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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Living Beyond First Person: How to Really Benefit from Personality Inventories

We were the fun department:  Human Resources. We all had cute accessories and big hair. (Hey, it was the 80’s.)  After the whole department took the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) test, we gathered after work to discuss the results. Our facilitator began by dividing us into two seemingly random groups tasked with the answer to this question:  “What do you do with time?” What we did not know was that she had divided us on the cusp of the final pair of the MBTI’s psychological preferences, the Judging vs. the Perceiving types.  When we came back together to report, we were stunned by the difference, for while the J’s used words like “invest” and “schedule,” the P’s happily listed activities like “watch my soaps” or “do my nails.”

That ten minute exercise opened my eyes to the importance of Reading People well — of understanding what makes me and the important people in my life tick, because we are different in so many different ways.  As a “J,” it would be easy for me to imagine that everyone thinks of time as a vanishing natural resource that must be rationed, apportioned, maximized, guarded, and measured.  In her most helpful book, Anne Bogel reminds me that I would be incorrect.

Using personality inventories to understand her own unique take on the world changed Anne Bogel’s life, so she has shared her five favorite — not in a manner that shouts “Classroom!” or “Laboratory!” but in a tone that says, “Hey, friend, here’s something that has helped me a lot.  Let me fill you in.”  She shares her own story with the goal of making her readers’ experience of self-discovery go more smoothly than her own.

Defining “Personality”

When we look at people through the lens of personality, we’re looking at a person’s foundational character which includes “patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that make that person unique.  We’re all inclined to think, feel, and act in particular ways.  Our personalities capture what we’re likely to find relaxing or exciting or pleasurable or tough.”  (LOC 117) While character is malleable and arises out of core beliefs, personality is fairly fixed.  Given this, the five frameworks presented in Reading People are comparable to a good map, for, as we learn the lay of the land, we can begin to live more confidently in a world that goes beyond first person.

The Five Personality Frameworks

  1.  The Five Love Languages

The BEST gift I ever received was a load of bark mulch from my four boys.  They bought it, delivered it, and spread it on all my flower beds.  Can you detect from this that my love language is acts of service?  It turns out that not everyone would be as over-the-moon at the memory of that (perfect) gift, because “we all have a vehicle that needs a certain kind of fuel.” (LOC 979) For others, that fuel is love expressed in quality time, words of affirmation, physical touch, or by gifts given and received.  The point of knowing someone’s love language is to bridge the communication gap so that we are expressing love in a way that our favorite people can actually receive.

2.  Keirsey’s Temperaments

In the 1950’s, clinical psychologist David Keirsey developed an outline of four basic temperaments.  Some of us still remember Tim LaHaye’s treatment of this concept from the 70’s (sanguine, melancholy, phlegmatic, and choleric).  Under Keirsey’s framework, our temperament is determined and described in terms of how we use words and how we use tools.  The identification of Artisans, Guardians, Idealists, and Rationals puts on glorious display the truth of C.S. Lewis’s famous quote:

“There are no ordinary people.”

We honor one another’s differences by appreciating and attempting to understand each other — without trying to shoehorn others into our favorite cookie cutter image.

3.  The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

Some mother/daughter teams write books together, make quilts, or start family businesses.  Katharine Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers developed a personality inventory together.  Based on the work of Carl Jung, and overlapping in fascinating ways with Keirsey’s temperaments, the MBTI assessment is based on eight psychological preferences that come in pairs:

Introversion (I)/Extroversion (E)
Intuition (N)/Sensing (S)
Thinking (T)/Feeling (F)
Judging (J)/Perceiving (P)

Because the focus is on personal growth, this is a favorite test for colleges and in the workplace. Online assessments are available, and may be a good place to begin,  but looking in further detail at cognitive functions associated with Myers Briggs added depth to my understanding and can also be helpful in clarifying one’s type.

4.  The Clifton StrengthsFinder

In 1998, a group of scientists led by Donald Clifton developed a personality framework based on human strengths.  The tool is available in a book that was published in 2007 (StrenthsFinder 2.0).  Assuming that we are NOT well-rounded, the StrengthsFinder is built around thirty-four “talent themes” which are broken down into four categories:  executing, influencing, relationship building, and strategic thinking.  Once we find our strengths, the crucially formative question is:  Are we using them?

5.  The Enneagram

Based on the name for a nine-sided polygon, the Enneagram has been around for centuries and focuses on motivations.  I found that focusing on negative qualities of each of the nine types helped me to identify myself, so brace yourself for a personality framework that is neither warm nor fuzzy.  In fact, a good indication that you’ve nailed your Enneagram type is if you feel vaguely exposed and uncomfortable about it.  There are a number of online assessments, and these will get you started on the basics, but there are wings and arrows and subtypes and enough other details to keep the devoted Ennegram seeker engaged and analyzing for a long time.  However, even a rudimentary understanding of our type can help us in becoming a better version of ourselves.

Making the Most of Your Investigation

One of the main strengths of Reading People is Anne’s practical application of self-knowledge.  We don’t take personality assessments simply for raw data about ourselves, and there are a number of very helpful thoughts about the use of assessments that bubbled to the surface as I read Anne’s thoughts on personality:

  1.  Be honest.  “Aspirational answers won’t do you any good; only true ones will.”  So when taking a personality assessment, don’t waste time giving the response that you “know is right” or that you wish you were.  Report on who you are today.
  2. There is no “best type.”  Remember that we are hard-wired for personality.  Therefore, by God’s design there are delightful qualities to introverts who think deeply and respond to beauty as well as to extroverts who get the party going and are the last to leave. Those who feel loved when they receive gifts are no less worthy of love than those who prefer acts of service or meaningful words.
  3. Your temperament or type is not the boss of you.  Identification of one’s type is not an excuse for living cramped and small.  It does not come with a free pass to say, “This is just how I am. You’ll have to put up with me.”  Instead, self-knowledge is an invitation to develop what Ann calls “an arsenal of coping strategies” (Loc 560) for dealing with situations outside your comfort zone.
  4. Understanding your personality and the tendencies of your loved ones will not eliminate conflict.  However, it will grease the skids in traveling through conflict and make the inevitable friction that comes with life together more manageable and less damaging.

In these days of middle age (on the home front) and angry, opinionated words (in the news), I am drawn to the beautiful humility that comes as a fringe benefit with self-knowledge.  Every day, it is my privilege to choose between a “fixed mindset” and a “growth mindset.” (LOC 2666)  I can keep plowing my rut deeper and lonelier, or I can beat my plowshare back into a sword of Truth and use it as a pointer toward forgiveness and integral living.

Knowing that God has spoken words of blessing over all the types and temperaments is an invitation to declare a truce in the war against myself and to receive with open hands the gift that is me, and then to turn that gratitude outward in thanksgiving for and acceptance of all the different expressions of God’s creativity.


This book was provided by Baker Books 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.”

And . . .

. . . come back Thursday to take a look at the reading schedule for Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry. We’ll begin the discussion here on the following Thursday — September 7.  I’ll be sharing my insights on Chapters 1-3 and will be looking forward to hearing YOUR voice.  If you choose to blog about the book at any time, be sure to share a link in the comments so we can all profit from your detailed analysis of the content.

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.