Saturday, September 13, 2008

the introverted Christian

This entry will be contemplative and personal. If you don't want to read that, move along. I'll proceed by detailing my own experiences, then posing questions about what it means to be an introverted Christian.

Where I'm speaking from:

I'm a (male) congenital introvert. While I've very seldom hated people, either individually or as a general concept, I confess that they frequently frustrate and exasperate me. When I misunderstand them, their behaviors seem senseless. When I understand them, their behaviors seem petty and/or brutal.

At the same time, I learned to read at a young age. My interests leaned toward anything that was wondrously unreal. I liked humor and peacefulness, not solemnity and aggressiveness. The interests of most of my peers weren't also mine. Sports were trivial games--to this day I struggle to care at all about what happens. Weapons, explosions, and wars weren't nearly as fun or exciting to me as they seemed to be to others--to this day I've never fired a gun, although I respect those who use guns responsibly for a narrow set of purposes. The thrill they experienced at disobeying rules and instructions was experienced by me as fear and confusion; at first I neither comprehended why people would enjoy mere (though symbolic) rebellion against caring authorities, nor how they would view guilt as fun. In short, I am a natural-born nerd. (Most of the time, I dislike the neat categories/labels people are placed in because of the accompanying simplification, limitation, and devaluation, but all the same I can't deny the many similarities between me, the "nerd" stereotype, and those known as "nerds".)

Perhaps an active and kooky imagination, a logical bent, and a notable lack of identification with my peers are all partly to blame for the phenomenon that I usually encounter when I honestly express myself (rather than answering direct questions, etc.): the hearers look at me askance and seem to be dumbfounded at the way my line of thought runs. They wonder why I'm not down-to-earth. They question my questioning of "common sense" and "conventional wisdom". They suggest that I "over-think", as if thinking is something I do and not part of what I am. They might say that reading, or indeed the consumption or production of any artistic pursuit, is for outcasts (stated in smaller and coarser words, naturally). In any case, it wasn't too long before I realized that "the crowd"--i.e. most people--and I had nothing much to offer each other. This need not be a bitter realization, and for me it wasn't, most of the time. I liked and even admired people. I just didn't feel like I was one of them.

Introversion and Christianity (Now What?):

What does it mean for someone like me, an introvert who can't envision thinking and acting any other way, to be a Christian? What does it mean for he or she to be part of the Body? How can one be an instrument of the love of God if one has difficulty being around, or wanting to be around, the majority of people? What contribution can an introvert make to the church's mission? How can an introvert please and glorify God? In an ideal society that brims with harmony, somewhere like heaven, what place should an introvert have?

I have some opinions on these questions, but I freely confess I'm unsure. My firmest certainty is that introversion isn't evil. It's a personal tendency, not a sin. Specifically, introversion isn't equivalent to egocentrism. An introvert's thought-life is dominated by more abstract things than an extrovert's. However, that doesn't imply an introvert's thought-life is necessarily dominated by his abstract self-concept any more than an extrovert's thought-life is necessarily dominated by vainness and popularity.

Introversion does have its own danger to the Christian, independent of self-obsession. It may distract him or her from maintaining a godly focus. Both introverts and extroverts can be victims of diversions; the difference is one of type. For introverts, it's potentially harder because their very thoughts can be the problem, and thoughts are hard to avoid. Thinking, imagining, creating are activities. Activities should be indulged in with moderation, according to the commands of God, and if at all possible should be utilized to advance His goals.

I'm less certain about reconciling introversion to the many mentions in Christianity about people in groups. I sometimes have the impression that the Christian ideal is for all people everywhere to be happy being side-by-side, sharing all their selves and possessions freely, feeling affectionate toward everyone, and just generally not needing much more than each other and God to be happy (does one need to enjoy camping, for instance, in order for Eden to be considered "paradise" in any sense?). I doubt I'm alone in being skeptical of the plausibility of at least portions of that vision, assuming I'm not exaggerating or misinterpreting too drastically.

