“It requires you to take a leap of faith.”
“God wants you to live life out loud for Jesus.”
Though Americans are about a 50/50 split introverts vs. extroverts, we lift up extroversion as if this personality trait is somehow better or holier than the others. Whether it is extolling the inherent virtues of extroversion in statements like those or designing programs that echo the truth behind them, we are profoundly biased towards the traits of the extroverts.
For those who can’t quite recall the differences between the two, let me give you some bullet points to refresh:
A major problem with meshing our cultures preference for the extrovert with our faith is that when you consider the Biblical characters in terms of those lists you can easily pull out many major players who exhibit far more introverted tendencies than extroverted ones.
For example many would say Moses was an introvert. Think about it, would an extrovert ever stare at the burning bush to notice that it was not being consumed by the fire, or just find more dry stuff to throw on top of it for a bonfire?
That tells us that we need to be careful about how we speak, what we value, and who we try to reach with our programs because we desperately need the Moseses (Mosi?) of our world in the church, and if we aren’t careful we may unintentionally marginalize, ignore, or exclude the quiet leaders in our midst.
What do you need to do? To borrow an introverted trait, you need to carefully evaluate your programs, messages, and relationships. You need to take a moment and think about the messages you are sending.
I offer these questions and observations to help your ministry think through how introvert-friendly you are:
What programs do you offer that encourage students to spend time alone in quiet contemplation?
Look at your most high-energy, loud program. How can you build in times of quiet to give introverts a place to breathe?
How can you remove or alter moments where students are encouraged to have surface-level interaction with people who they aren’t close to so that introverted people feel comfortable not participating or only speaking with people they are already in a relationship with?
Do you assume everyone should be more extroverted? For example, do you use the illustration of the kid sitting alone in the lunch room assuming that no one would want to be alone?
Do you constantly reference action-movies or extreme stories of people taking “leaps of faith” without thinking things through?
Do you highlight examples of thoughtful, deliberate, intellectual people who make a difference?
Do you recast every positive character in the Bible as a “visionary leader” or a group-oriented person?
Do you offer students time to sit in real quiet (without background music) and consider the scriptures?
Do you highlight moments in the Bible where introverts make an impact or someone makes a habit of doing something introverts relish (like Jesus getting away by himself to pray)?
4. Your relationships
Do you bounce around the entire room every time you are there only making surface connections with kids?
Do you try and get introverted kids to talk to a bunch of people instead of getting to know them in an extended conversation?
Do you feel and act awkward when someone takes time to answer your questions? Do you fidget and leave those conversations rather than slowing down to engage?
How did you do? How would you grade the friendliness of your ministry to introverts? If you aren’t where you need to be, take some time to find those in your community who are more on the introverted end of the scale (maybe that is you) and get their input. Let go of the feeling that everything has to be big and loud in order to connect with teens and design some opportunities for the introverts to be catered to and the extroverts to be stretched.
Jeremy Steele has been working in youth ministry for the past seventeen years and now serves as the Next Generation Minister at Christ United Methodist Church in Mobile, AL. He is the author of Taboo: The Questions You Aren’t Supposed to Ask and writes for United Methodist Reporter, AL.com, RETHINK Church and various publications and organizations. You can find a link to all the places he contributes on his website at JeremyWords.com.
Follow him on twitter: twitter.com/unpretending