Introvert? No Apology Required
- Monday, February 22, 2010
Can introverts be in church leadership?
Absolutely. The reality is that introverts are in church leadership—I've seen studies that estimate anywhere from 25 to 40 percent of Protestant pastors are introverted, with an even higher percentage among Catholic priests. Interestingly, it seems that the larger churches are, the higher is the percentage of introverts leading them. A recent survey reports that 45% of megachurches are led by introverted pastors. Erwin McManus, Dan Kimball, and Mark Driscoll, among many others, are self-confessed introverts.
Perhaps the better question then is how introverts can lead in a way that is life-giving and natural. I think self-care is absolutely critical for introverted pastors and leaders, because my experience is that introverts in ministry are more prone to burnout than extroverts. We need to discover and embrace our rhythms of expending and restoring energy and to care for ourselves—souls, minds, bodies and intimate relationships—so that we can find joy and vitality in ministry and life.
How has being an introvert helped your ministry?
That's a question I haven't been asked much! Too often we define introversion by what's it's not, rather than what it is. I would really like to start defining it by its assets, not its liabilities. I have worked in a number of different ministry settings—in the church, in college campus ministry, and in hospital and hospice chaplaincy—and being an introvert has helped me in all of those roles. My listening abilities as an introvert are probably the greatest gift that I have to offer people. In our culture people so rarely have the experience of being truly listened to- having their words, feelings, and experiences taken seriously. I have developed the skill of listening to what's unsaid - the doubts, questions, and feelings that lie underneath what someone is saying. It's amazing how transformative it can be for a person to simply be listened to, even when no problems are solved or no advice is dispensed.
Some people are surprised when I tell them that my introversion has also aided me in preaching and teaching. My natural bent toward study, thoughtful reflection and writing—all things that come to introverts pretty easily—have all helped me develop as a preacher. I love going deep into the nuances and applications of the biblical text, and I also think that my tendency to observe helps me to speak into the life of the community and the culture. Even though I enjoy writing sermons more than I do preaching, I am very comfortable in the pulpit, as long as I have had ample time to prepare. The fellowship hour after the service is another story though!
How can introverts be evangelists?
As I was exploring this topic, I had someone ask me whether an "introverted evangelist" is an oxymoron. But I firmly believe it's not that introverts are ill-suited to evangelism; rather, many of our common strategies for evangelism are ill-suited for introverts. Even though teaching on evangelism is (thankfully) changing, there are still some prevailing models that are very difficult for many introverts. One of those models is the spiritual salesmanship model, to borrow an image from evangelism professor Rick Richardson. We must be fast talking experts, armed with answers to all the questions, able to persuade others and "close the deal." Or another common mode of evangelism is debate - we need to prove that our worldview is superior to that of others. Most introverts will struggle with these methods, since we're not naturally aggressive or chatty and our internal processing slows us down in situations of conflict or debate.
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