Am I the “Church” Type? And Other Questions Introverts Ask

January 28, 2014 § Leave a comment

So a couple of months ago, thanks to my wonderful, soon to be sister-in-law, I received a copy of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. Naturally, I was psyched to read it. There is nothing more exciting for an introvert than to go into introvert mode by getting inside one’s head and reading a book about how wonderful it is to be an introvert. If you think I have said the word “introvert” too much in the first few sentences, well then you are in for a treat.

As a totally unbiased introvert (did I just admit my bias?), Quiet is a well researched book with good insights into the brain of an introvert and into the state of our society. As a member of a church staff, I could not help but think about introverts in ministry/the church as I read it. The church as a whole has followed suit with society’s bias towards extroversion and has consequently not only neglected a third of their members, but has even gone as far as seeing introversion as a weakness to overcome or something that would hold someone back from ministry or being fully invested in a community.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. What has happened is that our lack of understanding of introversion and overvaluing of extroversion has lead us to operate in a way that makes many talented, creative, intelligent, compassionate people feel uncomfortable and unwelcome.

I am an egalitarian and want equality in all areas. Therefore, I do not believe the answer to any issue should be at the expense of another person. We do not empower women by devaluing men. And we do not empower introverts by swinging the pendulum from the extreme extrovert side to the extreme introvert side. However, we must start by recognizing where the pendulum is and then talk about how to get it to the middle. (Disclaimer: I should probably make a case here for the idea that the pendulum is on the extrovert side. However, that would make this post extremely long. Refer to Quiet if you are not already convinced our society, and the church, is extrovert biased whether they mean to be or not)

So in this post I want to balance it out a little by talking about the unique ways that introverts add to the church.

1. Introverts care deeply about people

This phrase is usually attributed to extroverts. They’re the people people. And introverts usually get accused of not liking or caring about people. Now for some, this actually may be true. But the same could be argued for extroverts, they just express it in a different way. Being social does not automatically mean you care about people.

For introverts, it is no secret that large crowds overwhelm them. Personally, I prefer to hang out with people one on one or in smaller groups. That is how I show them that I care about them. The mingling times before and after church, depending on how comfortable I feel with the people, typically can be an uncomfortable environment for me. For one, there is usually loud music and as someone with a not so loud voice, I am usually screaming out social pleasantries at someone I don’t know who probably thinks I’m crazy or feels bad that they can’t understand a word I am saying. Two, I tend to need a reason to go up to someone. Some people can pull out conversation from their butt. Me? I’m lucky if someone rants for thirty minutes about where they’re from because that’s pretty much the only question I got. I hate social pleasantries and would rather talk more deeply with someone. But in public places, I know that will not always happen so I first have to get over that expectation. There is also the aspect of external stimuli. Whereas an extrovert might walk into these settings and be pumped about all the people they want to talk to, an introvert walks in and from that moment on has to continually fight going into their heads and analyzing everything. We “get” situations fast so we don’t need much external stimuli to understand what is happening. Once we “get” it, we then want to retreat and analyze everything. It’s our sweet spot. Therefore, mingling can be extremely exhausting and vulnerable to an introvert. So when I am pushed to be spending more time with people, when I am told ministry is all about people, I feel a little overwhelmed. Not because I do not like people, but because of where my brain naturally goes. I feel the expectation to constantly be mingling, which is my interpretation of what the Bible is describing when it talks about hell. I feel the expectation to constantly be with people, and usually large groups of people. The second someone says “It’s all about people” as an exhortation to be hanging out with more people than we already are, I want to take a nap right then and there because of the exhaustion I feel just thinking about that.

In large crowds, introverts are perfectly comfortable having a long deep conversation with someone, which some people need. Some people do not want to be asked how their week was in passing. They want to be allowed the time and attention to really express how they are feeling. And while an extrovert’s ability to mingle is really effective and helpful in ministry, it should not be directly correlated with a care for people while an introvert’s ability to dig deeply into one person’s life in the same span of time is not.

