Introverts in the Church [book review]

Imagine you are called to ministry, but you are introverted. What do you do? Do you choose academic ministry and a life of reading, writing, and libraries? Perhaps, but what if you discover that the academic road is a mismatch? What then? Wing it as an introverted pastor in a local church? Or do you simply resign and leave church leadership to the extroverts?

This was Adam McHugh’s dilemma.

Just as McHugh was about to drop his resignation letter in the mailbox to discontinue his ordination process and leave his ministry hopes in the dust he paused, put the envelope in his pocket, and began to rethink the place of introverts in the church. His heart struggle and the ensuing research on this topic are now available in his newly published book Introverts in the Church: Finding our Place in an Extroverted Culture (IVP, 2009).

He writes:

Even before I began pastoral ministry, I was convinced that my personality excluded me from it. There was no room in ministry for someone of my disposition—or so I thought. In my mind at that time, ideal pastors were gregarious, able to move through crowds effortlessly, able to quickly turn strangers into friends. They could navigate diverse social circles and chat about any number of topics. They thrived in the presence of people and were energized by conversation and social interaction. Though they could work alone, their pulses quickened when they mingled among the people of their communities. They were charismatic and magnetic, capable of drawing all kinds of people to themselves by virtue of their likeability and able to persuade people to follow them based on charm alone. I saw them surrounded by eager church members, percolating with warmth, streaked with the admiration of their community.

I, by way of contrast, relished times of solitude, reflection and personal study. I enjoyed people, and I found satisfaction in depth of relationship and conversation, but even when I spent time with people I liked, I looked forward to moments of privacy. I found crowds draining. I could stand up in front of hundreds of people and preach a sermon without nervousness, but I often stumbled through the greeting time afterward because my energy reserves were dry.

Though I did not know this eight years ago, there is a label for this personality feature that I once thought crippled my potential for ministry: introversion. (11–12)

Partly, McHugh writes to expose what he considers to be an extroverted bias in our culture and in the church. “In mainstream American culture (in schools, corporations, and social institutions), those who are talkative, outgoing, energetic and assertive have a decided advantage. People who enjoy reflection and solitude, and listen more than they speak, are often viewed as enigmatic, antisocial and passive” (16). He quotes The Atlantic writer Jonathan Rauch (another introvert) who writes that introverts are “among the most misunderstood and aggrieved groups in American, possibly the world” (17).

So what distinguishes the extrovert from the introvert? McHugh summarizes the extrovert/introvert distinction by three primary categories: (1) extroverts recharge around people; introverts recharge in solitude, (2) extroverts can receive a lot of input and can process this information on their feet; introverts retire to process input and collect their thoughts, (3) extroverts tend to be broader in their thinking, thriving on broad input; introverts tend to be more focused and research limited topics more meticulously. McHugh gives evidence that these distinctions may be rooted in biological and neurological differences (43–46).

McHugh seeks to employ the introverted strengths for the service of the church. His repeated conclusion: “In our day, I am convinced that introverts are an important ingredient in the antidote to what ails evangelism. Our slower pace of life, our thoughtfulness, our spiritual and intellectual depth, and our listening abilities are prophetic qualities for the evangelical community” (31). In other words, introverted pastors can provide a church with a level of theological and spiritual depth and are suited to strategically disciple young men in the church.

In the celebration of the introverted strengths, however, the author is careful to ensure that introverted tendencies are never used as an excuse to avoid uncomfortable self-sacrifice for others (63), never an excuse to avoid fellowship and community (86–112), and never an excuse to avoid personal evangelism (170–186).

McHugh—a Presbyterian pastor—is most persuasive when he argues that biblical pastoral qualifications (eg Titus 1:5–8, 1 Tim 3:2–7, 1 Pet 5:1–3) do not favor extroverts over introverts. “The mark of godly leadership is not a magnetic personality; it is discipline, because discipline develops character” (123). Jonathan Edwards is one historical example of introverted leader he focuses on. Edwards was a disciplined introvert who led by his “relentless, probing intellect” and his “powerful, personal devotion.” Such a man will “radiate both the light and the heat of the gospel” (133). But nothing is mentioned of Edwards’s clumsy relational flubs (like the “young folk’s Bible” episode).

Conclusion

McHugh’s book investigates new territory, and because of this will likely attract a lot of attention. It will at least begin to help clarify the value/role of introverted pastors today (and throughout history), the value/role of introverted church members, and even how to reach the lost introverts of our communities with the gospel.

But you may not agree with everything. At times sections of the book lacked theological precision, some examples revealed a fuzzy polity, there was a heavy use of non-theological sources, an eclectic mix of ministry examples (some of whom I find theologically disagreeable), and the predictable trappings of therapeutically-defined goals (e.g. “healing” and “self-acceptance”).