I'm not reassured by the imperfect model of God's kingdom on Earth, the church, either. I participate in my local church, as opportunities arise to serve how I am capable. I support it wholeheartedly. I attend gatherings and events of all sizes--for me the resolve to serve God outweighs the temptation to retreat into solitude. Nevertheless, I'm stymied by group situations in which people are expected to "mingle" (yeah, I know, in Christian-ese it's "fellowship"). Or situations in which people are expected to intimately follow the details of others' lives and serve them accordingly. Or situations of preaching/teaching--even a kids' class, because to me much of childlike behavior isn't "cute" but unruly.

What does it mean to be an introverted Christian? Must I act completely contrary to my nature? I'm not ruled by it, and I said earlier I do appreciate people--in the abstract, in any case. This is important, since the Christian life here is meant to be a poor reflection of the afterlife. Will there be room for "life of the mind" in heaven? Will heaven have privacy? Existing in the presence of the infinite fount, will there be any puzzles left to solve? Will everyone be constantly talking, even when the conversation is insubstantial?

Introversion is so integral to who I am that I find it hard to posit an inverted, extroverted me. If introversion can have no part of my Christianity, then to me that casts doubt on the notion that Christianity is for saving all people. Although I'll admit that the sentiment "I want to save you, but I might not want to be around you all the time" appears self-contradictory.

24 comments:

Krisyanna said...

Oh my finally someone who shares the same experience.I am introverted too and i'm a christian and it is so hard for me to adapt.Its like i only want to go to church on sundays and not during the week and people say i am lazy but i do not like being around people so i try to avoid them as much as possible but they always make me feel guilty about it and to tell the truth i dont know if i should feel guilty or not,im so confused.I like being alone and studying Gods word on my own most of the time.They just do not understand me at all and they do not want to.As christians people should be free to do what they want as lond as it is within Gods laws.I see no problem with that,do you?

Adam S. McHugh said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kelly Davis said...

I am totally with you. I have only very recently come to the conclusion that much of what I personally struggle with is the pressure to be different than I am. I have believed that to be a follower of Jesus we HAVE to be people/relationally focused, even if it goes against our nature. Now I am beginning to question that. I am wonder, though, what that practically means for ministry to others and sharing what I believe. I also have been thinking a lot about Jesus & the apostles and whether they were necessarily extroverts. Jesus spent a lot of time alone with the Father, right?

ChristianityUnbowed said...

Thank you for commenting.

To summarize what I wrote, I see the introverted Christian as having distinct difficulties in practicing three vital parts of Christian life.
1) Love - feeling and/or expressing it, 2) Togetherness - mutual support/encouragement in the church, knowing and being known, strength/reliance in numbers, 3) Evangelism - effectively attracting people to a deeper relationship with God.

Christians, introverted or not, should strive to do what they can in those three areas (and seek empowering by the Spirit, of course). To not try might fall into the broad category of "sins of omission". It's not a matter of feeling guilt - look to the Cross if you're concerned on that. There's only a limited amount of good we can do without interacting with others in various ways.

@Kelly I also doubt that all of the apostles were total extroverts. I wonder if some of them were specifically "gifted" to write the Gospels.

Quote Quote No Name said...

Rather insightful and original post. I do believe in the tyranny of extroverts who fail at times to display a measure of understanding in regard to the individual differences between the members of the body of Christ. Often, as fallen human being we stumble over many issues that are not in conflict with God's law. The central issue that should always be at hand is the glory of God and establishing a biblical worldview that is not tainted with an arbitrary standard of discernment. I can identify with the features of this blog post and the sentiments of the commentators. Indeed it must be noted that the distinctive dimensions of our personality that do not prove as a trespass against God's infallible law should be treated as a gracious example of the depth of the extent of God's saving grace towards the elect. It is through our differences a new dimension of God an be understood. Let us live lives that are in line with sound doctrine to the honor and glory of the God of the Bible. Through God's providence, many of our traits are used for His glory as he sees fit. It is His sanctifying work in the elect that causes us to be conformed to the image and likeness of Christ. Let us strive to make our calling and election sure in accordance with His unmerited grace.