But that is usually how people are judged. How a staff member or pastor can work a crowd affects people’s perceptions of how good they are with people, whether it should or not. What most people do not see are the introverts who throughout the week are meeting one on one with people. How I express my care for people is through deep conversations over coffee, through really investing in a handful of people’s lives as opposed to having many acquaintances, through spending time in deep reflection and study so that the information I present or the things I talk about are well thought out and prepared. My way of caring for people just looks different from the norm. It’s just that my uncomfortable situation, i.e. mingling in a large crowd on a Sunday morning, is on display for all to see. Most extroverts are uncomfortable being by themselves but they can get away with not being alone because no one would know.

You should challenge an introvert to step outside of their comfort zone a little bit, but know that it may not look the same as the level of socialness of an extrovert. Also, make sure you are affirming an introvert’s natural abilities more than you are challenging them to operate outside of them.

2. Introverts spend much time in deep reflection and thought

I believe knowledge is power. You cannot have correct behavior if you do not have correct belief. However, there is a slight emphasis on orthopraxy over orthodoxy in the Christian world and there is even a growing negative stigma around the word orthodoxy. True, it has been used rigidly and legalistically, but orthodoxy, or correct belief, is just as important as correct behavior because a person’s beliefs will shape their behavior.

Extroverts tend to be doers, so naturally orthopraxy appeals more to them. And thank God it does because they are a huge reason why stuff gets done. But much can be accomplished as well when there is a group of people thinking through the hows and whys of what we do. Extroverts can tend to get antsy and crave social interaction when they are forced to sit back and reflect. But an introvert naturally does this. A benefit to this “introvert time” is that new ideas and understandings can arise when an introvert is given much time and freedom to contemplate.  We hear about theologians, philosophers, poets, authors, artists who spent hours upon hours in solitude or in nature contemplating the things of God and their contributions have shaped our way of thinking and acting for decades.

Personally, I love thinking about why we do what we do and how we can do better. Why do we teach a fear based purity culture? Why do we put pressure on students to evangelize to people they don’t have a relationship with? How can we be more effective and Christ like in our relationships? In what ways are we preaching guilt instead of grace? Do short term mission trips actually accomplish any good? The list could go on. Our actions must have a theological basis or we risk missing the mark of what Jesus actually called us to do. Some churches come up with ideas and implement them without stepping back and asking, “Does this fit into what Jesus called the church to be?” Real damage can happen when the church does not think through what they are doing. Real people with previous hurts and wounds from the church can be hurt again if we carelessly teach or do whatever controversial or shocking idea comes to our heads and sounds like a good idea. This is another way introverts show they care about people.

It is not orthopraxy versus orthodoxy or vice versa. It is orthopraxy and orthodoxy working together. Just like introverts and extroverts.

3.Introverts can see into the future (no, but really)

There is a big value in ministry and in the church placed on taking risks. Stepping out in faith means putting everything on the line, doing something crazy that seems impossible and trusting that God will take care of you. And although this is true, our implementation of it can sometimes be stupid. God never calls us to be stupid or excuse something we want to do as something he called us to do. And many times we have mistaken stupidity for faith. More specifically, we have hidden our own incompetence or lack of preparation behind the banner of faith. Yes I do believe that in ministry you have to take some risks sometimes. You can’t be too afraid of failure. But I have seen people take risks carelessly. “Well isn’t that what taking a risk means?” you might ask. There is a difference between jumping into something without weighing the consequences versus actually weighing the consequences and benefits and then deciding to take a risk. Taking a risk does not mean you do not look at what is in front of you and face reality. Taking a risk means you know the reality of the situation and you are choosing to step into it. And taking a risk also does not mean that you do not prepare or set yourself up for success. I have seen many good ideas fail because someone jumped in too early. The idea might have actually happened or been good but someone got too impatient and launched the idea before it was time.

Introverts have a weird ability to see into the future. They are highly observant and typically analytical and therefore when something fails, they will analyze it until they figure out why. They then can see similar situations and how they will potentially play out based on the factors they observe. In Quiet, Susan Cain talks about how introverts are more sensitive to their environment than extroverts. They tend to pick up on little nuances and is part of why their brain gets over stimulated more quickly and needs to process and break down everything they just took in. Because of this, introverts have a lot of good thoughts, they just need the time to process. And usually by the time they are ready to say something, someone else has already piped up and they’ve moved on with that person’s idea. But an introvert’s input can potentially save a team from potential disasters. They are the people who can help you weigh the consequences, or just even be aware of the consequences, before you take a risk.

