Actually, that’s not quite accurate. I don’t struggle with introversion, I quite enjoy it. Rather, I’m struggling to find a place to serve as a Christian as an introvert.
For quite a while I’ve used the excuse that my season of life as a mother of children, especially a homeschool mom, is my mission field. But frankly, that excuse is wearing thin. Yes, tiny people take a lot of time and energy, but they’re getting older and less dependent. Not only does this allow me the ability to serve elsewhere, I need to be giving them opportunities to serve and be involved in the church community as well.
The problem is that the church–especially the American Protestant Church–is optimized for extroverts. It’s all about activities and various groups and loud, loud music. There is no place for quiet contemplation in our churches, and the vast majority of the activities have to do with getting chatty with passing acquaintances. Some of that is just our share everything culture, but I don’t share a lot of intimate details of my life with people I know well, why would I tell a stranger? Our church had a thing a while back called “Dinners for 8″ where they assigned you to share a meal with 7 (or 6 if you’re married) other people you may or may not know. Let’s save gas and just jab a hot poker in my eye, okay? The American evangelical church culture is geared toward extroverts, but it’s important to realize those particular cultural practices aren’t gospel.
I would humbly suggest that many activities that take place in church tend to be biased toward extroverts. Talking to lots of people on a Sunday, cold contact evangelism with complete strangers, loud worship, and small groups are all activities that are much better suited for someone with an extroverted personality. And these things aren’t necessarily wrong, but I think we need to make sure we don’t assume someone is more spiritual based on their participation in these things.
And that is an encouragement, as far as it goes. But there has to be a second part of this. If not in these areas, how does an introvert be an active part of her local church?
Sunday worship can frankly be tiring. Parts of it, anyway. Actually, any event or gathering where there’s small talk and lots of personal interaction is a bit much. I can do it, I just find it challenging and I need a nice long break from people afterwards. I’m pretty sure Sunday naps were invented for introverted Christians who just needed everyone–family included–to shut up for a while. (A reminder: introvert doesn’t mean shy; it just means you people are exhausting.)
Actually, I can listen to (non-fluffy) sermons or have lively discussions about weighty matters all day. I love to debate, talk about current events, or explore topics history or science or philosophy. I actually find that invigorating. What drains me is small talk or a great deal of talk about emotions. So small group, for example, can be great or it can be a struggle, depending on whether we’re delving into scripture or talking about our feelings.
Perhaps you can see why I’ve never felt at home in any women’s bible study. There’s usually a whole lot of emoting going on and chit-chatting to a lot of people. Small talk is not a skill I’ve ever mastered. It’s also why I tend to gravitate toward situations and people where we discuss politics and intellectual topics. There may be a lot of trolling, but little emoting. I love it.
Okay, I got off track there. The point is that while it can be difficult being an introvert in an extrovert’s church, my introverty-ness doesn’t preclude my call to be an ambassador of Christ. The typical diplomatic missions, however, give me hives. The gospel call in most churches seems to be to gush all over people, which frankly I can’t do. But that doesn’t mean I can’t do anything. I’m actually pretty good at doing stuff, and I’m not too shabby at giving practical advice. I’m a fairly efficient, competent person. I’m just not a people person.
It’s a good start to say that those activities most comfortable to extroverts aren’t the only way to serve the in the Kingdom of God. But that’s only the first step. The struggle–or the challenge–is this: how does an introvert serve the body of Christ and her community? Because introvert or extrovert, the call to love one another, serve one another, and take the gospel of Jesus Christ to all people is for us all.
Are you an introvert or an extrovert? How do you serve in your church or community?