Jen said...

I feel that somehow the answer must lie in the scriptures. Maybe "to live is Christ". However, I don't think this means that we have to place ourselves in a place that would exhaust us.

Mostly, I arrange my life so that I can maintain my peace. I arrange it so that I will not be intruded upon. So when I am, I can look at it as a calling to serve. This is not easy. Some people are easier to be around than others. With some people I can feel myself getting exhausted as soon as I see them coming my way.

I think we need to respect these feelings. There are many opportunities to serve. If we can scrub a church bathroom easier than we can make small talk with a homebound widow, shouldn't we scrub the toilet? I'm just saying. It sort of (excuse the word) sucks for us because scrubbing toilets is not as prestigious as teaching or preaching. We can always use solitary work as opportunity to commune with God.

I don't think any of us want to be alone all the time either. God also gives us people we can handle and people who like the fact that we aren't big talkers. We can reach those people far better than the extroverts can.

Hack said...

I read through the three difficulties that an introverted Christian may have in practicing the vital parts of Christian life. In each category I can think of (in my own life) where I've contradicted my own introversion and well succeeded in those areas. While I prefer my own company 90% of the time, I certainly do crave friends and people when I've gone without for too long. I have no trouble loving those people who have put up with me and my, sometimes, reclusive ways. Matter of fact I'm grateful for them.
When it comes to togetherness I don't necessarily believe it means knowing and being known by the entire church. I love knowing and being known by my small group of friends. Extroverts and introverts alike. At times in the right situation I enjoy meeting new people. I try and keep my own assumptions that most people won't "get me" on the shelf and allow new connections to evolve. And so, I've met very interesting people. Strangely enough, coming across other introverts (believers and non), whose friendships have become very encouraging and valuable to me. This carries into evangelism. When I've met other interesting people who are unbelievers I feel my introverted nature has helped me evangelize. I'm a thinker, and a good listener and enjoy hearing others' stories. This has helped me gain credibility through friendship to talk about my own testimony and share my own beliefs. Not in a debate or argument but through genuine, good conversation.. which I think a lot of introverts enjoy. So while I think we may, as introverts, struggle with these areas I don't think we should sell ourselves short.
Finally, thanks for writing this. Lately I have wondered where an introverted Christian fits in. Wondering if I spend too much time by myself. I think I do. But I'm aware of it. It's up to me to not become someone I'm not but reach a healthy balance. I would say an extrovert should strive for the same. Take some time to slow down, reflect... which seems to come very natural for us.

ChristianityUnbowed said...

@Hack Oh, yes, I could have been clearer on togetherness. I attend a church in which "knowing and being known" by the church at large is nigh impossible - too many people. I'm part of a smaller group (about 8 members but usually less on any given day), consisting of similar people who can relate to each other, that meets on Wednesday evenings semi-formally. It's in that context that I'm challenged by togetherness - sharing my struggles and encouraging others. I've also found that my natural preference for substantial conversations about ideas (when it's appropriate) can contribute to the group.

Your comments on introverted evangelism intrigue me. I confess that, in the past, I've found common evangelism "techniques" ill-suited to me (too much like "selling" the Gospel in the style of multi-level marketing), and therefore I've neglected evangelism. I'm glad you've been more successful. I have trouble just meeting non-believers because I'm fortunate to work in a Christian organization.

Adam S. McHugh said...

Here's a shameless promotion: I've written a book about introverts in the church. It's called, not surprisingly, "Introverts in the Church." It's coming out in October/November:

http://www.ivpress.com/cgi-ivpress/book.pl/code=3702

I have a chapter on introverts and evangelism in which I too say that the salesman technique doesn't work well for me and other introverts I know.

Alexa said...

