Book Review: Introverts in the Church
Posted February 26, 2012on:
Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture, by Adam S. McHugh, IVP Press, 2009, 222 pp.
I have avoided reading straight-up professional development books during my sabbatical. I have a shelf full of material I am eager to read about how the church is changing and how we can help share the gospel in these new times. I had initially planned to read much of it during sabbatical, to study and learn for the next phase of ministry at the congregation I serve. Very early on, however, I realized that I could read that stuff anytime. Sabbatical was my opportunity to read books for non-professional reasons. I could just dig deeper into books that fed my spirit or my curiosity, books that invited me to grow in my own faith or broaden my own understanding.
I thought Introverts in the Church would return me to my “professional” reading, but it called out to me from the shelf so I took it anyway. Much to my surprise, this book spoke more to my spirit and my sabbatical than it did to my pastoral needs. One of the deepest needs I discovered during this sabbatical was my need for solitude. I am an absolute introvert, but ministry is an extroverted profession. I have coupled ministry with mothering an extroverted child for the last several years, and my inner introvert was starving. When I finally had the chance during sabbatical, I turned in on myself and stopped talking to anyone apart from my son and husband. I had expected to visit with friends or even make professional connections with my sabbatical time, but I didn’t even have the energy to answer the telephone. I craved every moment alone I could find.
As my sabbatical has progressed, I have regained a sense of balance between my high need for solitude and the joy of interaction with other people. However, I have wondered how I can return to ministry without letting myself get so starved again, and worried that my re-entry into pastoral life might be an overload of extroverted tasks. Introverts in the Church turned out to be just what I needed to help negotiate these concerns. First and foremost, McHugh validated my experience as an introvert, and that my need for solitude was neither selfish or excessive. More importantly, though, he affirmed that there is a way for introverted leaders to find a successful path in the church, and offered some insights about how to get there. I feel like, having completed the book, I am much more ready to return to the extroverted demands of ministry, and to claim my need for solitude amid them.
McHugh begins with an apology of sorts for introverts. He sees introverts as a snubbed, misunderstood or sometimes even persecuted group within the church. Evangelical churches value participation, evangelism, faith sharing, outgoing spirituality and public displays of affection for God—which are unnatural and uncomfortable to introverts. They do not generally value the introvert’s gifts for contemplation, prayer, depth, reflection and silence. I think the mainline church is not nearly as skewed as the evangelical circles that McHugh moves in, but I still found it helpful and affirming to hear his defense of my personality type.
I especially appreciated that he had a whole section devoted to solitude. He writes:
The spiritual life for introverts is bracketed by periods of solitude. We go there to gain God’s eyesight for others and to receive his resources to engage in relationships and act in the world. And then, after we have responded to his call to work and to love, our spiritual lives culminate in solitude as we process and pray through the events of the day. (73-74)
I found myself simply saying, “yes! yes! yes!” to much of what McHugh described. That is indeed how my spirituality works, and how I pray, and what I need to listen to God’s voice and discern God’s presence around me in the world.
As I prepare to return to pastoral life in a few short days, I feel like McHugh has given me some strategies for nurturing my introverted gifts as well as engaging in community life. He discusses the particular gifts of introverted leaders, and offers ideas for how introverts can nurture their own leadership gifts. He even talks about evangelism, which has long been considered solely the realm of extroverts.
This book is a great professional tool for extroverts looking to be more understanding of introverts and make the church more welcome for them, or for introverts looking to affirm their experiences and develop their gifts. If you’re not sure what it’s like to be an introvert, McHugh will paint the picture for you. While it was a professional “how-to” book, Introverts in the Church was also a spiritual resource for me, validating my sabbatical experiences and the ongoing importance of quiet and solitude in my spiritual life. I am grateful.