Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Introverts and "Passion"

A couple of weeks ago, I posted on the issue of motivation for community, and how we tend to mistake an extroverted personality, that feeds on the dopamine produced by large quantities of social interaction, for "love for people."  Some of us, with a lower threshold for dopamine and who relish our time to ourselves and the reflections of our inner world, end up feeling like we lack love or that our faith is anemic because we don't have the same overt "passion."  And in evangelical circles especially, "passion" (along with lots of words to describe that passion) often receives top billing.

Apparently, that post struck a nerve, since it quickly became one of my most read posts of all time. I received a few emails as well, and I asked one reader's permission to post her email. She (and I) would love to hear your thoughts on the issues she raises: 

I have been wondering about something that maybe you can give me your thoughts on (do you reply to emails like this?) or maybe blog about. I work in full-time collegiate ministry with an international organization. Sometimes when people (mostly extroverts, probably) start talking to me about passion and what they are passionate about, it strikes me in a way that makes me feel awful as if maybe I'm just not passionate about anything. They'll talk about "Jesus is my passion" or being "passionate about the Gospel," etc, etc. I feel like I hear this word and see their expressions and think that I cannot imitate them in how they feel. Then I take it as a huge red flag. But I wonder if I'm just not as excitable as a really expressive extrovert, and if that is okay. I'm in full time mission work, so maybe I am passionate, but my passion expresses itself differently. Thoughts on this idea of "being passionate" and how that is expressed? Just the phrase makes me feel tired.

Friday, April 23, 2010

In the Huffington Post

I received a wonderful surprise this morning when I read an article about Introverts in the Church in the Huffington Post!!!  Here's the link, if you're interested:

For Shy Worshipers, Church Can be Overwhelming

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Introverts and Church Plants, part 2

Here is part 2 of my interview with Jamie Arpin-Ricci, introverted church planter. Those of you that have read along, are you convinced?  Can introverts be effective church planters?

Adam: What is the hardest thing for you as an introverted, church-planting pastor?

Jamie: The amount of time and energy required to plant and pastor a church is enormous, taxing for anyone (introvert or extrovert).  Therefore, finding (and making) the time to rest, recharge and recenter can be difficult.  This is further complicated for me when my introspective nature robs me of sleep because of a very full and active mind at the end of a day.  Much of this can be tempered through intentional disciplines, but it is still taxing no matter what is done.

Another dynamic was rather surprising to me.  As a pastor, my deepest passion is to care for the well-being (body, mind and soul) of my fellow community members.  This pastoral care ranks higher than the preaching/teaching role I fill.  However, because my introverted nature tends to shy away from the casual, I can become easily overwhelmed with the depth and complexities of brokenness and need.  Introverted church planters and pastors need to learn the discipline of social relationships.  We need to learn to spend time with people socially, casually, recreationally.  Otherwise we are prone to be overwhelmed by a focus on the “depth” we often pursue.

Finally, because so many people have experienced extroverted pastors, there is also a common assumption that if you are a pastor, you must be like the others they have met.  The expectations of style, relationship, time, etc. can be demanding.  Thus, helping people understand that introverted leaders must relate differently is essential, making your book a real gift to the church.

Adam: Lots of my readers want to know what to do when they've run out of social and emotional energy, but they are still required to be with people. What are your survival strategies in those sorts of situations?
Jamie: The need for genuine community leadership is critical.  I am not referring to a team leadership where the pastor/leader still bears the bulk of the responsibility, but a truly mutual group that shares the leadership of the community, as servants to the whole, with their diverse giftings and strengths.  This, of course, means that the pastor/leader must also be willing to give up authority, a very challenging thing to do.  As Christians we need to relearn the discipline of community discernment and leadership.  It is no coincidence that what makes this difficult is closely related to what makes the introvert/extrovert dynamic difficult.

I have given permission, even authority, to people in our community leadership to hold me accountable to self-care.  This means that time off (often time away), healthy lifestyle (food, exercise, sleep, etc.) and persona boundaries are things they can (and do) speaking into my life about.  Like community discernment, community accountability is complicated and difficult, but essential to over all community health.

