I recently finished reading the book, Introverts in the church, by Adam McHugh. I don’t want to do an exhaustive review, just put down some reflections. Coming from a mainline perspective, I could not always relate to some of his observations about how ministers are often presumed to be extroverts, or that it is desired by search committees. Like most personality traits, I’m pretty sure God knew what He was doing when he put both types in the church.
It interested me to learn that introverts are in fact roughly half the population, by current measures. Being an introvert myself, and often being criticized for the way I go about things, I had assumed our numbers were smaller. That would explain the way I often felt misunderstood. Instead, the numbers are nearly 50/50 leading one to conclude that perhaps we really ought to be listening to one another.
I do think the book focused quite a bit on those who are far into the introverted side of things. For instance, he observed that activities such as passing the peace, or greeting those around you in church can be acutely uncomfortable to an introvert. Now I was painfully shy as a child, but the greeting time in our service seems so entirely normal to me that I would hate to think it made anyone uncomfortable. Mind you, I am not one to wander far from my seat in search of new people, but shaking hands is pretty minor to my mind.
What I did like, was his description of the way introverts need to step back and rest. Maybe that’s because that is how I have learned to operate in any case. But I often feel as though I could get so much more done if only I could keep pushing through it all, but it is as though this book gives me permission to stop and reflect from time to time. So, life begins to resemble breathing, which seems pretty biblical to me.
I enjoyed reading his descriptions of how a church service, run in an introverted fashion would run, with some silences and pauses. Though my current pastor calls himself an introvert, he has not gone to that extent in our services. I’m afraid the normal focus in making the service fit the schedule makes that hard to do on Sunday mornings. When you have 3 services with Sunday school in between, running over plays havoc with things. But I like the idea of having a different sort of service from time to time. It’s not my job to plan such things, but I am certainly open to attending them.
There is a lot of good advice in the book about ministries that are particularly appropriate to introverted people. He talked a lot about Spiritual directors though, which though a lovely concept, was completely foreign to me. Unless it is something only offered to those pursuing the pastorate, I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a thing practiced. Certainly it is not a bad idea to have someone who helps you listen to what God is saying to you. I think most of us only go so far as to discuss things with a trusted friend or small group. I’m not sure how you would move from that to a more formal relationship with a single person. In fact, I would think that might put a bit of stress on the one in the director role.
At any rate, it was a thought provoking book. I enjoyed finding I am really not alone in being an introvert. I am thankful that my faith has enabled me to become more comfortable in society than I was as a child and teenager. The picture that came to my mind was of a friend of my mom’s who crept into mom’s 80th birthday party and barely spoke above a whisper. Thanks to God’s work in my life, I was able to welcome her and assure her that I remembered her, instead of being concerned about myself.
I recommend this book for those struggling with their own introspective natures. There is a lot in here that is healing. Also, it would be a great read for those in ministry, because there are many suggestions for ways to help the introverts in any congregation to be more comfortable and productive.