A Guide for Living Well as an Introvert of Faith

A Guide for Living Well as an Introvert of Faith

Little Rock, Arkansas was the Sunday stop on the last leg of our cross-country trip. I don’t recall the denomination of the church we visited, but I sure remember its personality: the two-handed handshakes, the over-the-top meet-n-greet . . . and the dear woman who sat next to me and kept touching my arm whenever the pastor made a good point. That church leaned hard toward an extroverted culture. For this introvert with the plexiglass space bubble, I  honestly couldn’t get out of that building fast enough.  While that church is certainly not typical by any means (thank heavens!), it demonstrates with broad brush strokes the extroverted culture that prevails in the church.

Adam S. McHugh looks at the church through the lens of an introvert. He encourages introverted believers to celebrate their temperament and, rather than being defined by what they are NOT (outgoing, people-loving, gregarious, etc.) to lean into the strengths and gifts that come with their personality.  Rather than equating spirituality with sociability and portraying evangelism as a back-slapping presentation of The Four Spiritual Laws, Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture argues for a biblical vision of worship that puts God on display through relationships that encourage both introverts and extroverts to go deep into their inner worlds while at the same time moving outward in sacrificial love.

Explaining the Introverted Brain

Research shows that introverts and extroverts function differently because they process life differently. Introverts derive their energy from solitude while extroverts are energized by interaction and external stimuli. In addition, introverts filter that external stimuli through a finer grid, becoming overwhelmed more quickly than extroverts do with their more flexibly filtering brains.  Introverts tend to prefer depth over breadth in relationships, in their interests, and in self-examination. Scientifically and theologically, it would not be an exaggeration to say that our Creator knit each one of us together as either an introvert or an extrovert.

Solitude vs. Isolation

While introverts have a reputation for being selfish and isolated, all believers who are operating in health will instead practice solitude which McHugh defines as going “deep into ourselves in order to become more self-aware and more compassionate.” In a culture that thrives on over-stimulation, all temperament types need to formulate healthy practices of retreat, times of pulling away from the noise in order to re-enter with perspective and godly wisdom.

Level-5 Leaders

The “Level-5 Leaders” described in Jim Collins’s book Good to Great are not the classic charismatic leaders we associate with success. Their humility, diligence, and willingness to build into the lives of others explain God’s choice of leaders throughout biblical history: the second-borns and the slow-of-speech; the shepherd boys; and the uneducated fishermen. It turns out that “leaders in the real world are about equally divided between introverts and extroverts.”

Thriving as an Introvert of Faith

It is possible for a believing introvert to find a place of fulfillment and influence within the church. This is NOT accomplished by learning and parroting extrovert-ish behaviors, but rather by operating as teachers, leaders, and involved neighbors out of introverted strengths.

I was rather hoping for an “introvert exemption” on the matter of evangelism, but what I got from Introverts in the Church was far better. I was assured that there is an approach to evangelism that does not put me in the role of an answer dispensing content dumper. Introverted evangelists are fellow seekers who share with authenticity how “God’s love has reached the dark parts of [their] lives.” McHugh sees himself as one who shares glimpses of God by responding to the ways in which God is already at work in people around him. A narrow-focus of relationship building, open-ended questions, and non-defensive dialogue open the door for both introverted seekers and introverted evangelists.

Finally, as believers we are called to embrace discomfort for the cause of Christ and for the enlargement of our worship. Both introverts and extroverts will grow stagnant if never challenged. The inward and outward movement of breathing provides a helpful picture of the way a living thing survives and thrives. Believers of all temperaments need the depth and richness that come with solitude alongside the self-giving poured out life that accompanies community. God has created a diversity of personalities and gifts within the church, and this is a treasure we are only beginning to understand.


This book was provided by IVP Books, an imprint of Intervarsity Press, in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

I have begun to experiment with including an Amazon affiliate link here in my book reviews. If you should decide to purchase either Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Cultureor The Listening Life: Embracing Attentiveness in a World of Distraction, simply click on the title here, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Additional Resources

As an introvert, Adam McHugh realizes the power and importance of listening — and he wrote a book about it. I enjoyed reading it and shared my review here.