While there are times where “survival mode” is necessary, we must be brutally honest with ourselves that we are not seeking to fulfill unrealistic or unhealthy expectations- those of others and ourselves.  Idealism is deadly, rooted in a pride with many facets- ambition, benevolence, guilt, efficiency, etc.  The measure of our success must be obedience to God, not numbers or programs or even “souls saved”.  We are called to love God and to love out neighbours as we love ourselves.  If we do not care for ourselves, this reflects on the nature of the love we extend to both God and others.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Introverts and Church Plants, Part I

 People I've talked to have no problem seeing introverts as effective writers, scholars, chaplains, even pastors in existing churches, but for some reason they get suspicious when I say that introverts can be effective church planters. In my continuing quest to prove otherwise, I asked my friend Jamie Arpin-Ricci to answer a few questions. 

Jamie Arpin-Ricci is a missionary with Youth With a Mission (YWAM) and a founder of a new church plant, called Little Flowers Community, in Manitoba. He is also a blogger, an author (currently working on an book on the Sermon on the Mount), and probably not surprising to my readers, an introvert. 

Adam:  I've read a number of things that seem to discourage introverts from church-planting and that imply that extroverts are much more effective in that sort of risky ministry. Do you agree?

Jamie: That kind of thinking exposes a set of assumptions about church-planting (and introverts/extroverts) that are quite telling.  The model of church planting where a small group is parachuted into a community with a plan and a budget often replies on a charismatic personality (or two) to represent the new ministry to neighbours where no pre-existing relationship is established.  In this model, extrovert leadership is essential.  However, this model is increasingly being shown ineffective for many reasons (i.e. post-Christendom, tighter budgets, community indifference, etc.)

Our ministry in inner city Winnipeg was established over 8 years ago with the intentional commitment to enter into the fabric of the neighbourhood as equals, earn the rare trust of people in the community over time.  The church plant was the long-term fruit of those carefully nurtured relationships- in fact, the community approached us and asked us to be their church.  In this way, the unique strengths of introvert leadership are essential.

Ultimately, both expressions of temperament are necessary for effective church planting.  This belief, in and of itself, demonstrates a need for leadership models that are collaborative and community based, as opposed to hierarchically drive, singular leadership.  In ministry/mission dynamics from a team leadership perspective, the introvert/extrovert dynamic is perhaps the single hardest I have encountered, but also the one out of which some of the richest fruit has been born.

Adam:  How do introverts and extroverts work together on a church-planting team? Where do they struggle and how can they succeed?

Jamie: While there are many aspects of introvert/extrovert interaction that need to explored, such as complimentary relational tools for different ministry contexts and time frames.  However, an interesting dynamic has emerged in our own community.  Much of the initial “team building” our community went through exposed deep-seated assumptions, fears and woundings relating to this temperament difference.  The very act of reconciliation, restoration and mutual affirmation was itself formational for our ministry to the neighbourhood.

Aware of the power of these differences and the impact both “sides” felt made our team more aware of similar dynamics among the marginalized in our community- socio-economically, racially, linguistically, etc.  Essential to unity is the commitment to regular, intentional conversation about these (and other) differences.  So deeply embedded in our way of living and relating, we cannot expect understanding and change to happen in a singular event.  It takes time.

In our community, many of the introverts play an essential role in creating contexts of stability and hospitality, while our extroverts extend that safe welcome to people in the community.  The extroverts help the introverts to expand their social contact with the community, while the introverts bring nurture the soil of deep relationship that some extroverts find hard to create.  The extroverts remind us of the often unsettling call to “go into all the world”, while the introverts help the community grow sustainably.  This dynamic tension between the generative gifts and the sustaining gifts is difficult, but deeply rewarding to the whole.

Adam: What strengths do introverts bring to church-plants?

