in writing than I am in person. But I do think there are inherent dangers in online communication, especially when it becomes a substitute for in-person relationships, and I worry when introverts spend far more time online than they do with people. Again, I address these issues in the book.
Twitter in church seems to be becoming the 21st century version of note-taking, but I actually think it’s an extroverted form of processing. Since it’s not acceptable to talk during a sermon, tweeting is a way that extroverts can think “aloud.” As a preacher, I can’t say I’m wild about the idea of people tweeting while I’m preaching. It seems like people in our technologically driven culture are in so many places at once, and perhaps worship should be one time a week that we seek to bring all of ourselves into unity– heart, mind, soul, body, and typing fingers.
As far as online church, I’m ambivalent. For people in countries where Christianity is banned, and for those people who simply will not cross the threshold of a church, then it’s a great thing. But, no matter how introverted you are, we all need embodied relationships and if we can’t find them in the body of Christ, then I’m not sure where we can find them. Second, people who are uncomfortable being in church are usually not resisting church attendance because of introversion but because of shyness, experiences of rejection, and other wounds. If we have been wounded by people and churches, then it seems to me that full healing will actually come when we find those people and churches, who communicate, in full, embodied form, the gentleness, compassion, and love of Jesus. I’m really grateful that the Son of God didn’t just get on a web-cam in heaven but actually incarnated into full human form and walked and lived among us. Online church may be an excellent step for many of those people, but my hope is that it is only a step.
R: What do you think is the most important takeaway for ministry for pastors who read this book? What will pastors learn from this book that will equip them better as a leader?
I devote two chapters in the book trying to demonstrate how pastors and other Christian leaders don’t have to keep masquerading as extroverts and can actually lead as introverts. That’s the main takeaway: lead as yourselves!! In chapter 6 I draw from biblical models of leadership, which center around character not personality, as well as models of leadership from the corporate and non-profit worlds which emphasize servant leadership, humility, reflection, and introspection. In chapter 7, the longest chapter, I go into ministry practicals for introverted leaders and discuss partnering with extroverts, following the model of Jesus in investing in “the few,” preaching as an introvert, and tailoring our jobs and schedules to suit our introverted rhythms and strengths.
R: I think you do a great job of dispelling the myth that those who retreated to the desert or to solitude were doing so to escape. Instead you seem to say that when we seek solitude we are better able to move forward into action because of the contemplation/solitude. Is that an accurate statement?
Henri Nouwen said that compassion is the fruit of solitude. When we go deep into ourselves and invite God to show us as we truly are, we find true identity. We find the good things about ourselves, our gifts, and also the ugly things – the jealousy, the fear, the anger, the desire to objectify and control others – but if we open ourselves to God’s grace in those ugly places, we can find deep compassion both for ourselves and for others. That compassion propels us to action and to works of mercy and justice. Before Jesus began his public ministry, he spent 40 days in the wilderness with only the word of God to sustain him. Throughout the history of the church, great leaders and highly influential people like St. Anthony, St. Patrick, Martin Luther, and countless others have found the impetus to love and to lead in solitude.