So if you know who the introverts are in your church, consult them and allow them to be heard whenever you are making decisions. In a group meeting, they may not speak up as easily so you may need to talk to them one on one afterwards.

I have learned that community does not mean hanging out as a group 24/7. Again, a concept that can be overwhelming for most introverts. It means recognizing those who are in your community, how each uniquely adds to the community, and how to interact with and meet each other’s needs. It doesn’t mean everyone conforming to one understanding of community, but rather allowing the people and personalities to shape that community.

I am grateful for the recent research and voices that have worked to help introverts feel comfortable with who they are and what they have to offer. I am grateful for the extroverts who listen and really care to understand how to interact with and empower their introverted friends and co-workers. In the church, we should always strive to see things from other people’s perspectives and to constantly evaluate how we are welcoming people instead of pushing them away.

How would you say you have positively benefited from the introverts around you?

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The Problem with “It’s Not a Religion, It’s a Relationship”

January 22, 2014 § 6 Comments

When I was in middle/high school, it became really popular among youth groupy people to define their choice to follow Jesus as “It’s not a religion, it’s a relationship”. I think this always rubbed me the wrong way and I was never sure why. I see it posted as people’s religious views on Facebook and for some reason the phrase never appealed to me. A couple years back, Jefferson Bethke made a video about Jesus being a relationship and not a religion. It blew up social media with many people reposting it in agreement. Now, it’s not that I don’t agree per se, I just think it is not the best way that I would want define what happens in my spiritual journey and what happens in the church. I do believe relationship is an important part of it, but I want to argue for a better balance.

So probably three years too late, here is my take on Jefferson Bethke’s video and the idea of relationship against religion.

My first aversion to this phrase defining Christianity is that it is a little too personal.

1. Too individualized, too based off of one person’s experience

I get that when people say this phrase, it is supposed to be more of a blast on legalistic, ritualistic religion. But what I like about “religion” is the common bond, the community. We are bonded together with other people because of a commonality, whether it’s beliefs or in the case of Christianity, Jesus Christ. My problem with a “personal relationship” is that many people can make it too exclusive, too secluded. This is MY relationship with Jesus. I am going about this the way that I want to or what works for me. This phrase also usually comes across to me with an attitude of superiority (and I’m sure to people of other religions it can as well). Behind it I can hear, “I’m not like all you people who are taking things too legalistically, I have a real relationship with Jesus”.

Yes, everyone’s journey and process of faith is different. But my relationship with Jesus is not exclusive. It is not exclusive to me in that I am not the only person “doing it right”, I am not the only person who is seeking Jesus and I am not the only person who has a say on what that means. And my relationship is not exclusive to just Jesus. Sounds weird, I know. The problem with just keeping things between me and Jesus is that it leaves very little room for growth or challenge. I can make God in my own image and I can cater my walk to my wants and my needs more easily when I am not sharing my struggles and my thoughts with the people whom God has placed in my life. He’s not just there to make me feel warm and fuzzy feelings. Which leads me to my next point.

2. Our idea of relationship is flawed

Can I confess that whenever I hear people saying they have a “personal relationship with Jesus” it kinda weirds me out a little bit? I get what they mean, but I just always think of them holding hands with Jesus and flirtatiously texting him during class.

Humans have proven over and over again that we do not really understand what it means to be in a relationship. The divorce rate is more than half, broken engagements, dating relationships and friendships happen all the time. Wars, prejudice, abuse, infidelity, racism, sexism, the list could go on and on, happen on a regular basis.

We don’t know how to get along with each other or stick out hard times if our life depended on it. Surely the kind of broken relationships we encounter on an everyday basis is not the best thing we can offer to the man who gave his everything on a cross.

We like the idea of a relationship because it brings warm, fuzzy feelings of love and companionship to mind. But that’s not necessarily what Jesus offers. As we know, relationships are hard and can rip out any sense of self pride you may otherwise have had. So if I’m going in expecting some love dovey affair, I may be sorely disappointed. But if this is really what it is about, being in a relationship with a selfless, sacrificial, loving, compassionate person who would do anything for you, and you just get to benefit from that, well then who in their right mind would reject that? But people do all the time. Why? Because Jesus is hard.

Which leads me to my next point.