Jamie: Because introverts engage in relationships in ways different than extroverts, they can help new communities to nurture depth alongside the breadth more common of extroverts.  The new growth of the community is essential (and a true gift of the extroverts), but these growing communities can easily become social groupings of constantly changing and expanding encounters.  The drive of introverts to go deeper both compliments and counter-acts the growth brought by extroverts.  Early in our church plant, we saw how the gatherings might end up being nothing more than short lived social events, so our introverts began to nurture an environment and practices that pushed beyond that.

The introspection common to introverts can also make them invaluable in the complex decision making processes.  Further, that their introspection takes more time and consideration, they can help set a sustainable and careful pace for the community.  Church plants require a lot of time and energy, leading more than one church planter to burn out in very little time.  A healthy introvert reminds us of the need for the personal and private disciplines of silence, meditation and rest.  In a culture where success is often equated with speed and growth, introverts can remind us that we follow a different standard of success in the church.

Of course, all of these strengths can also become weaknesses and extremes, thus making the need for diverse, complimentary teams.  This can only happen when we can get past token affirmation of differences and allow the difficult tension on both sides to bring us together as iron sharpens iron.

I'll  be posting part II later this week, so be sure to check back. I also have an email I want to post in the near future about a topic I addressed last week, Christian community and "passion." 

If any of you are attending Catalyst West, I hope to meet you there! 

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Interview with Kent Annan, part II

Today I wrap up my interview with Kent Annan, co-director of Haiti Partners, author of Following Jesus Through the Eye of a Needle, and introvert. Next week I will be posting my interview with Jamie Arpin-Ricci, an introverted church-planter and all-around insightful guy.
Adam: God calls all sorts of people to daunting tasks, even calling introverts to missions in highly extroverted cultures. How do you structure your life in order to have energy for people in your ministry AND energy for your marriage?

Kent: Well I just told about the social intensity in Haiti, but here’s the great part for introverts: people often don’t do much visiting at night and in the places we were there wasn’t electricity. So once my wife and I lived in our own house, then from say 7:30 pm through to 7 am the next morning, it was just us. We’d fire up the kerosene lamp to read and write, and that was really sustaining to me along the way (and how I wrote my book).

I think we just have to find the ways to be able to give a lot, more than we ever thought we could, but also find the ways that God’s created each of us to enjoy art, reading, praying, writing, and other kinds of solitude that many of need to connect with meaning, with God, with others, with ourselves. If you choose ministry that’s working with people, then you know you’ll get less, but you can find ways if you’re deliberate (though sometimes it takes a while to find the ways, especially in a new place or new culture).

For marriage, part of why we moved out of living in a house with a Haitian family (who were and are great friends) is because we needed time as individuals and as a couple. This was crucial for us to be able to make it. I don’t know that there’s a formula, but my experience has been there are seasons in this kind of work where you get stretched almost to the breaking point—but you have to try to not let it get to where you break. 

Adam: What is your experience of working on teams?  Can introverts effectively work on missionary teams?

Kent: I think so. But you need to ask what you’ll be doing as ministry and whether it’s realistic for your role to match your personality. And if that is as part of a team, then like in marriage, you find ways to sustain yourself in your work but also make the appropriate compromises and find ways that you’re energizing for others. This (thinking of your first question) is worth thinking through well before you start mission work—what kind of work, what kind of expectations, whether it’s team-based or you can do more solo work within the mission, etc.

You want to be stretched following Jesus, but you don’t want to do something that in no way (barring the miracle of loaves turning to…I mean, introverts turning to extroverts) fits you. Missions work and crossing cultures is challenging, so you need to be realistic about whether it fits your gifts and your call. 
Adam: Your book is an incredibly honest, self-reflective look at life as a missionary, with all its joys and struggles. Is writing a comfortable way for you to express your inner life? 

