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.

Screwtape on Churchgoing

Just received the latest version of the newsletter from the C. S. Lewis Institute.  The feature article highlights the thinking of Screwtape as he explains to his nephew Wormwood that he is almost glad to hear that the man is still a churchgoer since “(a)s long as he retains externally the habits of a Christian he can still be made to think of himself as one who has adopted a few new friends and amusements but whose spiritual state is much the same as it was [before].  I think this remains the fundamental problem.  Many people are erroneously thinking that churchgoing means change when it doesn’t.  Going to church doesn’t make you vitally connected to Christ any more than hanging out in your garage makes you a car.

The Dysfunctional Christian Family

The church often bears an uncomfortable resemblance to the dysfunctional family.  There is the authoritarian presence of the minister–the professional who knows all of the answers and calls most of the shots–whom few ever challenge either because they don’t dare to or because they feel it would do no good if they did.  There is the outward camaraderie and inward loneliness of the congregation.  There are the unspoken rules and hidden agendas, the doubts and disagreements that for propriety’s sake are kept more or less under cover.  There are people with all sorts of enthusiasms and creativities which are not often enough made use of or even recognized because the tendency is not to rock the boat but to keep on doing things the way they have always been done.

-Frederick Buechner-

buechner

Should We Forget?

It’s 9/11/2014.  Thirteen years ago, our country experienced the horror of an attack on the United States by terrorists, something unprecedented for most of us.  Many innocent lives were lost.  Many families lost loved ones.  They’re on TV today, the loved ones of those who died, once again reading the names of the lives lost on that infamous day, lives that factored so largely for them.  This practice is consistent with our initial commitment shortly after 9/11 that we would “never forget.”  As one reporter commented this morning, “time doesn’t heal all wounds.”  I agree.  The survivors of the tragedy of 9/11, whose lives have been forever altered by the thoughtless, selfish and even “evil” acts of others who decided that their loved ones didn’t matter, still show clear signs of grief and trauma.  They haven’t forgotten and I’m not sure how forgiveness of the terrorists who killed their deeply missed ones factors into their future ability to move on and have a meaningful life.

Is it healthy for these survivors and families who lost loved ones to reflect on the events of that day and to acknowledge the remaining feelings of anger and sadness that they still feel?  Shouldn’t they just “get over it” and “move on,” especially if they are “Christians?”  A day like today and the strong feelings that most of us have about the events of 9/11 evokes feelings in most of us that are inconsistent with the thoughts and advice we glibly offer to victims of trauma.  We tell victims of sexual abuse or rape or domestic violence that they are required to forgive.  The wife who forgives her abusive husband again guarantees that the cycle of violence will continue to repeat itself.  The child who forgives the sexual abuse of a caretaker who has violated their trust creates the opportunity for the cycle to continue.  The staff member who covers up the abuse of their former senior pastor does nothing to stop the cycle from repeating with others.

So, which is it?  Do we forgive and forget?  Or, do we not forget and remember so that we don’t simply allow these things to continue happening?  Do we still hold the terrorists accountable?  Or, do we give them a pass?  When we hold two contradictory thoughts that cannot be reconciled, it is called cognitive dissonance.  We feel anxiety, not being able to make sense of things.  To reduce dissonance, we typically revise one of the “truths” to make things less uncomfortable.  My question today is, “Do you still feel anger about what the terrorists did to our country and to the families that were directly and personally impacted?”  If so, how do you reconcile that with your approach to other similar situations where innocent people suffer at the hands of evildoers?  How do you reduce the dissonance?  In both cases, those who did what they did often show no signs of remorse and would do it again if given the opportunity.

Today is a good day to remember the reality that actions have consequences.  We need to understand that being nice to others doesn’t mean that they will respond in kind (I fear that President Obama doesn’t understand this principle.).  Removing personal accountability from our interpersonal relationships doesn’t create a better or a safer world.  We may need to be reminded that overlooking serious offenses does not solve the problem.  It doesn’t prevent future offenses from occurring.  It doesn’t validate the damage that has been done to those on the receiving end in the past.  It leaves victims with an abiding sense of injustice and sets them up to get stuck in complicated and unresolved grief.  To make things worse, we add to the pain they already feel by telling them they need to “forgive” and “forget.”  Do you feel comfortable telling the people at ground zero today to forgive the now deceased Osama bin Laden?  If you’re not comfortable doing that, why is it so easy to tell a woman that was sexually abused by her father or grandfather to “forgive” him now that he’s gone?  When he was living, he never acknowledged the reality of what he had done.  He denied her the validation that her pain was real in response to actual events.  He made her feel that she was somehow responsible for what “never happened.”  Now, we glibly tell her to “forgive” him.

