"Move it, mister!”
It was 8:01 P.M., and I was being particularly curt with my friend DeCarlo.
“Got your coat? Got your hat? Come on, let’s go. Go, go, go,” I badgered.
I was DeCarlo’s ride home from Reality Ministries, a community center for people with and without disabilities, and I was itchy to get out the door. Over the previous 90 minutes, we’d eaten pizza, shared, sung, watched silly skits, and heard a short Bible message.
Wait, did I mention it was noisy?
When I say noisy, I mean there were 100 people in the room, and, at any given moment, 87 of them were speaking. Loudly. So although the love and joy and smiles at Reality were a true slice of heaven, for someone like me—an introvert, overwhelmed by more than one stimulus, who’s most vivified by thinking creative thoughts in a chamber of silence—it had become a hard space in which to be.
It was difficult to gather my thoughts.
I became distressed.
I felt undone.
I was short-tempered.
It was hard to be my best self.
Most Tuesday nights I teetered between wanting to shove a fork in my own eye and plunging it into someone else’s.
That evening, when I was unglued and crabby with my good friend DeCarlo, became a turning point in understanding how God had made me and how God calls me to serve. It let me know that the opportunity to “minister” in a crowd of 100 people—who were guaranteed to speak to me, and high-five me, and shout at me, and hug me, usually simultaneously—might not have my name on it.
Introverts and the Church
Whether it’s the youth minister who connects with kids at football games, the pastor who greets several hundred people on a Sunday morning, or the soul who’s befriending folks who live outdoors, many of the church’s most easily identifiable ministries seem best suited to extroverts. This isn’t to say that only extroverts are doing them. Lots of introverts do them too. We shake hands and attend potlucks and chat with strangers after church and dip into wedding receptions. We just have to go home and recover in isolation afterwards.
It’s stressful. Some ministry events are so stressful for introverts that we dodge them—or leave early or make excuses for not taking part.
Have you ever felt this way about most of the ministry opportunities at your church?
- Great idea—except that it means I have to meet new people. Lots of them.
- I’d love to. If it didn’t mean talking in front of others.
- Super opportunity! For someone who enjoys large crowds.
It isn’t that introverts don’t like people or freak out in a bustling crowd. The problem is that such situations, by themselves, are a bit stressful and tiring for an introvert. We bank energy from being alone and must spend it heavily to encounter new situations, lots of people, and unpredictable circumstances.
Sadly, many common ministry opportunities seem geared for extroverted personalities who draw energy from being with people, encountering new situations, and a fluid agenda. Is it possible that we need more ministry opportunities in which introverts can thrive—activities that center on solo contribution or small-group collaboration, that occur in less public settings, and that allow behind-the-scenes involvement?
I’m entirely convinced that the way God wired me as a highly-sensitive introvert is good and that it’s the groove in which I can best partner with God in blessing the kingdom. In his book Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture, Adam McHugh describes what God does in the lives of introverts: “helping them find freedom in their identities and confidence to live their faith in ways that feel natural and life-giving, the way God intended.”
Equipping each of us—introverts and extroverts—to love and serve according to the way we’re uniquely wired is God’s plan for the church.
I was walking with my friend Cherrie when she invited me to a holiday party she was throwing. I usually decline such requests before inviters are able to get out the second syllable of party, but uncharacteristically off my game, I listened longer. Cherrie was gathering a group of women, she explained, to make Christmas cards for those incarcerated on death row in North Carolina.
All right, Cherrie, I heard card making. I’m listening . . .
She would serve snacks, and people would spread out in her home, making Christmas cards.
Which totally did not sound horrible.
I not only showed up at the soiree but brought my 16-year-old daughter, Zoe, who is a creative genius. Zoe and I settled in at a quiet card table in the living room, where Cherrie’s lovely daughter was already working. We loved chatting with her while we designed cards and wrote notes to men and women we didn’t know. The evening was truly a creative Christian introvert’s dream
In early January, Cherrie brought me a letter, addressed to Zoe, that had arrived at her church. Though 152 Christmas cards had been delivered to the prison, the man who’d received Zoe’s beautiful “Peace & Love” card had written back to her. He is a poet and included some of his poems in the letter, with the hope that my budding artist would illustrate some of them.
If Cherrie’s party was introvert party heaven, this opportunity to connect personally with a man God loved who was sitting on death row was introvert ministry heaven.
Maybe letter writing won’t have your name on it, but if you’re naturally wired as an introvert, know that God is calling you to ministry that jives with, not rubs against, the way you’re made.
An introverted friend—gifted in both construction and financial management—bought and managed a rental property in partnership with a local ministry, which offered affordable housing to folks transitioning out of homelessness.
One older woman I know prays for folk who live outdoors as she knits warm winter hats for them.
Another friend who’s an introvert picks up a hammer every Saturday morning and volunteers with Habitat for Humanity, building houses for those who need shelter.
As members of God’s church, we need not force ourselves to fit a uniform ministry mold. Yet we are responsible to use what we’ve been given: “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God's grace in its various forms.” (1 Peter 4:10, NIV). That can and should look unique for each of us.
Discovering and owning that I wasn’t the best person to serve at Reality Ministries was a humbling experience. I finished out the season and let the staff know I’d be bowing out of Tuesday nights. At the time, I felt like I was letting down DeCarlo and letting down the ministry.
That was four years ago. Today, DeCarlo is more involved than ever because my departure precipitated him discovering new relationships and transportation options. And I’m able to use the gifts God has given me to bless Reality Ministries as I help the staff with vision and strategy. I’ve also used my artsy gifts to visually transform a room for a fundraiser and put together a sparkly, joyful Christmas-tree topper. Instead of eating pizza in a loud room with 99 other people, I eat with DeCarlo’s family in their peaceful home.
And there’s the beauty of God’s good design for introverts: We are able to bless others within the unique personality and giftedness that God has given us.