More than 10 years ago a good friend and fellow missionary scolded me for being a “recluse”, for being “selfish with my time” and “too inside” my head. Faced with this kind of harsh critique from a friend and brother in Christ in the past, I would have been crushed, either forcing myself to be “more social” or retreating deeper into solitude. However, neither happened because at that same time in my life I discovered the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) which helped me understand my own temperament. Not only did it affirm those things which were not flaws, but God-created characteristics, it helped me develop those traits in healthy ways. This was most true when it came to understanding what it meant to be an introvert. I have since used this tool to help people in spiritual, missional and community formation with great success. (For the curious, I am an INTJ).
That is why I was so thrilled when I saw the IVP was set to publish “Introverts In The Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture” by Adam S. McHugh. I received an advanced copy a few days ago and have already consumed most of it. This book is one of the most critically needed works for the Church in our culture. McHugh manages to confront the extroverted bias in church culture without denigrating extroverts while encouraging introverts without letting them off the hook of their own responsibilities. Incredibly practical, deeply pastoral and a significant key for becoming truly missional people, this book is a prophetic message of hopeful correction and direction.
Rather than do a typical review, I wanted to interact with Adam on some of the material in the book to give you a taste of what it has to offer. Releasing later this year, it is currently available for pre-order here through Amazon.com (and Amazon.ca & Amazon.co.uk). I cannot more highly endorse this book. We are ordering a copy for all of our staff here, as well as making it available for many in our church. Also, check out Adam’s great website “Introverted Church”. Enjoy the interview and weigh in with thoughts and questions in the comment section below:
Jamie Arpin-Ricci: One of the early chapters in your book is called “Finding Healing”. Why was that so important so early in the book?
Adam McHugh: Over the course of 3 years, I talked with and interviewed my fellow introverts, and I was saddened by how wounded many of us are from our experiences in Christian community and from life in our extroverted society in general. Our wounds have been inflicted both from without and within. Others misunderstand us or mislabel us as antisocial, loners, arrogant, unloving, or passive. Many of us have absorbed those criticisms and we are convinced that something is deeply wrong with us. Many introverts feel confused and ashamed of who they are, and with alarming frequency, struggle with despair and depression. I am convinced that until we find some level of healing and self-acceptance, as we pursue our identity as introverts in Christ, we won’t be able to live authentically in Christian community and to practice our faith as ourselves.
JAR: I have sometimes seen introverts use their temperament as an excuse, as though their choices are inevitable results of their introversion. What responsibilities do we have to develop our temperament?
AM: Introversion is never an excuse for sin, fear, lack of love, or an enduring victimization. We must always remember that our fundamental identity is in relationship to Jesus, not in our introversion. If we say that we don’t practice evangelism or don’t participate in Christian community because we are introverts, then our version of introversion is out of step with the abundant life Jesus came to give us. Too many times I have seen introverts define themselves by what they are not, rather than what they are and what they have to offer others. In the book I say that we must move both deeper and wider in our discipleship. We must go inwards and discover who we are and the gifts we have to offer others, but we must always move outwards into arenas of relationships, actions, and mission. A healthy introvert will both engage with others and retreat into solitude to rediscover ourselves and to hear the whispers of God.
JAR: This book is clearly not just for introverts, but for the whole Church. What do you most want extroverts to gain from reading it?
AM: I actually did write the book first and foremost for introverted Christians, because I felt my introverted brothers and sisters were long overdue for a resource like this. I have much love and hope for them. That being said, I definitely want extroverts to read it as well! My hope is that the book will serve as a mediator between them and the introverts in their lives and communities. I hope that it helps them understand introverts better and also reveals to them how they have conceptualized the Christian life and Christian community according to an extroverted mold. I want them to understand that there are different, and equally viable and valuable, ways of following Jesus.
JAR: You are clear that introverts are not exempt from the call to leadership. How might introverts lead differently? How can they be encouraged to step out in these ways?