Kent: Definitely. I think it’s often easier for me than in conversation. I seem to have to drill down to what I’m thinking or feeling. That drilling down can work well by writing, crumpling up the paper and throwing it out, rewriting, finding my way to what is true. So it’s really valuable to me in that way. And books are a way to connect—both as a reader and as a writer—with someone else in a really intimate way. There can be a profound connection there. As I write, I want to honor all the possibilities of that. I’ve never thought of it in this way before, but I guess one interesting part of this book (for introverts, who are presumably the ones reading your blog!) is the way it veers back and forth between this stimulating, bustling external experience of Haiti and then the introverted reflections on what it means and how to navigate it. There is so much joy and struggle in the world around us and the world inside us. Both deserve attentive exploring, right?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Interview with Kent Annan, part I

Kent Annan is co-director of Haiti Partners, a non-profit focused on education in Haiti and the author of newly published Following Jesus Through the Eye of the Needle (InterVarsity Press). He's worked in Haiti since 2003 - first living there and now traveling there regularly from Florida, where he lives with his wife Shelly and their two children. 

His book tells the story of his move to Haiti and weaves together the nitty-gritty joys and stumbles of living and ministering in a two-thirds world environment with reflections about faith, doubt, love, and God. I gave a copy of Kent's book to a missionary friend of mine, who said, "This is an incredibly honest book about the story behind the story of missionary work. I've never read anything like it."

I "met" Kent at Princeton Seminary; I say "met" because he and I lived on the same floor of Brown Hall for the 1998-1999 school year with about 20 other guys. We walked past each other in the hall, smiled cordially, probably brushed our teeth next to each other a few times, but never once spoke. Yes, we're both introverts. And while that story is amusing, I have regretted that we never spoke quite a bit in the last few months, as I have learned about Kent's work and the heart that drives his commitment to the Lord and to the people of Haiti. 

Kent was gracious, in the midst of the intensity of his work in Haiti, to respond to a few questions of mine about what it's like to be an introvert in missions. Part I is below and I will post part II two tomorrow. 
Adam: I can't even imagine what the last two months since the earthquake have been like for you. As an introvert, how have you persevered through not only the frenetic activity but also the emotional toll of it all?

Kent: Caffeine. Okay, in addition to that? It was/is a time of unbelievable sadness to see what people have lost and what those who survived are facing. My friend Pastor Michelet (I was on his motorcycle here in Port-au-Prince an hour ago) lost almost his entire congregation including two brothers and a sister. He was out doing something else for the church when it collapsed on everyone. And he’s just one friend.

It’s an unusual time—but part of what’s unusual (from an introvert perspective) is that there’s so much urgency in the situation: the needs are great, you can make a tangible difference quickly in a lot of ways, and people are really interested in helping Haiti now. So I find energy in the urgent nature of the work now, when maybe at other, normal times I’d occasionally need to find some introverted recharging.

For the emotional part, I’ve probably just escaped into the work. Focus on the small ways to help rather than face the scale of the devastation. That’s what I’ve seen Haitian friends have to do, but in a way that’s a million times harder, to just focus on what they have to do to keep life going.

I haven’t written at all since the earthquake, but want to start finding at least a little time for that. That will create some space (as an introvert) to navigate through emotions, to reflect and recharge in a way.

Adam: As you considered missionary work, was your introversion a factor in your discernment?  Did you see it as a liability or an asset?

Kent: I didn’t considered this explicitly in these terms. But there are probably advantages and disadvantages. For example, there’s an introvert disadvantage in language learning, at least in the way we did it in a village in Haiti. Trail-and-error is probably the best way to learn because you’re both learning and connecting socially with your new community. It’s intensely social.

But then if you need some solitude, then, for example, you can turn that social escape into an asset by reading history books on the country you’re newly working in. You can recharge by being alone, but you’re also learning things that are valuable for how you’re trying to connect and work with people. I’ve done this trick along the way at different stages as a way to try to find reduced-guilt solitude when the surrounding needs are so great.

Adam: You mentioned to me once that Haiti "is no place for an introvert." Could you elaborate on that? 

Kent: It’s an intensely social country in my experience. If my wife or I were sitting alone in the village, we’d find that would last about two minutes till someone came up to talk—both because they’re friendly and because the assumption is there’s no way you’d want to be sitting alone.

