I still remember the first time I met an introverted youth pastor. (Yes, they exist!) I was fourteen or fifteen years old, and our youth group went on a mission trip to Jamaica. Stacking cement blocks on rebar on the windswept side of a mountain, I worked alongside a boy from another church and his youth pastor. The boy clearly had great respect and love for his youth pastor, and vice versa. In the course of conversation, the youth pastor mentioned that he was an introvert. “No wonder I feel so comfortable with him!” I thought.
At that point in my life, I was in the very early stages of learning about myself. But it’s always been quite evident that I’m an introvert.
It’s been a while since I wrote much about being an introvert, but as I head back into ministry, the need for discussion about this topic has come roaring back to the forefront of my mind.
See, for the last 6 years, I worked a desk job. That’s the place for an introvert, right? You close the door to your office, do your work, and you should be a happy camper. Ministry is for extroverts; desk jobs are for introverts. This is a mentality I have encountered time and again in ministry, although of course it is never stated quite so bluntly.
In ministry, I was constantly aware of the expectation that I would be always “on,” always meeting new people, always happy for a small talk social interaction. Well, I learned how to do it. And I learned why to do it, and that it’s important in relationships. I became much more socially adept in our extroverted society, even occasionally comfortable in large gatherings of people – especially if I knew most of the people! But it was (and still is) a learned skill that I turned on when I needed it. And when I left a conference or an outreach, I had to go be alone someplace quiet to recover for a bit. Take a nap. Read a story. Stare out the window.
One day, someone suggested that I read a book called Quiet. I’m not much of a non-story reader, but I picked it up anyway, prepared to give at least the first chapter a decent perusal.
I finished the book in a couple of days – which is saying a lot, because it’s a fairly dense read.
If you wonder what on earth I’m talking about with all this stuff about introverts, I suggest you read this book. With a sizable percentage of our population being introverts, you likely have a few in your life. They will appreciate it if you try to understand them.
If you are an introvert, and you haven’t read Quiet yet, I suggest you read this book! It will help you to understand and embrace who you are and how you’ve been made. There’s a reason why the book is a New York Times bestseller.
I don’t like noisy bars. I don’t like rock music. I don’t particularly like parties. These preferences have little to do with my religion or whether or not I “like” people. They are primarily due to sensory overload.
So, why should an introvert decide to do ministry? By its very nature, it requires a lot of people-time, often in large groups.
Partly, because I do love people. Entirely, because this is what God has called me to do. In fact, I would say that introverts are needed in ministry. They are often deep, perceptive thinkers and feelers who are able to come alongside others in this difficult journey called life. Effective ministry is not primarily about big events or being a “gatherer” type or public speaking (although honestly, many introverts are generally comfortable on a platform).
Effective ministry is primarily meeting people where they are, joining them in life, and loving them enough to affirm and enjoy what’s good in their lives and challenge what’s false or bad in their lives – and ultimately, to point them to a deep and abiding relationship with God in all things.
It doesn’t require an extrovert to do that. It doesn’t require an introvert either. It just requires walking with Jesus.
Therein lies the beauty of doing ministry. Where love is planted, love grows. Where God’s love is planted, love grows in abundance! And along with it, fruit and flowers and all things bright and beautiful. He uses each one of us with the gifts He has given us as we grow in Him. Both extroverts and introverts are relationally needed in ministry for the different ways they engage others in love.