As for me, I identify with the sorrow and despair of those who have suffered and been so deeply impacted by the evil of others.  I don’t struggle with mixed feelings about how I feel about them or about those who have perpetrated acts against them.  If they’re angry today as they reflect on what happened, I don’t condemn them for feeling that way.  In the same way, I identify with and support those who have suffered at the hands of other kinds of “terrorists.”  Those who have been terrorized by the destructive acts of those they trusted, who still feel a deep sense of anger or betrayal and struggle daily with trying to move on with life in the aftermath, only evoke empathy in me.  Is this somehow inconsistent with the character or commandments of God?

never forget

 

Self-awareness, the precursor to justification?

I’ve recently been thinking about the critical place of self-awareness in emotional health and maturity.  It’s a critical skill and personal trait that we continue to recognize as perhaps the most important in a leader.  It’s also a trait that seems painfully lacking among some of the current celebrity pastors that have “fallen from grace” before the gaze of an onlooking world and a confused church.  It’s interesting that it figures so largely in some very well known passages in just that way.  James talks about a person who “looks in the mirror” and in short order, “forgets what he or she sees” (James 1:22-25).  This person is described as “self-deceived,” a term synonymous with a lack of self-awareness. They are “hearers only” rather than “doers.”  They “talk the talk” but fail to “walk the walk.”  In our modern American evangelical version of the gospel, have we so emphasized faith alone (the utterance of one “sinner’s prayer”), that we have made passages such as this irrelevant?  Is self-awareness, the opposite of self-deception, required as a precursor to true faith that justifies?

Jesus Himself weighed in on this subject, using a graphic and shocking parable depicting the way in which self-awareness factors into our being right with God, justified. It’s found in Luke 18:9-14 (ESV):

9He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayeda thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Notice the contrast as it relates to self-awareness.  The Pharisee has none.  He did not see himself as “needy” but successful or “victorious,” a term thrown around in many circles of Christendom today.  His lack of self-awareness not only affected his relationship or lack of one with God but also factored largely into the way he treated others, “with contempt.”  He failed to see himself as he was and that lack of healthy self-awareness had devastating effects.  Contrast the tax collector who saw himself in the mirror of God’s law and felt the appropriate sense of need.  He looked into the mirror and saw things as they were, not with the distortion of the Pharisee.  That self-awareness produced in him a healthy dose of humility which was the precursor to being justified.  Is our “faith” that does not flow from healthy self-awareness, saving or justifying faith at all?  How critical is this accurate view of self to not only our emotional maturity and relationships with others now but also to our eternal destiny?  Jesus and his half-brother James challenge our contemporary thinking around these subjects.

3“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

5“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

6“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

7“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. (Matt. 5:3-7, ESV)

reflection

Easier to Ask Forgiveness?

One of the most irritating phrases used in our culture is, “It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.” What this means is that we ought to simply do what we want to do in the moment with total disregard for the rightness or appropriateness of our actions. To me, this is the epitome of the cheap grace Bonhoeffer warned us about. It presupposes forgiveness (from God and others) before it proceeds with its own unmitigated desire. It is consistent with our culture that informs us to “just do it.” With no disrespect intended to Nike, I disagree. Don’t just do it; think about the impact of your actions on others. Consider the rightness or wrongness of what you are considering and if you determine that it is wrong, “don’t do it.” It is the height of arrogance to presume on God’s grace or the grace of others around us. Maybe the clue is in the word “easy.” It may be “easier” to do it and get forgiven later, but is it “right?” This seems like another parallel to the contrast between the narrow and broad ways. The broad way that leads to destruction is easy. It comes to all of us quite naturally. I just think that followers of Christ are called to a higher standard than this. Your thoughts?

bonhoeffer