Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Church-planting Introverts

I've been asked quite a bit about introverts and church planting. It seems that many people are more convinced that introverts can pastor already established churches than they can succeed at planting a church. I find this surprising, given that 1. God's call is not limited by personality type 2. My conviction is that the success of introverts in church leadership pivots around the ability of a person to know and embrace their personal and social rhythms, and 3. Most new churches are planted by teams of people, not solitary individuals, and I think introverts and extroverts partnering together may be the ideal makeup for a new church.

Christianity.com and I did an extensive interview that is now up on their homepage. One of the questions they asked me was about introverts planting churches:


Christianity.com: Despite the prevailing opinions of most church planter evaluation committees, do you think an introvert could make a good church planter? How so? What advice would you give?

Adam
: Sometimes I wonder whether any committee would choose someone like Moses or Timothy to plant a church. Moses claimed he was inarticulate and uncomfortable in the spotlight; Timothy was young and struggled with timidity. There is a disturbingly consistent trend in the scriptures that God chooses unlikely people to carry out his mission and lead his people. And it is clear that God's call is not contingent on personality type. If those responsible for planting churches do not allow that God will call introverts to plant churches, they are disregarding biblical patterns and missing out on many gifted and inspired leaders.

I know several introverts who are currently involved in planting churches, and they are tremendously gifted people who are seeing much fruit in their ministry. They are finding that their introversion, in many ways, is helping them. They are building relationships one at a time, asking the questions that are enabling them to understand the culture and the people they are trying to reach. They are eager learners, and through listening and observation and theological reflection, they have developed a compelling vision for their communities. They are investing deeply in the leaders God has brought to them. They are people of deep prayer and spiritual discipline, which restores them and gives them God's eyes for people.

It's important to stress that introverts can be wonderful communicators and have social skill and confidence; we're not necessarily shy or standoffish. The difference is that social interaction and life in the outside world drains us. So I think the key to church planting, and any leadership position in the church, is caring for your soul. My friend Chris, an introvert planting a church in Pittsburgh, says that Sabbath, maintaining his intellectual life, carefully balancing his schedule, and finding some sort of role that helps him to meet new people (for him it's serving as a tent-making barista at a local coffee shop), are critical to his success.

What are your thoughts?  Can introverts be effective church planters?

You can read the entire interview, in which we talk about leadership, the bias towards extroversion in many churches, gifts of introverts, evangelism, and whether introverts or extroverts struggle more in community,  here:
Introvert? No Apology Required.  Christianity.com Interview with Adam McHugh

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Lent

I've always found Lent to be a meaningful season on the church calendar. Truth be told, I like it better than Advent, because Advent is accompanied by a confusing cultural celebration. Lent is largely untouched by consumerism and thus I find it easier to focus on what matters.

Lent spans the 40 days (minus Sundays) before Easter, a time of preparation for re-living the events of the cross and ultimately the world-changing victory of the empty tomb. It is a quiet season of repentance, reflection, and self-examination. It is the pianissimo to Easter's fortissimo.

Most of you know that it is common, especially among Catholics and increasingly among Protestants, to give up something during Lent, especially something that feels like a genuine (though minor) sacrifice. This mirrors the 40 days that Jesus spent in the wilderness fasting, being tempted by the devil and holding fast to God. There is nothing meritorious about this practice of minor sacrifice; it is a way of declaring, as Jesus did, that we live by the word of God alone. It is also a prayer that God would free us from the things that have power over us and that tempt us to worship something other than God. And, even more practically, it is a reminder to pray and re-orient our minds towards God every time we feel the absence of that particular thing.

This year I have decided to forego social media - i.e. Twitter and Facebook - during Lent. I should say that I deeply appreciate the relationships I have built through those media; people I have met have become friends, encouragers, and wonderful advocates of my book. But at the same time I continue to find social media to be very disintegrating. Short bursts of disparate information leave my introverted brain disoriented and scattered, and I find that I have a hard time focusing on one project at a time now. One of the great gifts I believe introverts bring to the church is a longing for depth - intellectual, spiritual, relational - and there is something about social media, and my experience with it - that seems to distract me from the depth that I desire.

So this Lent I'm turning off Twitter, and going deeper.

Friday, February 12, 2010

3rd printing sale

I'm delighted to announce that Introverts in the Church has gone into its 3rd printing.  Continuing the tradition, for the next week I am offering autographed copies at a discounted price.  $12 for shipping in the US, $13 for Canada, plus $3 shipping/handling.  The Paypal button on the right sidebar will point the way.

There are a lot more of us out there than people think, huh?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Labels

We all know that labels can be limiting, restrictive, and oversimplistic. We can use labels to control or pigeonhole other people, or we can use labels as an excuse for inaction or lack of growth.

That's the objection that some people have towards a label like "introvert." Even if they exhibit the telltale signs of introversion - finding energy in solitude, processing internally, a rich inner life, fewer relationships and interests - they still do not want to wear the label. They object that others will use it to reduce them or that the human personality is so complex and multifaceted that it cannot possibly be delineated so narrowly. They want to be treated as a whole person, not as a category or caricature.

I sympathize with such a mentality. There is a Gen-X sensibility in me that says "Curse your labels! You can't limit me!" And of course, each person is unique and we'll never completely grasp the full, profound mystery of the human person.  But I've come to see that there are very positive things about labels as well.

Here's the thing. We already use labels to describe people's personalities all the time.  We may say someone is "outgoing" or "reserved," "organized," or "spontaneous," "intellectual" or "emotional," to give a few examples.  A temperamental inventory like the Meyers Briggs takes those labels and distills them, with thorough observation and research, into precise, psychologically grounded categories.  This precision enables us to have widespread agreement on the definition of our terms and eliminates some of the ambiguity and guesswork in our discussions about temperament. Observing these larger patterns in the population, and using this agreed upon terminology, helps us to understand each other and to relate to one another in a variety of contexts - socially, professionally, romantically.  

While labels can be limiting, they can also be incredibly freeing.  Many people who have read Introverts in the Church have told me how powerful it is to have themselves described in language they had never used, but that fits them very accurately.  [Here's one great, funny story of that experience] Some have told me that I know them better than they know themselves (!), but I had the same experience when I learned the precise definition of introversion a few years ago.  I breathed a deep sigh of relief when I first read the list of introverted characteristics, because it meant that I was normal!  Millions of people in the world have the same tendencies that I do, and I felt less alone.

And probably the best thing about temperamental labels like introversion is that they help build us relationships.  They help us connect with like minded people - and we all need other people who understand us and know exactly what we're talking about when we describe something about ourselves - and they help us connect with different sorts of people too. 

They key is to use our labels as starting points, not ending points, and as ways to love one another, not limit or reduce each other.  And of course, our foundational label will always be child of God!       

Friday, February 5, 2010

Interview on Psychology Today

If you haven't visited The Introvert's Corner on the Psychology Today website, it's a tremendous and popular resource. It's among the very best online tools for helping introverts in our extroverted world.

This week I was interviewed by Sophia Dembling, the Introvert's Corner blogger. It's always fascinating to hear the perspective of someone on the outside of the church. She asked me how churches are biased towards extroversion, the gifts introverts bring, and the biblical resources I go to for comfort and strength.

An Interview with Adam McHugh, author of Introverts in the Church. Introvert's Corner/Psychology Today

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Christianity Today

Christianity Today's review of Introverts in the Church is now online:

Introverts for Jesus, Unite! Christianity Today

You can read my response here.  I'll be curious to hear your thoughts, especially those of you that have read the book.