I’m Ok, You’re Probably Going to Need Some Work

I came across an interesting reference here, to this actual site/article.  I commented on the first site, but not the second site.  The issue at play is the role of introverts in the church.  The bigger question, it would seem, is whether or not introversion is really something that needs to be fixed or changed if someone is a Christian (and I think our society at large would extend that question in general, rather than limit it to the realm of church). 

People like extroverts.  I have a sister-in-law and brother-in-law who are extroverts.  I envy them.  The ease with which they meet people and talk with others, opening themselves to a certain extent and welcoming total strangers into relationship.  A good colleague in ministry is the same way.  And in our communal living experiment in St. Louis a few years ago, one of the couples we lived with were very extroverted.  I often marveled at how people were drawn to them, almost like moths to a flame.  It’s hard not to envy extroverts.

For us introverts, things are harder.  We don’t meet people as easily.  We’re less comfortable in large groups.  We prefer smaller settings.  Some introverts (myself included) are very good at forming deep relationships with people.  Whereas extroverts often seem to know a lot of people at a relatively surface level, introverts are more inclined to know fewer people, but at a deeper level.  There are amazing benefits to both personality types.  But our culture likes extroverts more, and this is seeping into church as well.

The original article has some interesting things to say which aren’t highlighted in the excerpt at Veith’s site.  I like the original site better, as it validates some of the observations I made on Veith’s site.  I like validation

My comment on Veith’s site was this:

It’s easy to quickly move into looking at introversion as a challenge, and extroversion as the ideal. Many of the comments here have this implicit assumption. The introverts sort of feel bad that they are introverted, and the extroverts feel bad that the introverts feel bad. There are benefits to both, but we have to know how to allow these orientations to work together, rather than hoping that the other type was more like us in some way.

My wife and I initiated an experiment in Christian communal living a few years ago when I was at seminary. This was one of the fundamental challenges we faced – my wife and I are introverts, and 3/4 of the other two couples were extroverts. The assumption was that if we were just more like them, things would be better. And while we sought to be understood, our assumption was that they had a few things to learn from us as well.

I’ve prayed and talked often about partnering with an extrovert to help build a church. Extroverts meet people easily and seem comfortable talking in ways that others find very winsome. Introverts seem to have greater abilities in forming deep relationships with a few people. I have talked about it in terms of extroverts having advantages in the breadth of numbers of people they meet and interact with, whereas introverts have advantages in the depth of the relationships they form with people.

To my mind, extroverts show great promise in terms of inviting people into worship, sharing the excitement they have about what’s going on at their church, and following up with people they’ve talked to. Introverts offer promise in terms of discipling, teaching the faith and helping to ground those new to the faith.

How does this address the issue of meet & greet situations in a church? I think Philip’s comment is key here – the issue of the passing of the peace is not an issue of being chatty with one another. There are Scriptural precedents and directives as to what this time should be used for. Aside from the extrovert/introvert issue, there’s the reality of clannish behavior, where some people are ignored or excluded while others are warmly and affectionately greeted. I think this is an important area for some good pastoral thought and theological study.

As Christians grow together in a community, people should also be getting to know one another to the point where we know that “Bob” (name chosen totally at random and not related to any of the above posters!) prefers a simple “Peace of Christ” and a quick handshake, while “Suzy” (same disclaimer) likes a hug as well. Both introverts and extroverts need to move beyond the delimiters of classification to seeing one another as brothers and sisters in Christ, members of the same family who need to be loved, appreciated, and accommodated to the best of our ability – even if it’s not our natural preference. If everyone is doing this, then neither the extrovert or the introvert has to crawl as far out of their comfort zones.

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