While Thomas Merton was in college at Cambridge, he grew interested in psychoanalysis. In particular, this led him to the realization that he was an introvert: “I came to the conclusion that one of my biggest crimes in this world was introversion, and, in my efforts to become an extrovert, I entered upon a course of reflections and constant self-examinations, studying all my responses and analyzing the quality of all my emotions and reactions in such a way that I could not help becoming just what I did not want to be: an introvert” (Seven Storey Mountain, p. 137[Harcourt 1998]).
Is introversion really a crime? Sadly, many Christians (at least in Protestant and evangelical circles) have felt the same way Merton did then, but within the Church. In churches where committment is measured by relational connections, being drained by interaction rather than energized is treated as a disorder, even a failure to live into Christian “community”.
Adam McHugh has written an excellent book about this called Introverts in the Church. I’ve been following and recommending his blog Introverted Church for a long time, and I’m grateful to have read it. Not only is the book a healing-experience for introverts who’ve felt misunderstood or excluded by the churches they’ve attended, it’s also a call to introverts to stand up and assert their unique gifts and calling within the church. The first chapter ends with McHugh writing:
“I am convinced that introverts are an important ingredient in the antidote to what ails evangelicalism. Our slower pace of life, our thoughtfulness, our spiritual and intellectual depth, and our listening abilities are prophetic qualities for the evangelical community, calling us to a renewed understanding of God and a fresh reading on the abundant life Jesus came to give us.” (page 31)
Rather than fighting our introverted natures to fit into the extroverted mold which evangelical culture privileges, McHugh encourages and empowers introverts to use the gifts God has given them to serve the Church.
One place he does very well is in the chapter on evangelism. As an introverted pastor in the highly extroverted world of church-planting, I was especially interested in this portion of the book. Is an introverted evangelist an oxymoron? No. In fact, if sharing one’s faith is an essential part of discipleship, then introverts are called to evangelism as much as any other Christian. The problem lies not in personality, but in the stereotyped styles of evangelism. He writes, “I do not think that introverts are ill-suited for evangelism; I think that our prevailing evangelistic methods are ill-suited for introverts” (p. 172). Rather than the obnoxious and confrontational methods of evangelism pushed in many churches, he proposes an appropriate method of evangelism for introverts is to come alongside others in spiritual friendships and “explore mystery together.” An authentic friendship where listening, prayer, and lifestyle proclaim the gospel is both much more natural for introverts and powerful in relating to a post-modern world. As I read this chapter, I felt like he was describing the method of relationship-building, prayer, and contextual witness that comes most naturally to me and which I seek to practice at the cafe where I work. (McHugh also draws in this chapter on Rick Richardson’s book Reimagining Evangelism – the best evangelism book I’ve ever read.)
The chapter on spirituality was also a joy for me to read. It explained why the so-called retreats my college ministry took years ago often felt more like endless dance parties than genuine retreats. Introverts are wired for deep, contemplative forms of spirituality – forms which, while present in other manifestations of the Church, have until recently been ignored in American evangelical circles. While introverts are naturally attracted to the monastic life (where Merton eventually thrived), we don’t all need to become monks to practice contemplative spirituality. The discussions of disciplines like examen, sabbath, and solitude can be practiced by anyone, and give introverts the permission to pursue God in ways that suit our personalities and provide genuine rest and renewal. Best of all, the chapter contains practical advice and helpful questions to guide the reader think through the structure of his or her day, and perhaps even create a “rule of life” that will provide appropriate balance.
I can’t say how grateful I am for this book: parts of it resonated deeply with my own story and life in the Church. It’s my prayer that this book will be not only helpful for other introverts wading through the extroverted waters of church-life, but will also make churches evaluate themselves and provide more balanced approaches to ministry. Thanks Adam for this gift to the Church!