Introversion and Church Life

Having already garnered for itself a reputation as profoundly insightful and deeply relevant among many in the book-loving community of Christian Fellowship, Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking finally made its way to the top of my reading list over the summer. Being one of the more formative books I’ve read, in terms of how I see my own personality and my relationship to the larger culture, I say without reservation that the praise is well-deserved.

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Though not a Christian herself, Susan speaks into an area of acutely felt tension within modern evangelical Christianity. Indeed, she includes a section beginning on page 64 entitled “Does God Love Introverts? An Evangelical’s Dilemma.” As an introverted Christian, I feel this tension in two areas: my being grafted into the Church community (the singular Body of Christ), and the call to evangelize those outside the Church.

Those of you who know me only marginally or not at all may find it surprising that I consider myself an introvert. After all, as this otherwise helpful article points out, you can frequently see me leading worship with a guitar and chatting with both newcomers and regular attendants before and after services. I like to pretend only my close friends notice how awkward and forced these conversations tend to be. The closest ones routinely bring this to my attention by poking harmless fun; but even they are sometimes taken off guard by how quickly I clam up when dragged to such intimate and unfamiliar territory as someone else’s house, or a party full of strangers. The fact is, social interactions easily intimidate me, and that obviously impacts the way I relate to my brothers and sisters in Christ, as well as how I respond to the command of my Lord and conscience to share the gospel with those who do not have it.

Enter the dilemma. I once met up with a young, outgoing fellow for God-talk in Capen Park, which he (probably rightly) called “one of the best places in Columbia to pray.” After we took turns discussing our respective upbringings and views on baptism, the subject turned to evangelism. Peter, as we’ll call him, comes from a very admirable church tradition in their evangelistic fervor. He had, in fact, initiated our relationship by approaching me as I lingered around Speaker’s Circle one afternoon, listening to a cappella hymns sung by a visiting congregation of Mennonites, and asking whether or not I was Christian. So perhaps it shouldn’t have surprised me when, after confiding in him that I am rather cautious, even a little sheepish, in the sharing of my faith, he chastised me for lack of boldness. Peter meant well, and was certainly not wrong all through. I do need to repent of sinful fear of man, and receive grace for it, but that is not the whole story.

The very day I first met Peter, just after he and I went our separate ways, ironically enough, I noticed the familiar face of Paul, who shared my Philosophy class, walking down Ninth Street. Paul was always quiet and, as far as I could tell, usually alone. Some empathetic impulse drove me to catch up with him and ask about life. He responded in a friendly manner, and began to very openly express his desire for happiness and fulfillment. He also told me that he had no interest in religion, that it “didn’t seem like a fun thing to do.” So, despite my John Piper suffused theology and the conviction that I knew precisely what he was looking for, I bit my tongue, and didn’t broach the topic further. Now I believe by not attacking his walls, I gained his trust; and after following him to his coffee shop destination, I asked his permission to keep him company for a while longer. Watching him catch his own excitement and then respond “Do you want to?” remains one of the most memorable gospel experiences of my life. The conversation we had was amazing, and I was able to share how my love for Philosophy both cultivates and grows from my love of Theology. Best of all, neither of us felt like I was proselytizing, and Paul was incredulous when I told him I am, in fact, an introvert.

None of this is to criticize open-air or park-bench evangelism as the wrong way to share the gospel, but it might not be the only right way, or even the best way. Sometimes a more cautious, long term approach, the kind ideally suited to introverts, may be more effective. When last I heard from Paul, he told me he had reconsidered his quickness in dismissing “religion” as a possible end to his search for happiness. Please pray he finds the water he thirsts for.

There still remains the question of how introverted Christians can relate to the clearly extroversion-oriented Western church culture. Some churches explicitly require extroversion as a prerequisite to church leadership, seeing a gregarious – Susan Cain spares no opportunity to employ this fun word in her book. You should read it if for no other reason than to have the word solidified in your verbal repertoire. – personality as necessary to indicate true love of God and people. Maybe not all our worship services need to resemble a highly stimulating rock-concert. Perhaps we shouldn’t interpret peoples’ decision to sit in the back of the auditorium as a lack of engagement with the service, or God. In any case, discussing these things frankly, openly, and honestly will surely help.

Of course, the introverts must make an effort as well. To them, as one of you I say: don’t take all this new validation of your God-given temperament as an excuse to withdraw from community. Susan writes on page 69 “Evangelicalism has taken the Extrovert Ideal to its logical extreme…It’s not enough to forge your own spiritual connection to the divine, it must be displayed publicly.” Well, it’s not enough to forge your own spiritual connection to the divine, as if anyone ever had. We need each other, and we are called love one another and serve one another. It must be lived communally. You will learn more about God from other people, each of whom sees God from just a little different angle than you, than ever you could if you receded into isolation. That is the design. You will also grow, and that’s a good thing. Be willing to stretch yourself, accept an invite to lunch after Sunday service every now and then, or invite someone yourself. Introducing yourself to newcomers is an indispensable ministry, cantankerous old men aside. It is a tragic truth that many individuals, couples, or even families move on after attending weeks of services where no one took the time to notice they were there.

That said, Quiet is a remarkable book that I highly recommend each of you take the time to read. But since that may exceed your capability, waist-deep in schoolwork as you probably already are, I give you Susan Cain’s 2012 TED talk as a substitute!

Sameness is to be found among the most ‘natural’ men, not among those who surrender to Christ. How monotonously alike all the great tyrants and conquerors have been: How gloriously different are the saints. – C.S. Lewis

Do you have any suggestions for resolving the tension of this issue? Please add your voice to the conversation in the comments below.

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