Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Psychology Today and the New Introverts in the Church

I was honored to interview with Psychology Today writer Nancy Ancowitz last month, and all three parts of our conversation about listening and introversion are now up on the Psychology Today website. That link will take you to part one, and here is part two and part three. Part one focuses on listening to others, part two on listening to ourselves, and part three on the specific opportunities and challenges for introverted listeners.

And, this is one more gentle reminder that there is a revised and expanded edition of Introverts in the Church hitting my publisher's warehouse on July 7th. Here are some of the changes in the second edition. It should be shipping out of online retailers by mid July, with the official release date in early August.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

The Best Kind of Hospitality

      When you’re an introvert, it’s easy to get overconfident about your listening abilities. It may seem an odd thing to strut over, but it’s true. Those on the extroverted side of the scale are rewarded with verbal ease and high energy; our introverted realm is the land of listening and reflection, and we sit proudly on our quiet thrones.

The breezy dichotomies start to fall apart, however, when we go deeper into the practice of true listening. I am not actually convinced that listening comes naturally for anyone, of any temperament. True listening is an act of selflessness, a work of ego surrender, and most humans don’t do those things instinctually. Now, if we define listening as sitting quietly while another person speaks, then yes, introverts have the upper hand. We are the masters of the quiet sit. Providing the air space for others to share is the first step, and we may have a head start here.

The worst listeners are easy to identify, because they are unable even to get this far. We all know people like this. They dominate conversations, performing soliloquies in our presence like windy Shakespearean characters, and they have little ability to gauge our interest level in their chosen topic. They are strangely impervious to the glassy-eyed stares of their captive audience.

Those who yammer on like radio talk show hosts are the easy targets of bad listening, but there are many more culprits of a subtler variety. This is where we introverts may not be the natural listeners we think we are. We may be adept at creating the outward space for others, but we may assume that in showing up and closing our mouths we have thereby done our job as listeners. We have removed the outward distractions, but the problem is that our heads continue to buzz with a myriad of inward distractions.

I believe that listening is the truest form of hospitality, which is good news for those of us who don’t relish opportunities to invite groups of people into our homes. To me, the best hosts are not those who throw spirited dinner parties, as enjoyable as those can be, the best hosts are listeners, those who welcome others into their minds, hearts, and souls. That is true hospitality, the meeting place for healing and empathy. Creating the outward space is absolutely essential because it is the setup; it is the listening equivalent of setting the table, lighting the candles, and opening the door to your guests. This is the context where true listening can happen, yet it is prologue, not the meal.

While for the more extroverted among us the greatest listening challenge may be in the outward act of hospitality - finding the time in a busy schedule, allowing quiet space, and refraining from steering the conversation with their words - for introverts like me the listening challenge is in the inward act of hospitality, making room in my inner life to allow for the needs and interests of others. The atmosphere surrounding us may be quiet, but so often the climate in our heads is thunderous. We have naturally active brains, which is why we often don’t feel the need to fill our lives with busyness. Our brains are quite busy enough, and we can provide all the stimuli that we need on our own. We’re our own favorite company. This is an asset for times of prayer and solitude, but it can be a barrier when we want to be attentive to others.

The truth is that only the listener can gauge whether he or she is truly listening, because true listening takes place on the inside. You can have all the trappings of listening – eye contact, appropriate body language, active listening sounds, occasional questions – and still not be genuinely listening. I know, because I have done it. I have been complemented for my listening by people that I knew I hadn’t listened to well, because I was preoccupied with my internal thoughts while sitting across the table from them. I was listening to the voices in my inner world, with their nagging concerns, self-doubts, and judgements, rather than offering my internal attention to the person in front of me. As Steven Covey put it, I was listening to respond, rather than listening to understand.

Therein lies the greatest listening challenge for those of us with quiet exteriors and noisy interiors: We must practice an inner hospitality, learning to clear the internal space, and turning down the volume of our inner voices, so that we can welcome the voices, thoughts, and hearts of others. That is how we become the best kind of hosts.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Introverts in the Church, Revised and Expanded

Now 40% More Introverted!!!
About a year ago, I cracked open Introverts in the Church for the first time in several years. Contrary to what some may believe, we authors don't cuddle up to our books on cold nights. I had moved on to other topics, namely The Listening Life, and some other writing projects.

I had been wrestling with questions, once again, about how to approach some new relationships in my life as an introvert, and I thought to myself, "You know who's an expert on this topic? ME!" So I dusted off my copy of Introverts in the Church and immersed myself in chapter 5, the Community and Relationships chapter.

