Sunday, February 24, 2013

Introverts in the Church

Sometimes as an introvert I feel I am swimming in a pool of sharks.  They control the water.  Don't get me wrong - I love extroverts - I live with four of them!  But my world is mostly designed for extroverts.  I struggle to find ways to function in such a way that I am not running for the nearest exit or the quietest corner of the room (or let's be honest - the nearest closet to hide!).

A few months ago my friend Brad (also an introvert!) let me borrow a book he had read.  I am only one third of the way in, but I want to share a few thoughts.
The book is Introverts in the Church by Adam McHugh.  Mr. McHugh has captured an idea that I seem to have understood but never voiced.  As an introvert  I love to be alone with my thoughts.  I am energized by this.  I love quiet.  I love time for reflection.   I do love people and enjoy my time with them.  But I prefer quiet conversations and sometimes avoid group settings.  Mr. McHugh asks (for the first time to my knowledge) which of these groups the typical church culture/service is designed to appeal to.

A few quotes:
Former-evangelical-turned-Catholic-priest Thomas Howard explains a difference between Catholic practice and evangelical practice:  "Emotionally, one would have to say that evangelicalism is a much more 'up front' form of piety, and very talkative."  Whereas in some church traditions you enter a sanctuary in a spirit of reverence, in evangelical churches you walk into what feels like a nonalcoholic cocktail party.  There is a chatty, mingling informality to evangelicalism, where words flow like wine."

Wow!  Now, I would have never said "nonalcoholic cocktail party," but the point he makes is an interesting one.  And for me, how can I begin to engage my heart to worship and hear the Word of God at church?  I have always felt guilty about enjoying a little quiet time before a church service, which means ignoring the room full of people.  This book has given me a new perspective.  It isn't that my way is the wrong way.  It is the way that seems more comfortable and honest and authentic to me.  And that is good!  I feel a freedom to be me and freedom to let others talk away!!  

Mr. McHugh continues  ... Sometimes our value for community life can become a substitute for relationship with God.  Psychology professor Richard Beck says that for some churches spirituality is equated with socialibility.  The mark of a progressing faith is familiarity with a growing number of people and participation in an increasing number of activities.

Again, something to think on.  Obviously, as Christ followers we are designed to be in community.  To be with other people.  But this is no substitute for a spiritual, one-on-one relationship with God.  A church that is completely focused on social activities is no better than a church solely focused on quiet reflection.   Obviously, these two above quotes are very broad in their context.  I want a church that gives glory to God and is a safe place to introduce others to Jesus.  But it is interesting to think about how the standard church service is designed to make the extrovert comfortable.  I look forward to finishing  the rest of the book.

The most important discussion on ANY church culture should include the reason that we have church in the first place:  to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  God created man.  Man revolted and chose to defy God - to sin against God.  God's justice demanded payment for that sin.  He graciously sent Jesus, His perfect Son, to live a perfect life.  Jesus died on the cross as a payment for the penalty of our sin.  2 Corinthians 5:21 says that Jesus became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.  This is the Gospel.  This is why we gather as a church.  This church is a community of people who have been redeemed and called to live life together - introverts and extroverts alike!



Kristy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kristy said...

Thought I'd leave my comment here :)

As I have been learning more this weekend about my slight preference for introversion over extroversion, it has made oh so much more sense and I have felt encouraged that it is OKAY to want that time alone & to you think that is a common struggle for introverts - to feel bad that they are not like extroverts?

I think it is so very important for us, the church, to see more and more clearly how God has wired each of us quite differently and then, consequently, get to see more and more how the hand is not a foot and the foot cannot be a hand, etc...and how that is all okay as long as Christ is the Head helping us to help feet be feet and hands be hands! :)

Also, I think you bring up a really good point about church culture geared toward the extrovert and a good question regarding what ways can we meet introverts in the ways they prefer to respond and can connect more deeply in their natural, God-given ways?

When we use to meet at Newsong, I use to sneak up to the balcony almost every single week...either during the sermon or at the very end of the service after communion. I LOVED LOVED LOVED my secret time up there. It was so great - I was still with everyone, but was able to be "alone" with God...I could write, spread out, pray, worship, cry (dare I say), or whatever! It was, easily, one of my favorite things to do...and I don't think hardly anyone knew I did it - met the introvert in me in the sweetest way to have my lil secret time with God, while still being near everyone and at church! Definitely, on a regular occasion, I wish I could do that still :)

Lastly, I think that you have met this need creatively in the past...for example, at several of our women's retreats you designed the time where we would have time alone, to read/pray...also some of my favorite times in our retreats...that is a great example of an introvert (such as yourself), being okay with your introvert-self and inviting others to be okay with meeting God in both introverted and extroverted ways!

Anyway - I RAMBLE - but great blog :)

Ann-Marie said...

This was a really interesting post.

I also love what Kristy said about having her secret "alone" time at church. Alone time like that is one thing that I was able to easily get at my church growing up and that I have truly missed living in Indy and here.

I am not a introvert or extrovert according to meyer brigs and other personality test (dead in the middle on that one) so although I can relate with both groups I sometimes wonder if I could better understand how to help introverts in our community group to feel more comfortable. Thoughts?

Lauren said...

Kristy - all those times you were sitting in the balcony, I was sitting quietly on the steps enjoying my own alone time!

Ann-Marie, I think that our current location at Trailhead right now (the actual building) does not necessarily allow for introverted time. It is an unusual space. Someday God may give us a space that allows for quiet reflection. I think there are a few things to do for introverts in your community group... you can allow for them to process more slowly. Lots of times group discussions require dividing thoughts and attention between so many people and that is harder for us introverts. Be okay with silence in group settings! Also, all of us are different - ask what you can do to help with his or her group experience! And make allowances for all of us to interact differently!

Kristy said... it, Lauren!! I may have tripped over you a time or two on my way down then! :)