[First post in a series on the book Introverts in the Church.]
I just finished reading Adam S. McHugh's book, Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture. It was recommended and reviewed by Dan some time ago, which is how it ended up on my reading list. I liked the book, it fit in with my vision of how church should "work" for an introvert like me. One of the things the author pushes is that church isn't always supposed to feel comfortable, so we shouldn't just shop for a church that lets us introverts blend into anonymity. Instead, he discusses what introverts need to fully become a part of community (which is what church should be all about) and how to recognize, celebrate and use the gifts of introverts as much as we do extroverts.
While its focus is on the evangelical church, I think the points made apply to any church, or virtually any other organization in our extrovert-oriented culture. In the end, both introverts and extroverts should feel stretched outside their comfort zones.
The rest of this series will be excerpts from the book I found particularly interesting, moving or provoking. If you are an introvert, I hope they motivate you to read the book or at least consider the points made. If you are an extrovert, maybe they'll help you recognize and better interact with the introverts around you.
Chapter 1: The Extroverted Church
Page 19-20: The evangelical priority on this kind of personal relationship with Jesus has direct implications for the nature of the community that forms around him. It is not surprising that evangelicals have a high value for intimate, informal relationships with one another, and we structure our churches - with small groups in our houses, fellowship hours, social events, accountability groups and prayer chains - in order to support this value. Most evangelical churches strongly encourage (and sometimes require) participation in these kinds of activities.Amen!
Unfortunately, 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 sociability.
Yet for introverts who are wearied by and sometimes apprehensive of large quantities of social interaction, these evangelical emphases can feel discouraging and marginalizing. By no means are introverts against intimate relationships; indeed we are motivated by depth in our relationship. And while the emphasis on intimacy with Jesus is welcome, in community we prefer interactions with smaller numbers of people with whom we feel comfortable. So when an evangelical community explicitly or implicitly preaches broad interaction across the congregation, the introverted resistance to it can produce interior feelings of spiritual inadequacy.
Page 21: To participate in the evangelical church is to join the conversation. Introverts, however, spare our words in unfamiliar contexts and often prefer to observe on the fringe rather than engage in the center. Our spirituality may be grounded in Scripture, yet is quieter, slower and more contemplative. In an upfront, talkative, active evangelical culture, we can be viewed as self-absorbed or standoffish, and we can feel like outsiders even when we have faithfully attended a church for years.Sounds like me at my last church.
Page 25: We might say that modern evangelicalism has a hearing problem. We often preach before we seek to understand a situation or before we sit in prayerful silence. Our verbal effusiveness can devolve into breezy cliches, hollow sound bites and repetitive song lyrics, things that don't honor the uniqueness, complexity and beauty of each person.This actually fits with some reading I'm doing for my current MSR class, Utilizing Church Conflict. Shut up and listen first - both to the other person and to God.
Page 26: Some have said that, in Christian culture, busyness is next to godliness.
Page 26: I was reminded of Eugene Peterson's indictment of our brand of Christianity: "American religion is conspicuous for its messianically pretentious energy, its embarrassingly banal prose, and its impatiently hustling ambition."Amen, again!
Pages 27-28: All the interviews I conducted with introverted pastors yielded one commonality: the coffee hour after worship is one of their least favorite hours of the week. They love their people, but after expending a tremendous amount of emotional energy to preach, they would prefer to disappear into their offices than mingle.I would say this is true of me as just a member of a church. However, one of the things I enjoy at Table of Grace is we eat supper together after every service. Somehow sitting down to a meal together is different than just wandering around making chit-chat with a cup of coffee in your hand. It allows individual conversations of some depth to occur. And I make sure and sit with different people each week and during each evening. Even so, after an hour or two, I am ready to go home and process!