The Listening Life imagines a world in which the usual pattern of listening is reversed, where leaders listen to followers, where the rich listen to the poor, and the insiders listen to outsiders – not as part of a program or with a prescribed agenda, but one person at a time with listening as an end in itself.

True listening is a path out of the spiritual fatigue and distractedness that we bring to every interaction.  As we listen to God, as we pay attention to the messages our own hearts are trying to communicate to us, and as we turn our focus outward to hear the hearts of others, we are giving a gift that comes directly from God — and in the process, we receive a gift as well.

 

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Michele Morin

Michele Morin is a teacher, blogger, reader, and gardener who finds joy in sitting at a table surrounded by women with open Bibles. She has been married to an unreasonably patient husband for nearly 30 years, and together they have four sons, two daughters-in-love, two grandchildren, and one lazy St. Bernard. Michele loves hot tea and well-crafted sentences, poems that stop her in her tracks and days at the ocean with the whole family. She laments biblical illiteracy and advocates for the prudent use of “little minutes.” She blogs at Living Our Days, and you can connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.

88 thoughts on “A Guide for Living Well as an Introvert of Faith”

  1. The brain is SO cool! Just to think that God created each person’s personality puts my heart in a position of awe! Blessings to you!

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    1. Yes, I had to really control myself when reporting on that section of the book because there was waaaaay more info than I could fit into a brief-ish review, but certainly we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” God knows what He’s doing.

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  2. I was in my sixties when I found out I was INTJ. Suddenly so much was explained and justified. Instead of just being the oddball, the one always out of step, the one who must do it her way, however lame, I finally could embrace that God made me this way for a purpose. Therefore it’s okay that I must have a personal relationship with Christ, not communal. I prefer to do my alms anonymously. I am a sower, not a harvester. I plant seeds that others gather the fruit thereof. And it’s more than okay. Sounds like a great book! I could have benefited a half century ago. 🙂

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      1. Well it’s true that we don’t have to be slaves to how we are hardwired. I knew from early on that there were things I needed to overcome. You have to learn what you are before you can tweak and enhance. What is classified as introvert might look differently once one has been matured in the spirit. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you, Michele. As I have said before, I always look forward to your book reviews and I am never disappointed. There is so much to learn about ourselves

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I feel selfish sometimes when our church is like, “We need to DO more stuff together!” and I am like, “I am so tired of the STUFF!!! Couldn’t we all stay home and pray?!”

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  5. Michele, this is such a wonderful book review. Chock full of information this introvert enjoyed! And I am thankful you shared your experience when visiting a new church as I can get so uncomfortable at times with meet & greets too 🙂

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  6. Michele, as you know, I too am an introvert. Forty years of being a nurse made me evaluate exactly where I stand on this issue and I was surprised to discover I have been both an introvert and an extrovert….like two different people.
    When working as a nurse, I reached out with compassion and genuine caring of everyone I met. I touched and was touched in return; I hugged and was hugged in return! And I always used every little opportunity to spread the good word of salvation, not easy in today’s workplace where that is strictly frowned upon. But if my patient brought it up first, I jumped at the chance.
    Your blog article made me evaluate myself and I was surprised to discover both sides of me. But I still remain mainly an introvert now that I am retired and I find, per your review, that there is nothing wrong with that. The Lord is the author of life and he made me this way and I embrace that. Thank you for this!

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  7. I never thought about how the church is geared towards an extrovert culture! So true. I’m becoming a bit more introverted as I “grow.” (Euphemism for “get older.”)

    And I keep reading about the Listening book. I think I need to read it. I want to learn more about listening. 🙂

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    1. My husband has slid in that direction too, as we have “grown.” So important for us to remain open to all the opportunities the Lord bring our way and still remain true to who we are and lean into all those strengths that come with a more introverted approach to the world.

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    1. I want to re-read the chapter on evangelism. It’s relevant even beyond the context of introvert/extrovert concerns. We forget that we are living in a culture that is completely foreign to the truth of the gospel, and it seems as if many believers are steeped in a a sub-culture that clouds any hope of effective communication.