Ironically, for all the introvert/extrovert temperament talk and therapeutic labels, this book may actually provide what we need to redirect our attention to God’s priorities in leadership selection. A discussion such as the one in the book may help us to move away from “personality type” labels and to discover church leaders that (more importantly) conform to the biblical pattern of faithfulness and discipline. It’s not a definitive book, but Introverts in the Church: Finding our Place in an Extroverted Culture is thoughtful and will help us celebrate the diversity of gifts God has given to the church.

Warming flame or hardening ice?

tsslogo.jpg“We are frequently told, indeed, that the great danger of the theological student lies precisely in his constant contact with divine things. They may come to seem common to him, because they are customary. As the average man breathes the air and basks in the sunshine without ever a thought that it is God in his goodness who makes his sun to rise on him, though he is evil, and sends rain to him, though he is unjust; so you may come to handle even the furniture of the sanctuary with never a thought above the gross early materials of which it is made.

The words which tell you of God’s terrible majesty or of his glorious goodness may come to be mere words to you – Hebrew and Greek words, with etymologies, and inflections, and connections in sentences. The reasonings which establish to you the mysteries of his saving activities may come to be to you mere logical paradigms, with premises and conclusions, fitly framed, no doubt, and triumphantly cogent, but with no further significance to you than their formal logical conclusiveness.

God’s stately stepping in his redemptive processes may become to you a mere series of facts of history, curiously interplaying to the production of social and religious conditions, and pointing mayhap to an issue which we may shrewdly conjecture: but much like other facts occurring in time and space, which may come to your notice. It is your great danger.

But it is your great danger, only because it is your great privilege. Think of what your privilege is when your greatest danger is that the great things of religion may become common to you!

Other men, oppressed by the hard conditions of life, sunk in the daily struggle for bread perhaps, distracted at any rate by the dreadful drag of the world upon them and the awful rush of the world’s work, find it hard to get time and opportunity so much as to pause and consider whether there be such things as God, and religion, and salvation from the sin that compasses them about and holds them captive. The very atmosphere of your life is these things; you breathe them in at every pore; they surround you, encompass you, press in upon you from every side. It is all in danger of becoming common to you! God forgive you, you are in danger of becoming weary of God! … Are you, by this constant contact with divine things, growing in holiness, becoming every day more and more men of God? If not, you are hardening!”

- B.B. Warfield, The Religious Life of Theological Students (P&R). Address delivered at Princeton Theological Seminary on Oct. 4, 1911.

John Brown of Haddington: The Pastor

The Pastor
By John Brown of Haddington (1722-1787)

I’ve been working on a review of The Systematic Theology of John Brown of Haddington (more commonly known as A Compendious View of Natural and Revealed Religion, published in 1782 and reprinted by Christian Focus in 2002). Taking the past month to become acquainted with this remarkable man has been a great blessing to my own soul. Brown was the son of a basket weaver, whose poor Christian parents were both dead by the time he was 11-years old. He became an orphan shepherd. Although every circumstance in Brown’s life pointed towards a rough future of poverty and ignorance, he would teach himself NT Greek! Under the sovereign direction of God, being self-taught from the well of Scripture, this man would become one of the most prominent theological professors, writers, preachers and theologians in Scottish history, producing a long-revered Bible dictionary and a massive study Bible (The Self-Interpreter’s Bible). Most striking in his life, letters and books is Brown’s vast and encyclopedic knowledge of Scripture. The following is an excerpt from an address given to students of theology published in the preface of his systematic theology. I would encourage pastors to print this out and return to it frequently. Blessings! Tony