Many people grow up in close quarters. In the U.S. often each child gets their own bedroom; in Haiti the lack of resources for many don’t even allow a child to have his or her own bed. So the social nurturing is different. (Has that been studied? Are there more introverts in wealthy countries because wealth allows for more solitude than poverty? And in cold climates more than warm, since in Haiti you want to be outside under the shade of the tree talking with people because it’s too hot in the house…but in Scandinavia you each need to be huddled in your own homes for many months of the year? My small, anecdotal, amateur-sociologist experience is that both these would be factors, but I don’t really have any idea. [Adam: I've been working on a cold-climate introvert theory for a while!])
One more example is that at the end of an intense day and staying in someone else’s home, you might finally look forward to 15 minutes alone before falling asleep. But then often someone from the Haitian family (of the same gender as the guest) will come in to sleep in the same room, maybe on a mat on the floor, because it would be rude to leave you alone. They’re not necessarily doing it because they want to socialize, but because good hospitality demands it and they’re being nice. Of course, as you get to know people or explain the situation, usually people graciously adapt to Americans more introverted and private ways!

Monday, April 12, 2010

It's a matter of motivation

The defining feature of introversion is where you find your energy; introverts, even though we may enjoy social interaction, even though we may really like people and be socially confident and skilled, lose energy in the outside world. We retreat into solitude in order to be restored.

But as I have continued to learn more about introversion, I have also come to see that there is a motivation factor for many of us. Introverts have rich inner lives and we can spend hours in our worlds of impressions, thoughts, reflections, and in the other dimensions of our inner life. From a neurological point of view, introverts have more brain activity and brain blood flow than extroverts, and we have less tolerance for the dopamine that is released from social interactions and activity. So in many cases it actually may be more pleasurable - in terms of the good feelings released in the brain - for us to be alone or at home than it is for us to be at a party or a church activity. In other words, we are more motivated to be alone than to be in a crowd. It's not that we don't like people or are anti-social or standoffish, it's that it actually feels better for us to be alone sometimes.  Reading a book on a Friday night may feel better than a night out with friends, especially when we have spent the week in a socially charged atmosphere at work. In that case, it's not that we are choosing out of something, it's that we are choosing, joyfully and purposely, another activity. 

Often, in Christian circles, we idealize those people that have a "passion" for community.  Those people who constantly want to be around other people and who love organizing and mobilizing social events are often considered those people who have the most "love" for people, and by derivation, God.  And, let's be clear, those people are absolutely indispensable for the formation of relationships in a community.  Those churches that don't have those people suffer because of it.  At the same time, let's also acknowledge that there is more than "love for people" that is happening here. For those social galvanizers, it feels good to be around people and to see people connect with one another. They are thriving on the dopamine that is released in their brain from those experiences.  And that's how God intended it for them.

Love for God's people does not have to look for everyone like an overt, uncontainable passion for being with others. Love, as we know from the scriptures, is self-sacrificial, in which we lay down our rights and place the good of others ahead of our own. Thus, it can be a great display of love for those of us who relish our inner worlds, to lay those things down sometimes and be present with others, when we might otherwise prefer to be alone.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Interview with Lars Rood, part II

Yesterday in part I of our interview, youth pastor and introvert Lars Rood mentioned "contemplative youth ministry," a broad and growing movement among youth ministries that is less interested in entertaining youth as it is in connecting them to God in their experience. Lars explained that this type of ministry reduces the emphasis on the personality of the youth pastor, which has often been towards the extroverted, charismatic type, and places the focus where it should be, on God. There is an influential book at the center of this movement, by the way, called Contemplative Youth Ministry: Practicing the Presence of Jesus, by Mark Yaconelli.

Lars and I conclude our interview today with a question about introverted students in youth ministry and also about how to keep focus in ministry situations even when you're running on fumes, a question that many of you asked.

Adam: How do introverted students struggle in youth groups and how can people involved in youth ministry help them have a better community experience? 