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  8. Thanks for this excellent review. I think my sweet husband would be blessed by this book. There are so many misunderstandings related to introversion and extroversion. Too often we forget each of these is on a continuum from extreme to moderate to very slight. As a result, not all of either type looks the same as the stereotypes associated with the descriptor. One is certainly dominant, but as we grow in our relationship to the Lord, with experiences, and greater levels of relational healthiness the recessive or less dominant part of us develops as well.

    One other thought about that church in Arkansas…though seemingly very extroverted, it’s also likely you were experiencing the folksy culture of that area of the country. As we have traveled around the US we observe a vast differences in the region regarding culture that impacts the churches we are visiting as well.

    Have a blessed week, my friend!

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    1. I’m sure you are correct, Pam. I’m a stereotype of the cold New Englander, so it’s good for me to be exposed to other cultures. And I agree also that as we mature in our faith the “preferences” that come with our natural personality type become less important, and we learn the gracious ability to be available to others even if we are an introvert — or for the extroverts to keep quiet and listen!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Thank you for sharing this post because now I am VERY interested in reading this book! I struggle to feel at home in a church environment due to my introversion and my desire to simply be alone in the presence of the Lord despite recognizing the importance of the faith community. In fact, I am considering attending seminary in the future but once felt discouraged from doing so, thinking to myself I wouldn’t be a good fit or capable of doing so, but EVERYBODY can find a place in faith! I also discuss spirituality on my blog and would love if you visited. https://www.alliemaelynn.com 🙂

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    1. Yes, there’s room for everyone in the Body of Christ, and I’m so glad that you are leaning into that awareness and even planning and preparing for a deeper role in ministry. Heading over right now to check out your blog.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. So true that the church culture seems to lean toward extroverts. And I go against my own nature by trying to parrot that behavior and then find myself hiding in bathroom stalls to get a break from it all. Thanks, Michele, for the encouragement that there’s a place for introverts that allows us to use our own gifts.

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  11. Such a great post, Michele! I have struggled for years with a form of guilt about not being super comfortable with more “extroverted” methods of evangelism and connection. It’s only as I’ve gotten a wee bit older that God has been teaching me that He can and wants to use us introverts with our introverted bents to love on His people and to share His truth…just in ways that are different from, yet complimentary to the methods of our more extroverted brothers and sisters in Christ. McHugh’s book is now on my reading list for 2018! Thanks so much!

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    1. What a treat to hear from you!
      I believe the importance of becoming aware of the church’s culture is only going to become more important as millennials (and younger!) mature and become part of the picture. We want to encourage them in leadership and teaching roles, and the introverts among them will just NOT survive the traditional image of a happy-clappy evangelical. I’d love to hear your thougths on the book after you’ve read it! (Maybe we’ll bump into you at CGN this summer!)

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  12. Dear Michele, thank you for an incredibly pertinent and encouraging post! This is me all over. As also a person who needs permission and validation, it’s good to be reassured that I’m not a hopeless hermit. Extra blessings today!

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    1. Alice, I’ve been so surprised by how many of my blogging friends are introverts. I find the challenge of blogging is partly promoting my work (ugh) and partly the vulnerability of sticking my neck out and sharing my thoughts and my story with an unseen audience (yipes).
      Blessings to you, Alice, as you experience the same thing in your ministry!

      Like

  13. I read and reviewed this a few years ago and, though I didn’t agree with all the practices he recommends, I really appreciated his balance between assuring us that being an introvert is ok and the way God made us and God has a plan and purpose for us, too, and yet encouraging us not to be selfish in the ways that we particularly can be and to stretch beyond our comfort zone sometimes as God leads. Thanks for the reminders!

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    1. I was so glad that IVP released an update, because I missed the book on the first round. Adam McHugh’s book on Listening was also so helpful in heightening my awareness of God’s good work in the quiet. And I was also very thankful that he did not give introverts a free pass to just “do what they feel like doing” — it’s good that we can live out His calling on our lives in a way that’s consistent with the bent He gave us in the womb.