3. It’s not just a relationship

It’s not just about a friendship, or knowing him personally. It’s about conforming to Christ. And he is challenging. It’s not just the nice idea of “if you spend enough time around someone you pick up some of their idioms.” But conforming to someone who is the standard, someone who is hard to be like. It’s not just going to happen. In some situations, maybe. But most of the time, Jesus calls us to do tough things that take conscious effort and a LOT of humility.

My encounters with Jesus are not just for me. They are not just to make me feel good about myself or to fill me up. They happen so that I ultimately may be strengthened to be Jesus to others.

We are told in James 1:27 that “religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” Hmm, to me that doesn’t sound so bad. Doesn’t sound like religion that takes things out of context, or too literally, or to rigidly.

Christian, embrace your religion. A religion that operates (or should operate) out of love, compassion and justice. If we were religious about serving the poor, taking care of those in our community, seeking justice for the oppressed and compassion for the oppressor, extending grace and mercy at any chance we get, well then our idea of religion may not be so bad. And our relationship would be acting itself out. There is no need to pin them against each other, but rather to see how they can work together.

I don’t know about you but I know I could afford to be more religious about James 1:27.

Thoughts?

An Open-Ended Ending

December 11, 2013 § Leave a comment

Jesus in a boxJohn 21:25-  Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.    

I recently read this verse again and was not prepared for the immediate humbling it caused. My first thought was “What a poetic way to end a book. This is why John is my favorite gospel.” Secondly, everything in me screamed “I want to know all of those things that Jesus did that are not recorded!” And then my last thought was “I know nothing”.

And that is the thought I dwelled on.

If we knew all that Jesus did, if we knew what he believed about every subject, if we had all of Paul’s letters, would we fall prey to trusting in the Bible more than trusting Jesus?

I believe the Bible was left for our understanding. I believe the Bible has authority in my life. I believe it is a collection of beautiful and often times heartbreaking, difficult stories that allow us to wrestle with who we believe God is. And I believe it contains the greatest story ever, that God’s Word (Jesus) became flesh, as the beginning of John’s gospel says, sacrificed himself for our sake and left us an example that we should do likewise. What God desires for us came to us in the form of Jesus Christ (Merry Christmas, world). Is there not something amazing about John opening his gospel by declaring that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us but ending it by reminding us that we cannot contain him?

This is what humbly blows my mind about this verse. We do not even know everything about what Jesus said and did while he was on this earth. A typical response to this may be “Well you just have to trust that we were given what we need”. But were we? Or does the limited information allow us to trust Jesus even more?

Even in 2 Peter 1:3-4, when Peter says “ His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us tohis own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire”, he is probably not referring to the Bible that was not recognized as such yet, but rather Jesus and the Holy Spirit. He then goes on to tell them to supplement their faith by essentially using the brains God gave them and to do so with love and self-control. According to Peter, this is what will help them avoid ineffectiveness in their ministry and knowledge of Jesus Christ. Not blind obedience, or a co-dependent reliance on the Bible, but rather learning how to continually wrestle with the person of Jesus Christ and how to apply his example through the help of the Holy Spirit.

In light of this exhortation, settling on or wanting black and white, concrete answers seems like a copout.

Because concrete answers can sometimes lead the way to complacency and lack of growth. They can excuse us from actually working through our faith and at times may give us an answer, but not a solution. There’s so much trust involved in following Jesus. We are only analyzing a small part of it, we are not given the whole picture for all of time and for every possible issue that could arise. Because I think more than having answers, God wants us to learn what it means to trust him.

As much as we can create a theology based on the information we are given, as much as we can have a taste and a glimpse of who Jesus is, our human speculations will never compare to the complexity and greatness of who Jesus is. When the taste of Jesus that I get is usually overwhelmingly mind blowing and life changing, it is no wonder God does not reveal himself to us all at once.

It is hard enough to follow Jesus with what I do know about him.

Notice I said what I do know about him. Because we do have his example in the gospels and we do know truths about him. But many times Jesus explodes out of the box we try to put him in. And sometimes that box can be spelled B-I-B-L-E.

Because if the Bible was it, if Revelation was the end of what God had to say, if the Bible told us everything about God, where does faith fit into all that? Why would God need to continue to speak to his people?