Thanks alot for the blog and for the comments, they help me put my own life into perspective. I am an introvert, a Christian and a Sales Person by profession. I have been struggling with being an introvert not only in my professional life but also in my social interactions at work. I have realised both in work and socially-we as introverts have a part to play! God made us with strengths and these are what He wants us to use to show is Glory to others, being a good listener, focussing on one thing at a time, enjoying meaningful conversations and specific interactions as well as relationship building are some of the strengths that not only help me excel in sales but are what I am learning to apply to my daily social interactions which I have discovered are the same things God wants us to use in our relationships. He made US and KNOWS how we act and operate and for this very reasons he wants to reveal his Glory through us to be able to reach others who may be like us and not know if there is hope for them as well. But I want to reassure you, Christ died for ALL and there is HOPE for all, the discovery and the living is just unique to each and every one.

Anonymous said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now keep it up!

Anonymous said...

Many enlightening and thought provoking remarks and observations! I empathize with those who don't yet know that their thoughts, actions, and way of 'being' is because they are an introvert - not someone who needs counselling to become more socially involved! The internet itself can be a great tool for introverts to serve God. The three problems initially listed on this site are ones I have been struggling with. I do remember a time I was sitting in a room in the hospital, and a small pamphlet was sitting on the table. This one had to do with explaining why seemingly contradictory remarks in the bible are not in fact 'contradictory'. It also gave insight on how one could respond to those unbelievers who use those as a tool to prove believers wrong. Another little booklet gave simple, yet seemingly unrefutable logic to prove Jesus is who we believe He is, the immaculate conception, miracles, and the Resurrection, among other things. Perhaps this could be a good way for an introvert like me to 'evangelize'. Picking up thoughtful booklets like these and mailing them to such places as this hospital. You never know whose life it may change, as it did mine. I also noticed that it does have an effect on me when I notice women with cross earrings and pendants (although I must say this seems to be rare). Perhaps some days when I am out and about, I could expect that some others may receive the same effect if I am wearing some similar object (have to buy one first!). What do you think?

Anonymous said...

It is useful to try everything in practise anyway and I like that here it's always possible to find something new. :)

Katie Duncan said...

I just want to say thank you to those sharing their experiences on this subject. This has been a recent discovery of mine, the strength of my introversion and the way I have struggled to fit in to 'normal' Christian society. I have felt different, and tired, and wrong, for a lot of years now. And now I am coming to accept my differences, realise that other people share similar traits, and to apply God's grace to this area of my personality (seeing my differences as divinely created, and looking for ways to serve WITHIN my natural strengths and abilities). I wish I knew this a long time ago, I have felt very condemned for not being more involved in 'regular' church activities, and very exhausted from forcing myself to be at times. Thank you for the link to your book Adam, I will be picking up a copy soon.

Anonymous said...

I was happy to stumble upon your post. Being a lifelong introvert, I can relate. It wasn't until the last few years that I researched introversion and realized I wasn't "broken," even though I've felt like it all my life. I didn't need fixing or "bringing out of my shell." I just needed to be understood. Knowing that there were others out there like me was a great revelation and comfort. I've also been a Christian all my life and have dealt with the struggles mentioned. I never really joined the church groups though because I felt I would flounder and feel out of place. But this I've learned. God created us this way, and He will use us if we make ourselves available to Him. It may not be how we expect at all. And the Lord revealed this to me … so be encouraged … in the new kingdom, or heaven, when we are in His presence, these feelings we experience now will not even factor in. No introverts or extroverts. We will all be filled with the joy of the Lord. We will love everyone with an everlasting, overwhelming love and know that they love us the same way. Your Christian ideal will be fulfilled.

Klarize Hendricks said...

I am likewise, an Introvert Christian.. I've been struggling to fit myself in a Christian society where I live.. It's Evangelical.. your highlighted word "mingle"/"fellowship" has its way of hitting me.

Like most of introvs, I love solitude, and since we're minority~ I always find myself on my own 70% of the time. yup.. I have good extroverted friends. They are fun to be with and humorous at times. I'm kinda jealous because its normal for them to make class reporting, mingling and making friends.

In my church, the youth there are mostly extroverts~ when I was a first timer there, I can tell that I am not welcome. People have their own "groups".. very close with each other. I always find myself sitting alone, and of course cold glare is always at me because i'm not "in". I really appreciated it when sometime later, the youth pastor apologized to unwelcomed firstimers and admitted that they weren't reaching out well because the Enemy was attacking the congregation.