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  14. Michele,
    I sometimes thought of myself as a failure because I couldn’t boast of how many people I’d led to Christ. I like to hide behind my words…face to face gets more difficult. But, we all aren’t given the same gifts and I’ve learned that the best thing, for me, is to tell my story and my testimony. People can argue theology, but they can’t argue my story of how I came to Christ and what He’s done for me. Clinging to that has helped me tremendously as I tend to be quite introverted.
    Blessings,
    Bev xx

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    1. And I think you have a gift for compassionately entering into the lives of others, Bev. That’s very “salty” and it’s a way we can demonstrate the love of Christ without having to shine the spotlight on ourselves. Thanks for interjecting your thoughts here.

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  15. I had to laugh at your description of the church in Little Rock, Michele. Southern hospitality was a bit much for you that day, huh? 🙂 Seriously, some day I might write something about my experiences with an evangelism training program I was involved with (also at a church in Arkansas) in my 20s that stretched my introverted tendencies in the most uncomfortable ways. My involvement was more motivated by guilt than anything, although I did have some wonderful experiences through it all. These days, as the extroverted introvert I’ve become in recent years, I happily serve as a door greeter at my church, while my much more introverted husband stays back in the tech booth, where he handles things like lights and cameras. This sounds like a fascinating book!

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    1. Ha! You should definitely share that story in more detail. And I think of myself these days as a “sociable” introvert. I enjoy people in small doses and for defined periods of time. (Then, I need a break.)

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  16. As a fellow introvert, I always appreciate affirmation that we’re not weird. 🙂 And that God can use us just as we are. Thanks for sharing this book, Michele. I have read it, but haven’t read The Listening Life, which has been on my list for awhile.

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    1. Me, too, and I hope it’s not just that I want someone to confirm my presuppositions. In a culture that seems so completely alien to us, it’s reassuring to know that there’s a way of doing things that works better for us.

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  17. Wow, that book part about the introvert in Church is so right on, and helpful because sometimes when I have visited different Churches, I actually have sat there and apologized to God that I’m just not as outgoing as some are in Church and I too just want to exit. Reading a book in my later years finally described to me why I am the way I am. Definitely and Introvert and I’m pretty much married to an extrovert and the book helped explain that part too. I will definitely check out this book. Thanks for the review.

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    1. I love my extroverted friends, but have spent far too long wishing I could be like them. Of course, we can all learn from one another, and I’ve gathered a lot of good strategies from them, but the truth is that extroverts can learn from us as well (which never occurred to me until I read this book!).

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    1. You are a very sociable introvert!
      I identify with your initial ambivalence, because I do love being with people, but I think the difference is we are not energized by it. We get our energy from solitude and then expend it with our people.

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  18. What an interesting book, topic and post, Michele. I’m an introvert too and had a “introvert/extrovert” encounter this past weekend. My extroverted girlfriend saw someone at a restaurant that we both knew from years gone by, though she probably knew this man a bit better than I did. We both stopped to talk to him but I noticed how his son-in-law (especially) as well as his daughter and wife probably felt like we were lingering a bit too long. At least that’s how I viewed it. So I stepped away, leaving my extroverted girlfriend to continue to chat on! I talked to her about how I view things like that as sometimes feeling “intrusive” not just to others, but to me internally. I never want to keep someone talking for too terribly long, for I don’t know what they need to do or get to. But she’s much more warm and open to keeping the dialogue going. I don’t think either way is right or wrong, but it sure revealed our differences in that encounter! Thanks for sharing your feelings on this too! Great post!

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    1. Ha! I totally identify with YOUR perception of that situation. It must be a characteristic of introverts to not want to “intrude” and to read cues that could be interpreted that way. I’ve been in similar settings, and I also agree that there’s no right/wrong, but there’s certainly a difference!

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  19. I love this, Michele. I’ve often struggled to find my place in the church as an introvert. I laughed at your introduction about the extroverted church where the women kept grabbing your arm during the message. I’ve so been there! It’s easy to look at the extroverts among us and feel like we’re not measuring up or pouring out in all the right ways. I think this is a book I need to check out! Thanks for the review!