Seeing our role as the church as beyond passing on tradition, I believe God still speaks to his people. I believe he expects us to evolve and become the church of today, the church of our historical context, and to continue to learn what it means to look like Jesus Christ. Just like the examples left to us throughout church history did.

There will always be a mind battle between what we do know and what we do not. The trick is not to resort to extremes. This verse in the end of John does not mean we should throw up our hands and quit and come to the conclusion that we can never know anything. It should keep us in check, lest we come to the conclusion that we know everything. This verse, for me, is the balance between grabbing a hold of the knowledge we do have and letting go of the knowledge we do not.

All the books in the world could not contain the vast beauty and mystery of Jesus and perhaps it is time we stop trying to.

Thoughts?

Awkward Turkey

November 26, 2013 § 1 Comment

In more recent years, the Thanksgiving holiday has felt weird to me. On the one hand I love it. I mean there’s really nothing better than eating awesome, fattening food, watching football and hanging out with family. That there is a whole day dedicated to this completely makes me happy. But then there’s always that one person who ruins it. You know who I’m talking about. It’s usually your grandma, or your great aunt, or maybe it’s you, maybe you’re that annoying person who wants us to turn off football so we can go around and say what we’re thankful for. I have always felt slightly uncomfortable in these moments and for the longest time I didn’t know why. I would listen as we would all go around and say what we’re thankful for- family, a roof over our heads, food on the table, a good job,etc. All great things that we shouldn’t take for granted, but in those moments I tend to be thinking, “but what about the people who don’t have those things?! What are they going around and saying they are thankful for?” I actually legitimately want to know because they would probably have the most simplistic, beautiful things to be thankful for. To me, their thankfulness would feel genuine. I feel weird, hearing on the TV what Americans are thankful for, while eating an overabundance of food and celebrating a day in history when we selfishly took land from the Indians. If I could come up with a hashtag for Thanksgiving it would be #firstworldholidays. It’s almost like that elephant in the room that no one wants to address and so therefore I always feel this pressing need to point it out. But I don’t because then I become the Debbie downer who doesn’t know how to be grateful. Because despite what the holiday originated from, thankfulness is still a good thing to practice. But how do we do that in a society driven by so much greed and materialism?

This is a similar feeling I have when people post things on Facebook about “feeling blessed” and they usually go on to describe something that may or may not actually be a blessing. You see, I feel like our typical way of going about being thankful for things is always in comparison to others. I can just hear parents who say “eat your vegetables, there are starving kids in China” or people who maybe with good intentions try to positively look at their situation by saying “I may not have a job but at least I’m not living on the streets”. However, I always want to say “yeah but what about those people? What about the starving kids in China? Does their plight somehow make my situation better?” I don’t think so. And I think this is why Thanksgiving has always been a weird concept for me.

Of course I should be grateful for what I’ve been given. And of course, resources are not a bad thing. But I guess it’s hard for me to say what I’m thankful for when I automatically feel guilty that I have it and that other people don’t. I think something that has helped me is to start to think of the things that I have been given and to be thankful, not in comparison to others, but that I get to help others. To take this time during the holiday season, and every day, to reflect on the things I am thankful for, whether that’s the gifts and talents God has given me, or the financial resources, or how I have grown as a person, and then begin to think of how I can give back. Usually Thanksgiving is this time to talk about what we’re thankful for and then that’s it. It ends there. It’s like we’re just getting fat not only on food but our own thankfulness. And just like I can’t eat all these delicious casseroles and pies for the rest of my life and not work out and expect to not get fat, I can’t talk about what I’m thankful for without exercising them and putting them into practice. So I now try to see Thanksgiving as a challenge. To, as a follower of Jesus, give thanks to God for how good he is, how much he has changed my life, how he has sacrificed for me, and then to take up my own cross and do the same for others.  

At Christmas, my mom always has us write down what we are going to give back to Jesus that year. Because Christmas, like Thanksgiving, has somehow been turned into a selfish holiday when really, Christmas is about sacrifice. So what I have decided to challenge myself with this Thanksgiving is to show more love and give more affirmation and support to others. I have been shown so much support and been given encouragement and unconditional love from so many people this year that I feel inspired and compelled to pass it on to others. So I want to become a person that supports and loves those around me just like I have been blessed with the past year. What about you? What will you give away this Thanksgiving? 

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