I.. am searching for answers if Introversion is a sickness or a built-in config.. I just found out that I am an introv a few months ago. However, I still don't know if I should embrace it.. Should I really go against my nature? and be someone else? I think I really shouldn't complain to God if He made me like this.. but please, someone answer me :(

Anonymous said...

May I just say, that through your post you have ministered to more people than you would at a church.
There are many introverted Christians, including myself and my husband, who often feel ill placed in a church setting focused on extroverted activities.
I am a homebody and like to keep things fairly quiet. I am contemplative and search God's presence apart from a church building, like his beauty in God's nature.
I do however think that you can be truly compassionate, empathetic and loving as an introvert. It may look different and less "evangelic", but when you are there when a friend (person) is in need and you help people out one-on-one, be a listening ear, it can has much of an impact, if not more than a large ministry event.

Erin said...

Still touching people several years later with this post! Introverts do have it rough in some ways. My oldest son is a raging extrovert and finds it almost physically impossible *not* to talk. It's hard for him (and of course, many others) to understand the need to be alone to recharge, and how draining being around people (even those we genuinely enjoy) can be. I recall Jesus himself going off to spend some quality "alone" time with the Father (interestingly, time with the Father is never draining like time with people can be...)

I think that with age and experience can come peace and understanding of ourselves. God made us this way. Jesus was both introvert and extrovert (he needed to get away, yet his "closest" friends were a rather large group!) It is up to us to become the best version of who God intended *us* individually to be, not to become the person we think we "ought" to be.

@Klarize, I don't know your situation, but I have encouraged my children (both introverts and extroverts) to recognize how difficult it is for most people to make an effort toward welcoming people they don't know. People who are shy or don't make an effort to get to know others some (even when you are the one who is new) usually come across as stuck up, when really they're quite nice people! And this is a real put-off to others. In a new situation, we introverts must be willing to at least introduce ourselves, ask about the others, and stand around and listen to their conversation for awhile. It can be scary and draining, but not to do this is almost certainly going to make us an outcast.

As for ministering in the church, I agree that there is a stereotypical ministry model that does not fit us well. But have we asked the Lord to *show us* what ministry he has for us? Ask Him to give you a strong desire to minister in the area(s) that will be the best fit for you, and that will impact His Kingdom in the way He intends you to impact the Kingdom.

Some possibilities *I* have participated that suit *my* temperment:

Sharing my personal story of salvation (explaining the gospel as I go) with people I already know - I look for opportunities in conversations.

Making coffee: Ours is a church with many unchurched people checking us out. Coffee makes the experience less intimidating for them somehow! And I'm doing it "alone."

Helping care for the grounds/landscaping on occasion. (This is a nice, quiet, contemplative thing to do)

Attending classes (usually 6-12 wk sessions) and sharing my experiences (and the gospel when I can), but taking long breaks between class sessions to recharge.

I love to garden and would like to take my knowledge to impoverished areas to teach them self-sustained food production for their families. I can be outgoing enough to teach somebody something, then I need to go recharge!

Just some examples. Sorry for rambling. I just want to encourage everyone that we are made in His image, we're different, we're not freaks. And He only wants us to be the best version of ourselves, not to be somebody else!

Anonymous said...

Christ made you with an introvert personality. People who want to change your personality are behaving un Christ lake and should be told so in Christian love. Only Extroverts can be pentecostals, and Introverts high church Anglican.

Anonymous said...

The sinner’s only hope for salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. This amazing fact is what separates the Christian faith from all others. All other religions are based on “works” or a powerless deity or person. The leaders of all other religions die and remain dead. The Christian faith is based on Christ crucified and resurrected to life. Why are we so concerned about our disposition? Introvert or extrovert - God created us uniquely in His image and will use us accordingly in His time. Let’s not put so much emphasis on how, where or when we serve our Creator. Give Him room to work through us. Pray that our Savior would guide us to fulfill His purpose and not what we think is our purpose. Believe me the Holy Spirit will use us when least expected. Only after, will we say wow! That was God. The advisory will deceive us into thinking we are not good enough for Jesus so remain vigilant and pray without ceasing. Be blessed my brothers and sisters.

