Leadership

Dear Introverted Pastor

I recently received the following question from an introverted pastor struggling with the extrovert bias inside American evangelicalism. Here’s my response.

As an introvert pastor, I have a hard time fitting in at pastor gatherings, but it also seems important not to isolate myself from them. I do force myself to go because I “should”, but it can be disheartening when I am often exhorted to be more extroverted like them. It would be great if there were a “birds of a feather” gathering of introverted pastors where we can encourage and learn techniques from each other about how to pastor from that perspective. Do you have any advice?

The problem you describe is not unique to pastors, but is an important question to all of us, especially introverts. Because many introverts feel less of a need to constantly be around people, and are quite happy and capable to do what we do alone for the most part, we can tend to feel like there is something deficient about us. As you say, we feel like we “should” want to hang out with others, for two reasons I think. The culture around us tells us that putting ourselves out there is right. Being alone is frowned upon. In addition, the evangelical culture of which you are part also reinforces this bias, using Scripture as a club to make the requirement to be together (this is usually called “fellowship”) even stronger.

I’m not surprised at the disheartening effect getting together with these other pastors has on you. Having other people essentially tell us to be more extroverted is incredibly insensitive, ignorant, and hurtful. Not to mention, this practice is patently unbiblical. You and I and every person are supposed to be and become the person God created us to be, not to try to be someone else. God-given differences originate in the womb as a reflection of God-ordained diversity (e.g. Jacob and Esau).   Sanctification does not or should not refer to the process of turning introverts into extroverts. Rather, sanctification is a process whereby we each shed the baggage that typically connects with either end of the spectrum, becoming the authentic self we were made to be, without the things that detract from our original design. For extroverts, this may be moving toward greater humility and away from pride. For introverts, this may be moving toward greater acceptance and less self-loathing. This is a key biblical concept. Salvation, or sanctification, is not a one-size-fits-all process. You might enjoy a post where I recently bemoaned what I too often hear described by popular radio preachers, extroversion as salvation.

I agree with you that it would be helpful to have a connection with other introverted pastors to normalize your experiences. Realizing that we’re not alone is incredibly validating. Learning how others like us lead can be very helpful. Ultimately however, I think this is second best. The best would be to have a healthy connection with other diverse people in ministry who value the God-given differences between them as part of a deeply held biblical worldview. I often advocate for this idea when I have the opportunity using 1 Corinthians 12 as one of the main anchors. Paul, in that passage, is actually addressing the root problem you are describing, devaluing others. It looks exactly as he describes it, one part of the body saying to another, “We don’t need you.” An extrovert implying to an introvert, “You should be just like me.” In reality, the body of Christ was intentionally designed to be interdependent, all parts needing all other parts to function as it should.

One practical solution to this problem would be to do a book study together with the group of pastors to open up some healthy dialog about this issue. For this reason specifically, I included reflection questions in Introvert Revolution thinking that extroverts could use these to open up good discussion with the introverts around them. What your extroverted friends need to realize is that the impact they are having on you, they are having on at least half of their congregants. In the same way that you come away from meeting with them feeling beaten up, misunderstood or marginalized, their congregants, either knowingly or unknowingly, are probably walking out of their church services feeling similarly.

Ironically, this whole problem is culturally driven. This is a Western, especially U. S., problem related to the way we promote extroversion as the goal. When you look at the culture of Judaism, an Eastern culture, into which the Bible was written, it seems to value the opposite idea. The wisdom literature, for example, promotes the connection between wise living and things like holding one’s temper, not acting impulsively, having self-restraint, holding one’s tongue – all introverted traits. Do I therefore think that sanctification is about becoming introverted? No. I sincerely believe that the process from either side of the spectrum actually looks different and that we need to understand that fundamental reality if we’re going to truly help people from either side become who they were meant to be.

For further reading on this topic, I would strongly suggest Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture By Adam McHugh and Quiet Faith: An Introvert’s Guide to Spiritual Survival by Judson Edwards. Another book that has helped me is David Benner’s The Gift of Being Yourself: The Sacred Call to Self-Discovery.

The struggle you describe is not trivial. People or pastors feeling as if their introversion means that there is something inherently wrong with them is the root of deep and painful shame, the very thing that we should be seeking to heal. I would challenge you to take up this struggle, not just for yourself, but for many other introverts in these circles in which you find yourself that are suffering in similar ways. We have a lot of work to do. I wholeheartedly disagree with the bias reflected in the regrettable quote from Richard Halverson, the former chaplain of the U.S. Senate, “The extrovert God of John 3:16 does not beget an introvert people.” I think Rev. Halverson and some of your friends are sorely mistaken. Hope this helps.

Andy Johnson is a former pastor, organizational consultant, and the author of three books. His most recent book, Introvert Revolution: Leading Authentically in a World That Says You Can’t was written to help leaders work through and overcome the cultural bias that invalidates their authentically introverted leadership.