I am not naturally talkative. This may be a surprise to those who’ve only seen me on Sundays. On that day, I am a word machine – teaching, preaching, socializing, chatting. But the fact is by nature I am introverted. I am thankful for whatever gifts God has given me, but “gab” is not one of them. My wife is far more extroverted than me. Her perfect vacation is going somewhere to spend as much time possible with as many people possible – conversing and catching up with friends and family (like an intense facebook session, but with real people). My ideal getaway is to hide somewhere and spend quality time with a good book.
But I’m a pastor, and talking comes with the territory. I really do enjoy being with people, but as with all introverts time spent conversing with others tends to be more draining than energizing. If you are a Christian with an inward bent like me, given to quiet reflection and solitude, perhaps in your involvement in the church you’ve felt at times a bit out of step. The truth is, the evangelical church can be tough on introverts.
American Christianity prizes the qualities of the extrovert. From the ideal pastor – a chatty, garrulous fellow, to the bare-your-soul ethos of small groups, to the casual, chummy atmosphere of church services, to the idea that you should not only have a personal relationship with Jesus, but should talk incessantly about it with others, it’s easy to get the message that the most faithful Christians are the most vocal ones. The notions of silent reverence and quiet contemplation have been lost. “Quiet time” used to mean praying and reading your Bible. Now it means that four-second pause you take to have another sip of your latte while chattering on with friends at the church’s coffee bar.
A book review on the Wall Street Journal’s website prompted these thoughts of mine. The book is by Susan Cain, and is called Quiet – The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. According to the review, the author argues that America has gone from a “culture of character” to a “culture of personality” (you could trace a parallel development in conservative Christianity). Cain chooses to visit “three nerve centers of the Extrovert Ideal”, the first two being a Tony Robbins seminar and the Harvard Business School. What was the third hotbed of extroversion? A megachurch, of course!
Others have written on this aspect of contemporary evangelicalism. In Introverts in the Church, Adam S. McHugh notes:
As a pastor who has participated in both independent and denominationally affiliated churches, it is my experience that evangelical churches can difficult places for introverts to thrive, both for theological and cultural reasons… A subtle but insidious message can permeate these communities, a message that says God is most pleased with extroversion. (pg. 13)
The way I see it, though, introverts are heroes of the faith born out of time. In the fourth and fifth centuries, the ideal Christians were not the effusive pastors of megachurches or the celebrity speakers at Bible conferences. They were the strong and silent type, monastics who withdrew from society to devote themselves to self-denial, prayer, and contemplation. At that time, Christians thought extreme introversion was the highest form of piety!
Or consider Moses, the great man of God who led Israel out of Egypt. He was “slow of speech” (Exodus 4:10) and “meek” (Numbers 12:3). And it’s possible that Timothy was reticent and retiring, given Paul’s words to him in 2 Timothy 1:7: “… God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.”
In the history of the church, God has worked mightily through some who were non-extroverts. John Calvin was an imposing public figure and dominant force in the Reformation, but could be shy and awkward in private. He said of himself that he was “of a disposition somewhat unpolished and bashful, which led me always to love the shade and retirement…” Jonathan Edwards spent countless hours in solitary study and meditation. According to an early biographer, those who met him for the first time found him “stiff and unsociable”. Not exactly the profile for a “dynamic” church leader!
As another example to show that the verbally prolific weren’t always given deference, consider “Talkative” in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. His religion was all talk, and he failed to reach the Celestial City.
Now, I thank God for extroverted Christians. I admire, even with some envy, the knack some believers have for engaging others in conversation and speaking of their faith in an easy and natural way. And I’m not in favor of returning to the days of the monastics, making silence and withdrawal the pinnacle of Christian devotion. But at the same time, I see that “loquacious” is not a fruit of the Spirit. God has created each of us with a unique disposition. Introverts may not be flashy attention-getters, but they are usually thoughtful and insightful in ways extroverts are not. The evangelical church may value the highly sociable and outgoing Christian. But God honors the faithful Christian – regardless of temperament.
So take heart, my taciturn friend. You may feel misunderstood and overlooked in the midst of the evangelical world’s ongoing gabfest, but know that God makes his face to shine upon you, too. And you have gifts to bless the church that others can only, well, talk about.
And if this has been any encouragement to you, let me know. But no need to call me on the phone – an e-mail will do just fine.