AM: Not only do I think that introverts are not exempt from leadership, I think that those introverts who are called into leadership can be tremendously effective leaders. Much of our understanding of leadership is shaped by those people we have seen in leadership and the ways they have led. Many of us are accustomed to extroverted leaders and so we think we could never do what they do. Some of us, though, are fortunate enough to have seen introverted models of leadership. The most effective introverted leaders I know all know how to lead out of their strengths and to minimize their weaknesses. They are all experts in self-care and know how to save and restore their energy for ministry and relationships. Many of them follow the model of Jesus in focusing on the “few” – they can walk in larger circles but they relish opportunities to invest deeply in a small group of people and to pour into them their love and wisdom. They become a contemplative presence in whatever setting they are in – they listen carefully not only to the words that are said but to what is unsaid and the assumptions that lie underneath them. Many introverts find that spiritual direction is a ministry that suits them particularly well, or that the disciplines involved in spiritual direction – listening, prayerful silence, giving space to others – shape much of their ministry.
As far as how introverts can be encouraged to step out into leadership, I think they need to be convinced that they do have leadership qualities and gifts and their temperament does not automatically exclude them from leadership. That’s what chapter 6 in my book is about – dispelling the leadership myths and “ideals” that our culture subscribes to. And then secondly, they need to learn how to lead in ways that are genuine and life-giving, which is what chapter 7 is about. Nothing will kill an introverts’ sense of call like trying to lead like an extrovert. We just don’t have the energy or social capacity to do so, and thus we need to find the most effective, fruitful channels for our relational energy.
JAR: Your book is a prophetic call to the Church to wholeness. In that process, what do introverts need to be most careful of in respect to honouring and understanding extroverts?
AM: I love that you spelled “honouring” with a “u.” <JAR: I am Canadian, after all> One of my greatest fears surrounding this topic is that introverts, as they read the book and appraise their religious communities and traditions, will adopt a victim mentality. Already I have run into a number of introverts who are angry and resentful and who have many grievances against extroverts. What I want for them is to deal with their pain appropriately and constructively. I do not want my book to be a springboard for greater division and conflict among the church, because the reality is, there are a LOT of introverts out there who haven’t often been advocated for. Love must be our guide, and lashing out or vindictiveness is clearly not the way of Jesus. Nor is blaming others for our issues in a way that allows us to remain exactly as we are. We’re always called to growth in love, forgiveness, and compassion for others, regardless if we receive the same from the hands of others. I want introverts to read my book and take positive steps towards resolving conflict with extroverts, initiate constructive dialogue in their communities, and demonstrate the profound gifts they have to offer others. My hope is not that the scales will now be tipped in favor of introverts and introverted ways of thinking and acting, but that we can find a balance between introversion and extroversion so that our communities will show both the depth and breadth of God’s love.
JAR: What does it mean for introverts to be missional? To engage in evangelism? Do you have any examples to illustrate?
AM: I saw a blog post a while back that called introverts “sugar in the missional gas tank.” I was surprised by the lack of nuance and thoughtfulness in that post, but even more so I was startled that many commentors actually agreed with the author. Clearly, in many circles introverts are trying to dig themselves out of a deep hole, and maybe my book, if nothing else, will make a good shovel. It is a false dichotomy to say that extroverts do the work of evangelism and outreach, and introverts do the work of spirituality and prayer. It’s not a matter of different activities; it’s a matter of different ways of doing many of the same activities. Introverts can do evangelism, introverts can engage in the missio Dei, and if we are not, we are missing out a key and vital part of our discipleship. For introverts, the most important aspect of mission is context. We will likely to be better in one-on-one contexts than we will be in large groups, and we will likely be better with the same people over time than we will be with encountering strangers. If we center our strategies for evangelism and mission around our personal interests, then we will have more to say and we will find more energy from it. If we find ways to use our natural skills – listening, behind-the-scenes service, compassion, creativity and imagination – in our outreach, then we will be more successful.
I have an introverted friend who is an amazing sculptor, and she told me that she views her art as a wordless way of communicating the gospel. It’s not just that she hopes her art will become a conversation starter, but she prays what she sculpts will actually be a vehicle for mediating the presence of a creative, tender God. She knows that evangelism requires words as well but that God transcends and is more mysterious than any of our verbal formulas and homilies we so often us to try to bring someone to faith.
JAR: Tell us something about yourself that is completely odd and random.
AM: I have this weird thing for cats. I have 4 of them and I experience this odd resonance with them because cats are introverts. Sometimes when the doorbell rings I fantasize about running and hiding under the bed with them.
JAR: Thanks Adam.
Remember to weigh in, ask questions and engage in the comment section.