Leadership Development – New Convert Care – Introverts in the Church
Brian Profitt interviewing Adam McHugh
Pastor Adam McHugh’s book Introverts in the Church helps explain why many are uncomfortable in the church, why we don’t seem to have as many leadership candidates as we need, and what we can do about it. Adam, let’s start by defining terms. How do you define an introvert?
This is a really good question to ask. There are so many misnomers about what it is. When people hear “introvert” they think shy, or passive, or antisocial. Introversion really revolves around two major defining characteristics. Number one is that introverts find their energy in solitude. So where extroverts find energy in interactions in the world, introverts find energy being by themselves. Introverts, as much as we may enjoy and feel confident in social settings, find them draining over time. Extroverts eventually are going to lose energy if they are by themselves.
The second main characteristic has to do with how we process things. Extroverts tend to process out loud. They talk to think. Introverts, when we’re given new information, we go inside ourselves. We think before we speak as a general habit. That can be trouble around extroverts who think we’re being indecisive or withholding from people. Extroverts can mistakenly interpret those silences in a lot of negative ways. They may feel the need to complete our sentences, or insert words in those silences.
Those are the two main characteristics. There is a third one as well. Introverts tend to prefer depth over breadth. We may prefer fewer, deeper friendships. And we only consider our closest acquaintances to be real friends, while extroverts may consider everyone in their Facebook list a friend.
In the book you talked about struggling with feeling unsuited for church roles. What kinds of mental images do you think we tend to have of “really good Christians,” especially Christian leaders?
Yeah, I think that’s another valuable question. In the book I’m really pinpointing mainstream evangelicalism. I think evangelical culture is much more conversational than some other Christian traditions. I think in evangelical culture we prefer gregarious, action-oriented people who are expressive and transparent. We expect them to participate in a wide variety of activities. They are probably even pretty comfortable sharing the gospel with strangers.
I think if we were to do a composite sketch, we’d find someone meeting people for lunch every day and dinner in other people’s houses every night. We’d find someone constantly in conversation—the first one on the patio and the last one to leave. I think the sort of leaders that we prefer come out of much of those ideals. I talk about the leadership ideals that many evangelical churches have of the charismatic, gregarious, dominant, strong, socializing pastor.
What’s wrong with those images?
There’s nothing necessarily inherently wrong. It’s just that the reality is that it describes only refers—at best—to a minority of all people. Less than half of the people in the United States are extroverts, and those people will have various levels of outgoing behavior. Over 50% of the people are introverts, who don’t fit that composite ideal.
I have never heard the percentage quoted as high as 50%!
I know. That’s come out in the last 10 years. The prevailing research in the previous decades was closer to 25% or less. That comes from Isabel Myers research in 1962, and it’s not nearly as comprehensive as the population temperamental studies that have been done in the past 10 years. Alan Hammer and C.R. Martin did a much more extensive study which they published in 2003. It came out at 50.7% of introverts in the American population. It’s actually a majority!
That’s one of the reasons I think the conversation is so significant. We’re not dealing with a small niche audience here. Whatever the exact number is, it’s clear that there are huge numbers of people in our churches that don’t feel like they’re qualified for church leadership positions because they don’t fit the common mental model.
Do you think introverts are that way because of life experiences and choices, or because that’s just how God made them?
Personality type is obviously really complex. I do lean toward the fact that they’re created as introverts. There have been a lot of neurological studies using new technologies like PET scans, and there’s actually strong evidence that the brains of introverts work differently than extroverts. The brains of introverts are naturally busier than those of extroverts, and thus need less external stimulation. That’s why too much external stimulation can make us feel overwhelmed
The blood inside our brains actually flows differently. More of the blood goes toward parts of the brain used for internal things like remembering, problem-solving, and planning. Whereas the blood in extroverted brains goes to those parts that are used for the processing of sensory experiences.
There’s also strong evidence that they have different balances of neurotransmitters, and that they use different neurotransmitters to process things. Extroverts need greater amounts of dopamine, which comes from activity. Introverts rely more on acetylcholine and can feel anxious if they have too much dopamine.
I’m obviously not a neurological expert, but there’s a lot of evidence that introverts and extroverts are simply made differently. It used to be that they only way we had to identify your tendency was by symptoms and behavior, but now we can scan clear physical differences.
The above article, “Leadership Development – New Convert Care – Introverts in the Church” was written by Brian Profitt. The article was excerpted from Christianity Today.
The material is copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”