Introverts & the Church: Introverts in Ministry
By Gabriella le Grange
In my previous article, I discussed the main characteristics of introverts, namely that they need solitude to regain their energy, that they process information internally and that they prefer depth over breadth when it comes to interests and relationships. This was followed by some implications for ministering to introverts. The focus of this article is to think of the implications for introverts who desire to be involved, or are already involved, in some form of ministry. To begin, I want to say that there is a place for introverts in all spheres of ministry. This is important firstly because our churches are full of introverts and there needs to be someone who can make sure that the needs of introverts are met, and also because they add a unique set of abilities to the church.
However, there is no need to change who we are in order to do ministry but rather we should allow our personalities to shape the way that we do ministry. In other words, we need to think about what gifts we can bring to the church or what limitations we need to set in order to maintain our personal wellbeing. What is important for introverts in ministry is to put certain practices in place in order to be most effective. In this article I will list some of the implications that having an understanding of how introverts function might have on how introverts do ministry. I will also end with some final notes and cautions that need to be noted in this discussion on how personality influences the church.
Implications for Introverts in Ministry
Firstly, this means putting aside time to “recharge”. Ministry is socially, emotionally and physically demanding, therefore as introverts you need to make sure you set aside time to regain the energy which you lose on a daily basis by constantly interacting with people. This can simply be turning off your cellphone for an hour, to reflect and process the day and to build up your energy. In the longer term it could mean a week-long retreat for the purpose of prayer and quiet meditation. When I was a student at the Bible Institute of South Africa, twice a year we would stop our studies for one day and have a “quiet day”. On this day we would gather for corporate worship, but then spend at least 2 hours on our own in private Bible study or prayer. Quiet day was more than an opportunity for spiritual growth. It was also like an introvert oasis near the end of a trying semester.
Secondly, find controlled environments for ministry. Ministry should be focused on areas of strength such as where introverts can build deep relationships. Besides small groups and one-on-one discipleship, counselling is an area where some introverts find their personality traits beneficial. This is because introverts are generally good listeners and their reflective processing means that they give thoughtful counsel. However, this does not mean that introverts cannot do public ministry. Although I am an introvert, for a long time I have enjoyed doing drama and public speaking, a fact which I think surprises a lot of people, but it is because of the controlled environment in which these activities take place. When I give a presentation, I have put hours of work into knowing and refining my material. In other words I have done all my information processing beforehand. However, if I were to be asked to sit on a panel and field questions from an audience, I would be able to contribute very little. Therefore, introverts should fit themselves into ministries which provide these structured settings such as preaching, writing, teaching, and leading events and meetings.
Thirdly, introverts need to take seriously the call to always be prepared to give an answer for the hope we have (1 Pet. 3:15). Introverts do not tend think on their feet and this might make certain aspects of ministry difficult. Pastors and church leaders are the ones who are sought out with important questions about the faith or are called upon suddenly when there is a crisis. While it is impossible to be prepared for every situation, it is possible to have answers for some of the main questions which one will encounter. For example, those involved in youth ministry should be prepared to answer questions about evolution or relationships as these are topics which continually come up when working with teenagers. To do this, consider what pressing issues or questions you will encounter in your specific ministry, research that topic by reading books or articles on the subject and talking to other ministers about it, and then formulate your own answers to those questions. At the same time, do not feel pressured to give an answer. If you do not know enough about a topic, be honest about it and ask for some time to think about it and to do some research on it.
Finally, after all this is said, one thing that introverts should never do is use their personality as an excuse for not being faithful to kingdom work. There are times when you just need to suck it up and do the work of ministry. Although I find it difficult to do small talk after services or Bible study, I force myself to do it so that I might get the opportunity to encourage a brother or sister in Christ. There are times when I would like nothing more than to excuse myself from attending ministry or a gathering so that I can spend a quiet evening at home, but I choose to go instead, knowing that God uses weak vessels like me for the extension of his kingdom.
As a final thought, I would like to say there is more to a person than whether they are extroverted or introverted. Similar articles could be written about any personality traits and indeed we should be thinking about what we can do to make those who are different from us feel welcomed and appreciated in our churches. Further, when we think of personality types, we should not think of boxes but rather of a scale. Some, like me, are far to the left or right of introvertedness or extrovertedness, while others tend to be more balanced. This means that we cannot truly make blanket statements about what people are like just because they identify as an introvert or extrovert. Rather, we understand that the beautiful thing about the community of God is that it is made up of all sorts of people. When speaking about the spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:12-27, Paul uses the analogy of the body to show the necessity of the church being filled with believers who bring their unique gifts to serve others. We all play a part in building the church: extroverts, introverts and everyone in between. Therefore, I can gladly say that there is a place in the church for people like me and like you.