Anonymous said...

PART 1: I came across your blog while doing a search for "introversion and Christianity," as it has been a condition that I have wanted to reconcile, seeking counsel on how to apply my God-assigned gifts and design to His body and mission. That is, after all, the point of our existence, regardless of our personality tendencies. I don't know if that central Christian submission is something I see in your post. I do completely feel your reluctance on the fellowship thing. God speaks so much about it, but since 75% of men & 85% of women are extroverts, it's hard & even painful to see His role for introverts. I'm mid-30's & a mother of 4, but begin to squirm the minute I'm in a position of making conversation even with people I know care about me, let alone strangers in my church body. The whole soccer mom fellowship mentality is wasted on me. I'm just not gifted that way, although there is clearly purpose in the Kingdom for it (praise God for extroverts!) I guess my problem with your perspective on this issue is that it's not clearly being evaluated through scripture or with love & humility. In fact, you at times sound resentful of & annoyed by other believers. While I agree that introversion isn't sinful, we still have sin natures & our individual designs are custom made for that sin. To battle it, every bit of our personality should be constantly submitted to evaluation based on His Word. As an introvert, I don't do well with unguided small-talk, so I give myself the opportunities to commune with the Body in ways that I can bear fruit; Christian book & Bible studies allow me to share with & get to know other believers, have alone time in study, & above all grow in holiness. Making dinners for the ill & under-fortunate lets me serve w/ little human interaction, if that's what I need at the time, as do various other forms of labor needs for the church. If there is a need that I can fill, then I do, not out of duty, but of love for Him. Above all, introversion obliges me to prayer for others. Whether we like it always or not, God calls us to love others. Prayer is a way of serving in quiet, & in God's mercy, it often blesses us in return: it grows us in the love for others that our sinful natures often keep us from experiencing.

Anonymous said...

PART 2: Let me reiterate: I have experienced countless painful misinterpretations, & misunderstandings b/c of my introversion, even, if not especially, during my saved life. God's assigning us as introverts (which we must remember, is a secular term) is not accidental. I would encourage you to focus less on what you hate about what you THINK is expected of you in the church body, & more how your can serve your Father. Even if social situations make us uncomfortable, to have such a disdain for His people reflects unrepented sin. Also, sometimes we just need to do things out of obedience to Him. If He says it, it is ALWAYS good for us. I've been part of a small group for years, but still feel uncomfortable & embarrassed around the other people in it. There have been times I've wanted to quit going, not b/c of the other people in the group, who are truly wonderful, but b/c of my introversion. But I know that would be in contrast to God's will - He is clear about running the race in community & I know He has refined me through my continued attendance. In retrospect, I know I've been shown lavish grace by enduring, increased love for others, detection of my own sin, & knowledge of Him simply by "hanging in there." We must remember, THIS LIFE IS NOT ABOUT US. If we are privileged enough to be chosen into His grace, our heart's desire must be to daily submit our tendencies, gifts, hearts, minds, souls to Him and His purpose. There are a million ways an "introvert" can do that, and none of them should welcome a resentful spirit. As for life in eternity, I don't know if we'll have "privacy" or if we'll even want it. We will be w/o sin & constantly worshipping Him. I don't know if "what we'll be getting out of it" should be our focus as we think about eternity...

Sue Botchie said...

Just a thought from an introverted Christian: Could it be that (introverted) Christians became so frustrated with the bling-bling and the bull all around them, that they simply walked away -- and ended up seduced over on the atheist side of the net? Thank you for allowing me to share

Kindlylove said...

Thank you so much for helping me to feel as if I am not the only one who struggles with introvertedness and the body of Christ. For most of my life I felt like there was something wrong with me. Over the past few years I have started to tell myself that I was made with purpose. I struggle with people and do not want it to negatively impact my relationships and especially my witness. Thanks for being open and honest!