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    1. Yes! And as repelled as I am by the “feel” of that culture, I long to be accessible and to engage with others deeply — so, I remind myself that introverts CAN DO THAT. We just do it differently . . . and we keep our hands to ourselves. 🙂

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  20. To look at my husband you might think him an extrovert but he’s not. As a minister and Administrator of a residential care facility, he has to work outside himself. He can only do this through the Holy Spirit. His introversion is very much present and often misunderstood. Interesting post, Michele. I love how God has created us with unique features.

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    1. Great point, Debby. The real “work” of his job is that effort of putting aside his natural preferences and moving into the role God has given to him. And I can imagine that an extrovert in that particular job would struggle more with the administrative detail and the thought and planning behind the desk. I’ve see God the Holy Spirit do the same kind of miraculous enablement for me at times when I’ve been over my introverted head in people-stuff. He comes through for us, and so our personality should never be seen as a limitation!

      Liked by 1 person

  21. Good review. I’m definitely an introvert except when Holy Spirit grabs me and of course, then the devil tries convincing me “it’s all about me” and I have to have an all-out war with the rotten bugger right there in the pew…yeah, introverts in the church.

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    1. Well, knock me over with a feather.
      I would never have pegged you as an introvert, but maybe the Holy Spirit is always in grab-mode when I bump into you in cyber-world.
      It’s true that many the battle has been fought in a church pew. If only they could talk.

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  22. Coming from the opposite end of the spectrum, it can be hard to “see” from the introvert perspective. I’ve spent a lot of time studying this in the past couple years in preparation for my personal ministry and my work within my church. I love any books, blog post, class, etc… regarding just how wonderfully God has made each of us!

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    1. Thank you for bringing the extroverted perspective to this conversation. If you enjoy reading about personality inventories, you’d love Anne Bogel’s book Reading People. Also the Road Back to You (Cron/Stabile) and Mirror for the Soul (Fryling) which focus on the Enneagram. I think you can search reviews for these books here on the blog if you want to get a preview.

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  23. I also consider myself somewhat of an introvert. I struggle with it when it comes time to share the peace. I want to share with all in Church, but it’s intimidating! Especially when there’s new attendees. It’s important to find ways to connect to those around you in a way that is comfortable and meaningful.
    Great post
    #homemakinglinkup
    Katelynn, hampersandhiccups.com

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    1. That’s exactly what the author was referring to — aspects of worship that are effortless for an extrovert, but challenging for introverts. And, I suppose, to be fair, the silence and meditation of worship would be more challenging for our extroverted friends.
      And YES to connecting – we don’t get a pass on that!
      Thanks, Katelynn, for sharing your story.

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  24. I’m definitely an introvert by nature so I read this with great interest. I love your plexiglass bubble idea. I can relate. God has blessed me and allowed me to teach and counsel, as well as write. Both of which have required me to rely on Him and how faithful He is! But my introvert tendencies are always there. Thanks for sharing this helpful book. As for the second book on listening, all I can say is our world needs a whole lot more of that right now! Blessings my friend!

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  25. I consider myself to be an introvert and agree that just because we are a certain way shouldn’t restrict our opportunities and we should push ourselves out of our comfort zones every now and then. Thanks for linking up to #globalblogging

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Michele, this is such a great post! The concept of introverted vs. extroverted is one that I visit and analyze often…as a person who lived the first half of my life extremely introverted then came bursting forth in my 30’s and 40’s as quite the extrovert, I actually find that I still oscillate between the two qualities. Too much time being extroverted sends me into a days long introverted respite to recover and recuperate so I am ready for the next social outburst of extroversion! Although I explore this idea often, I have never considered it in terms of faith and religion. It makes for a very interesting discussion! Thanks for linking up with me!

    Shelbee
    http://www.shelbeeontheedge.com

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    1. I enjoyed reading your thoughts and it sounds as if you are pretty well balanced between being an introvert and an extrovert — and I think we’re all called to be available as much as we can be, but then also to take care of ourselves in terms of solitude and rest.
      Thanks for your encouragement and the warm weekly welcome.

      Like

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