Lars: Introverted students often struggle when they are put in situations that force them to quickly or unfairly out of their comfort zone.  As an introvert I will almost never instruct students to break into awkward groups or to begin sharing with someone they don’t know deep issues.  I am almost always opposed to calling anyone up to the front and will only take volunteers and never someone that everyone is “voting” to the front for a game or activity.  I also usually will want to include things that will make them feel safe and never put them on the spot to read, share, pray or have to get outside their zone too quickly.  On missions trips and camps I also try to create space for them to be alone and to have the time they need to recharge.  

Adam: A few of my readers have questions about how to persevere and stay "on" when they're in situations when they have run of out social energy. What do you do when you're running on fumes but you are still required to be with people? 

Lars: I tend to make sure that I am prepared for all situations so that I can manage my energy effectively.  For example if I know I’m going to be at a long event for an evening or if I have to preach in front of a big crowd I’ll prepare for it and almost always make sure that I have ample time after to recharge myself.  It’s a bit harder on camps, retreats and missions trips but I generally find that I can still find those times each day.  It can be hard when I feel like there are things going on that I should be involved in when I’m taking time to rest and relax but I’ve learned to try to push that guilt away because I know if I don’t take the time I will ultimately be useless to everyone.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Interview with Lars Rood, part I

Lars Rood, in addition to having an unbelievably cool name, is a veteran youth minister who currently serves as Lead Youth Minister at Highland Park Presbyterian Church in Dallas. He has degrees from Fuller Seminary and George Fox Seminary, and has also served in youth ministry at several large churches on the west coast. He is nearing the completion of the dreaded and wonderful ordination process of the PCUSA.  You can find him over at where he blogs regularly, and he's also working on a book for Zondervan on finding resources for youth ministries.

Lars told me in an email that he loves working with youth, loves the church he serves, but on many Sunday afternoons he requires a 2 hour nap because he is so drained from a full morning of teaching and socializing. In other words, he is very gifted, very dedicated, introvert.  What follows is part I of an interview I conducted with him about what it's like to be an introvert in a typically extroverted profession, perhaps even the ministry that most exalts extroversion.  

Adam:  I've seen dozens of youth pastor job descriptions that use words like "dynamic," "energetic," and "charismatic" to describe the person they're looking for. Do you think that churches consider extroverts to be the "ideal" youth pastors?  

Lars: I think Churches, students and families generally think that extroverts are the best fit for a youth pastor.  It’s part of the deal in youth ministry that there is a perception that the “fun, outgoing, good-looking, gregarious” youth pastor is the one that is “attractional” to kids and therefore that’s the stereotypical model.  Generally too the baseline indicator in the “health” of the youth ministry is whether or not students “connect” with the Youth Pastor and that is almost always indicated by the youth pastor having a dynamic extroverted personality. I don’t believe this is a good or even a true indicator but it is the case.  
Adam:  As an introvert in youth ministry, have you been misunderstood by students, parents, or other people involved in the ministry? 

Lars: Absolutely.  I’ve been accused of being aloof, unconnected, not caring, unreachable, not hard working and a whole host of other things.  It’s usually from someone who doesn’t really know me at all and doesn’t know how I run a youth ministry program. It’s very difficult when peoples' expectations are that you will be the superstar attractional youth minister and everything revolves around your personality and energy.  I’m 100% against the idea of anyone being a “Superstar” in youth ministry.  If your ministry is built on your personality you have got to realize that things will tank when you leave.  

Adam: I've read about a fairly new movement called contemplative youth ministry - could you explain how that differs from other forms of youth ministry, and how that movement might be advantageous for introverted youth pastors and introverted students? 

Lars: Contemplative Youth Ministry is a focus upon a deeper connection with God and with students' connection with him.  It is not a ministry form that needs a specific outgoing energetic leadership but instead relies upon a depth of experience and focused time with God.  The difference between this style of ministry and other more traditional models is that it takes the focus off the youth pastor and puts it where it should be which is on God.  It encourages more of an introspection of faith.  In my opinion it is a safer model of ministry for introverts because with this model you will generally not be forced into a role that you are uncomfortable with.   

I asked Lars two more questions, which I will post tomorrow, and check back next week for my interview with Kent Annan, introverted missionary and author of Following Jesus Through the Eye of a Needle.