“See that your minds be deeply impressed with the nature, extent, and importance of your ministerial work, — that therein it is required of you, as ambassadors for Christ, as stewards of the mysteries and manifold grace of God, — to be faithful; — to serve the Lord with your spirit, and with much humility in the gospel of his Son: — to testify repentance towards God, and faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ, not keeping back or shunning to declare every part of the counsel of God, or any profitable instruction, reproof, or encouragement; and not moved with any reproach, persecution, hunger, or nakedness, — to be ready not only to be bound, but to die for the name of the Lord Jesus, in order to finish your course with joy. Bearing with the infirmities of the weak, and striving together in prayer, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified, and your message provided by God, and made acceptable to your hearers, you must labor with much fear and trembling, determined to know, to glory in, and to make known, nothing but Jesus Christ, and him crucified, — preaching the gospel, not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, as men-pleasers, but with great plainness of speech, in demonstration of the Spirit and with power, – speaking the things which are freely given you by God, not in the words which man’s wisdom teaches, but in words which the Holy Ghost teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual, — as having the mind of Christ, always triumphing in Him, — and making manifest the savor of the knowledge of him in every place, that you may be a sweet savor of Christ in them who are saved, and in them who perish; — as of sincerity, as of God, in the sight of God, speaking in Christ, and through the mercy of God, not fainting, but renouncing the hidden things of dishonesty; — not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully, or corrupting the truth, but manifesting the truth to every man’s conscience, as in the sight of God; — not preaching yourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and yourselves servants to the church for his sake, always bearing about his dying, that his life may be manifested in you; — and knowing the terror of the Lord, and deeply impressed with the account which you and your hearers must give to him of your whole conduct in the day of judgment, — awed by his infinite authority, constrained and inflamed by his love, you must persuade men, beseeching them to be reconciled unto God, and making yourselves manifest to God and to their conscience, — and, as their edification requires, changing your voice, and turning yourselves every way, and becoming all things to all men, in order to gain them to Christ, — jealous over them with a godly jealousy, in order to espouse them to him as chaste virgins, — travailing in birth, till he be formed in their hearts. You must take heed to your ministry which you have received in the Lord, what you may fulfill it; — stir up the gifts which were given you, — give yourselves wholly to reading, exhortation, and doctrine; — and perseveringly take heed to yourselves and to the doctrine which you preach, that you may save yourselves and them that hear you; — watching for their souls, as they who do, and must give an account for them to God, — rightly dividing the word of truth, and giving every man his portion in due season, faithfully warning every man with tears night and day, teaching every man, particularly young ones, and laboring to present every man perfect in Christ Jesus, — and warring, not after the flesh, nor with carnal weapons, but with such as are mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds and casting down imaginations, and subduing every thought and affection to the obedience of Christ. Having him for the end of your conversation, and holding fast the form of sound words in faith in, and love to him, — not entangling yourselves with the affairs of this life, nor ashamed of the Lord, or of his cause or prisoners, but ready to endure hardships as good soldiers of Jesus Christ, and to endure all things for the elect’s sake, that they may obtain salvation with eternal glory; — ye must go forth without the camp, bearing his reproach, and, exposed as spectacles of suffering to angels and men, must not faint under your tribulations, but feed the flock of God which he has purchased with his own blood, and over which the Holy Ghost has made you overseers, — preaching the word in season and out of season, reproving, rebuking, and exhorting with all long-suffering and doctrine, — taking the oversight of your people, not by restraint, but willingly, not for filthy lucre of worldly gain, or larger stipends, but of a ready mind, — neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but as examples to the flock, — exercising yourselves to have a conscience void of offense towards God and towards man, — having a good conscience, willing in all things to live honestly, — exercised to godliness, — kindly affectioned, disinterested, holy, just, and unblamable, — prudent examples of the believers in conversations [daily life], in charity, in faith and purity, — fleeing youthful lusts, and following after righteousness, peace, faith, charity, — not striving, but being gentle to all men, — in meekness, instructing them who oppose themselves, avoiding foolish and unlearned questions, and old wives’ fables, — fleeing from perverse disputings and worldly mindedness, as most dangerous snares; and following after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness; — fighting the good fight of faith, and laying hold on eternal life, — keeping your trust of gospel truth and ministerial office, and, without partiality or precipitancy, committing the same to faithful men, who may be able to teach others; — and, in fine, faithfully laboring, in the Lord, to try, and confute, and censure false teachers, restore such as have been overtaken in a fault in the spirit of meekness, — and having compassion on them, to pull them out of the fire, hating even the garment spotted by the flesh, and never conniving at, or partaking with an in their sins. Who is sufficient for these things? May your sufficiency be of God; and as your days are, so may your strength be. (Ezek. 2:7, 3:9, 17-21, 33:7-9; Isa. 58:1; Jer. 1:17-18, 15:19-20; Mic. 3:8; Mal. 2:6-7; Matt. 10:16-39, 19:28-29, 20:25-28, 23:3-12, 24:42-51, 28:18-20; Acts 18:24-28, 20:18-35, 24:16, 26:16-23; 1 Cor. 2:1-5,9,12-13, ch. 1-5, 9, 12-14; 2 Cor. ch. 2-6, 10-13; Rom. 1:9,16, 9:1-2, 10:1, ch. 12 and 15; Gal. 1:8-16, 4:19; Eph. 3:7-9, 4:11-15, 6:19-20; Col. 4:7,17, 1:23-29, 2:1-2; 1 Thes. ch. 2, 3, 5:12; 1 Tim. ch. 3-4; 2 Tim. ch. 1-3; Heb. 13:7,17-18; 1 Pet. 4:10-11, 5:1-4; Jude 22, 23; Rev. ch. 2, 3, 11:3-7, 14:6-11).”

- John Brown of Haddington, “Address to Students of Divinity,” in The Systematic Theology of John Brown of Haddington (Christian Focus: 1782/2002), pp. viii-xi.