I am an introvert. I am every single definition of introvert you could possibly imagine.
And though I already knew this, Susan Cain’s Quiet – a book that probes the depths of what it means to be an introvert and how introverts function – affirmed it for me. It also hinted at the notion that introverts might struggle in a Christian church built for extroverts. Having read that, I then made it my business to seek out books by Christians about introversion, and I found two particularly interesting: Judson Edward’s Quiet Faith and Adam McHugh’s Introverts in the Church.
The books are both tremendous and they both identify the ways in which the church, especially the modern evangelical church, is built to fundamentally appeal to extroverts – and the ways in which it might unintentionally exclude introverts. Our fellowship gatherings, our Sunday morning service “hug a neighbor and say good morning” prompts, our evangelism, and our identities hinge largely on the tenets of extroversion: we expect that a good Christian will be energized from these things, will enjoy them, and will or should always want to some degree to participate in them. But this a myth that can be pernicious, and can sometimes cripple the walks of those who deem themselves “unequipped” for ministry or for participation in the body due to their introverted character traits.
The books differ enormously in tone. McHugh takes an intellectual and a theological approach, laying the groundwork for introversion as a fundamental and necessary personality trait within the church and within church history. As an academic myself, I appreciated it, but I recognize that for the less academically-inclined certain points might feel a bit dense or obscure. If you’re in church leadership and find yourself feeling stunted because of your introversion, McHugh’s work will feel tremendously helpful to you: it as much a justification of the need for introverts in leadership as it is a guide for them. Additionally, he sets forth some spiritual practices and ideas (including Augustine’s examen) that might prove useful to the more withdrawn among us who struggle to incorporate extrovert-heavy spiritual disciplines into daily life. It’s worth nothing that the book does have what I would call a distinctly liturgical bent, and McHugh seems to feel that aspects of liturgy appeal particularly to the character traits of introverts. While I don’t necessarily believe that he’s incorrect, if you come from a Protestant background, you might find this to be some new ground to tread.
Edwards, on the other hand, draws on his personal experiences as a pastor and offers up a more conversational tone. As someone who struggled with introversion over the years both in ministry and outside it, he has a good handle on the feelings of those who might be struggling now. His stories – especially one opening tale of his bewilderment and isolation at a major Christian conference – will feel familiar to introverts who would rather skip small talk and parties to partake instead in other faith activities. This book was an “easy” read inasmuch as I got through it quickly, but it too is chockablock with suggestions about how introverts might live their faith rather than using it as an excuse to step back from church life.
These two books strike me as necessary, and ought to be required for pastors or lay church leaders; they offer gentle guidance as to how introverts might adjust to the church, and how the church might adjust to introverts. The goal of both texts seem to be to integrate introverts into the body of Christ in a more organic and practical way. As someone who often dreads fellowship events and feels drained after, and as someone who prefers thoughtful class or lecture-type study settings to convivial fellowship events that hinge around conversation and small talk, I found myself grateful for these complementary guides and these dual approaches written about a topic that most congregations seem not to consider.
If there’s a fault in either, I’d say it’s simply that discussing introversion on a general level doesn’t lend itself to a lot of nuance. There are many different types of introverts, and I’d say that in some ways the struggle of introversion can trouble different demographics in the church in interesting ways: the women in a congregation are often disproportionately burdened with the duties of socialization, and introversion in adolescence can be a real psychological struggle. But McHugh and Edwards only had so many words, and their treatments were comprehensive enough I think the lack of a more specific discussion is understandable and justifiable.
If you’re an introvert, one or both of these is worth a read. I found it useful to read them consecutively, as they complement each other well. If you’re not an introvert, but you’re genuinely interested in reaching out to believers in your congregation who might be, this will also be worth a go. The simple truth is that not all the members of the body are the same; while the church certainly cannot cater to every single need of every single person, it’s worth embracing an inclusive approach that gets the most out of the various personality types within our midst. In that regard, these books are a wonderful place to start – a reminder of the strength that rests in the many, many people in the body of Christ.