Editor's Note: Introverts in the Church, (InterVarsity) has apparently struck a nerve. The book is in its eighth printing (as of 3/22/2012) and is giving our 'extrovert-dominant' church culture much to ponder, especially about long-standing assumptions on spiritual maturity and the qualities we think leaders ought to possess. I caught up with Adam McHugh via email and telephone to discuss this sorely neglected topic. His answers are both thoughtful and thought-provoking—particularly on the gospel and how it can be applied to the issues raised in the book.
Why did you decide to write a resource for introverts?
It started as a personal quest. I knew that I was (1) Called to be a leader in the church. I had gifts of teaching and pastoring and I relished opportunities to help people listen to the voice of God in their lives. But it was also clear that (2) I was an introvert. While I enjoyed people and the various aspects of church leadership, I found them draining and I longed for times of solitude, study, and quiet reflection. I experienced a lot of tension between these two realities, especially in an active, gregarious evangelical environment, and the research I did was a way of trying to make sense of my call in light of my introverted temperament and vice versa.
But then I started talking with other introverts about my experiences, and I realized how prevalent, and even sometimes how crippling, the struggles are for introverts in the church. I even talked with a number of introverts who have left their churches - or even church in general - because of this issue. So what began as a study of introverts in Christian leadership expanded into an exploration of central aspects of the Christian life, like community, spirituality, evangelism, and worship, from an introverted perspective. My deep hope is that the book will help introverts to find peace in their God-given personality preferences and to discover their places in their Christian communities, which so badly need their gifts and strengths.
What are the qualities of an introvert that may be overlooked?
Put bluntly, I think most qualities of an introvert are prone to be overlooked! In our extroverted society, we value aggressive, action-oriented, gregarious people, and I think this extroverted bias has bled over into some of our churches, where often the "ideals" of faithfulness are strikingly extroverted. We praise people who are social and expressive, eager to participate in a wide variety of activities, have an overt enthusiasm, share their faith with strangers easily, assume leadership positions quickly. But introverts do not usually fit this profile, and our lives of faith may be a little slower, a little quieter, a little more solitary. We are often calm, thoughtful, reflective types who may be invisible to others if they are not looking or listening.
Yet I think that introverts have tremendous gifts to bring to others. In the book I start with our listening abilities. Because introverts process internally, we can offer people a non-judgmental presence that helps others open up to us. There is also something about being intimately connected to our inner worlds that produces a great deal of creativity. Many introverts are gifted writers, artists, musicians, and even actors. I also think that having a rich inner life lends itself towards a deep compassion for others, something I have seen in many introverted pastors and chaplains I have worked with. Further, we are capable of an insight that is borne of self-awareness and listening, a peacefulness that spreads to others, and a servant mindset which is often expressed in behind-the-scenes service.