What I found is that while my advice is helpful, some of it already feels outdated. It is astonishing how much things change in 8 years. In 2009, when the book was published, everyone in the church was talking about postmodernism; now, I almost never hear that word. In 2009, I didn't even know the phrase "social media," and the iPhone was just starting to flood the market. I started writing Introverts when I was 29 years old, even though the book wasn't published until I was 33. I will be turning 41 in a few months, and needless to say, I have changed, as a person, as a writer, and as a believer.

I was a decent writer when I was 29, but I am much better now, and one of the things I noticed, ironically, is that the book is just too wordy. I can tell I was dealing with what they call "Imposter Syndrome," a common struggle with a first book, and I wanted to prove to everyone, myself included, that I was qualified to write a book. I dropped in all kinds of theological knowledge and research that just wasn't necessary and was, in some cases, distracting. That, combined with the outdated time stamps in the book, compelled me to approach InterVarsity Press last summer and ask if we could release a 2nd edition. I wanted to write a new version that had a more timeless, and succinct, feel to it. And I thought I could make the book a lot funnier.

Today, I am thrilled to announce that the Revised and Expanded Version of Introverts in the Church is now available for pre-order. Here's what's new: each chapter has been thoroughly revised, both in content and in flow. I have written a new introduction. I have interspersed more discussions about the struggles of introverted parents and ministering to introverted children. I have incorporated the new research that has been conducted in the last few years about introversion, neurology, and sensitivity to stimuli, as well as some recent studies on the effectiveness of introverted leaders. And I have brought in the work of the Queen of Introversion, Susan Cain.

There are also some new endorsements. Scot McKnight wrote the forward, and he says "the first edition was exceptional, the second even better, at least by half, perhaps more than that." 

Jenn Granneman, creator of the popular introverted community, Introvert, Dear, writes: "Introverts in the Church is thoughtful, validating, and charming. It’s the book for any church-goers who have ever wanted to disappear into their seats when the pastor said, “Turn and introduce yourself to three strangers.” Adam teaches an important lesson: Spirituality should not be measured by sociability. The introvert who quietly reflects on her faith is as true of a believer as the extrovert who preaches exuberantly to others."

There are also endorsements from Susan Cain, Lauren Winner, John Ortberg, and many others. I echo Emily Freeman's hopes when she says, "I have a hopeful vision that the giftedness of the next generations of introverts will be honored and celebrated thanks to the fine work of Adam S. McHugh in this timeless, important book."  

You can now pre-order the revised version of Introverts in the Church on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Pre-ordering guarantees you the best price, as the price will decrease at times over the next few months, and it is a helpful way to draw the attention of retailers and reviewers. The official release date is August 7, 2017, but if you pre-order the book you will have it in your hands around mid-July. While the new edition will be of particular interest to new readers, those of you who read the first edition will find plenty of new content.

As always, I am deeply grateful for all of you who have read the book, recommended it to others, and sent me emails about it. I liked the first edition of Introverts in the Church, but I like the 2nd edition much, much better. I think you will too.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Listening Life CT Book Award

I am deeply honored that Christianity Today has chosen The Listening Life as the Best Book of The Year in the Spiritual Formation category! It is one of the greatest honors that a book can win in the Christian publishing world. It was also the Logos Book Association's Best Christian Living Book of 2016 and a Religion category finalist in the Foreword Reviews' Indiefab book awards. Thank you so much for reading and listening.

If I'm being totally honest, I do not think that we as a people did very well at listening in 2016. I can only hope that my book might play a small part in changing that in 2017. Will we embrace the gift of listening? Will we choose to listen to those voices that don't sound like ours?

Speaking of next year, you may have seen my previous post that I will be releasing a 2nd edition of Introverts in the Church in the spring/summer of 2017. I have been working on it all fall, and I have written a new introduction, added a section in the leadership chapter on ministering to introverted kids, and did a thorough revision of each chapter. The book will have a new cover and a new foreword. It has been an enjoyable project. A lot has changed in church and society in the 8 years since it was published. I started writing the 1st edition when I was 29. The 2nd edition will be published when I am 40. Did I mention that a lot changes? I must say that while I liked the first version, I like the second version a lot more. And I think you will too.

Happy Christmas and New Years to all of you.  

Imagine a society of reverse listening, where those who would normally expect to be heard, listen, and those who would normally expect to listen, are heard. I dream of a place where leaders listen to followers, adults listen to children, men listen to women, the majority listen to the minority, the rich listen to the poor, and insiders listen to outsiders. -The Listening Life