Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Necessary Evil of Book Promotion

You might not guess from the title of my book, Introverts in the Church, that I am a skilled book promoter. Perhaps "skilled" is not the right word, and maybe I should go with something like "plodding" or "persevering" or "neurotic." But my book is in its 6th printing (so, we can safely assume there are at least 6 copies in print) and has sold more than twice what my publisher predicted, and that owes in large part to the effort I have put into book promotion. The days are over when an author could relish the quiet days of writing a book, then pass it off to his publisher who would do the dirty work of promoting it. If you have a publisher, they will work hard for you and will help connect your book to their networks. But it has been my experience in the last 2 years that the work of promoting the book requires just as much work as writing the book, if not more so.

I realize this will be disheartening to many people, who find the idea of broadcasting their writings less than enjoyable and possibly downright detestable. It even feels contradictory to the nature of the creative process, which is internal and quiet and deeply personal. I know. So, if you have a glad-handing, charismatic, extroverted, dynamo-of-a-salesman identical twin, then now is the time to deploy him.

I don't discuss the process of book promotion because I particularly enjoy it. I discuss it because I am absolutely committed to writing and I know that if I want to keep writing, and getting book contracts, then I must dedicate myself to promotion. So if you are courageous enough to write a book and crazy enough to promote it in the marketplace, allow me to give you some suggestions. Some of what follows is based on successes I have had, some of it is based on mistakes I have made. 

1. Make social media your friend, or at least your begrudging ally. Gone are the days of big banner ads in magazines and newspapers, countless radio interviews, bookstore readings, and "book tours." When my book came out people constantly asked me "Are you going on a book tour?" Unless you're a former President, a politician, a celebrity, named Rob Bell or Donald Miller, or want to rent an ice cream truck and sell copies of your book along with creamsicles, you're not going on a book tour. Even if you did, no one would show up. Except for your parents, as long as they don't have anything else going on.

Fortunately, for us, there is this newfangled thing called "the internet," which I am convinced was invented by a starving writer who couldn't sell his books the old-fashioned way. Introvert that I am, I have utilized the internet and multiple social media sites more than anything else in this process. So, if you're not on them yet, get on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Goodreads, and any other successful social media venue that is invented between now and 3 hours from now. Start with Twitter and go from there. Seriously, if you're not on these sites, stop reading this post and go join them now. Gary Vaynerchuck, author of The Thank You Economy and rabid marketer says that Twitter and other social media are here for the long haul. He called it "plumbing" for businesses, part of their basic foundation. He then ended the talk I heard by saying "And then it's on, like Donkey Kong." So consider ending all your updates, interviews, and lectures like that, as well.

2. Learn how to effectively use social media.  Setting up accounts is the easy part; building a following is the hard part. Too many authors get on social media and then use their tweets and updates as a repetitive, boring monologue, just like the way I preached my first year out of seminary. They link to their books and their writings and their blog posts and they don't dialogue with people. Social media is intended to be a conversation, not a monologue. I suggest responding to most all tweets and comments, unless it's in poor taste, overly critical, or from a potential stalker. That's why I don't respond to the Old Spice Guy's tweets to me any more.

When you update your status, talk about more than just your writings. Give the occasional personal update, like "I'm watching my cat eat a daddy-long-legs right now and I'm wondering if my writing career is like that spider." Tweet a few times a day and update your Facebook status once a day. Nothing makes me unfollow people faster than too many updates.

Start a Facebook page for your book and invite people to become fans. I have built a significant online community at the FB page for Introverts in the Church, and now I have a faithful fan base who will help me promote my writings. If you interact with people in social media, suddenly you will discover you're not alone in marketing your book. You will have advocates who can reach farther than you ever could on your own. Before you know it, you will be getting sued by the Winklevoss twins.

3. Connect with bloggers. Bloggers are the new book tour guides. I went about meeting bloggers in a very strategic way. Every year this blog ranks the top 200 Christian blogs and even though it's only one meter and there are some obvious absences on it, it still is a good starting point. I went through that list, one by one, and tried to determine, based on the content of their blog, if they would find my book interesting. I even searched their blogs for words like "introvert" to see if they had ever discussed it or identified themselves as such. I was an introverted creepy stalker. "He always seemed so nice," my neighbors will one day tell the police. But it worked. If a blog seemed to resonate with my book topic, I emailed the blogger and asked if she wanted a copy of my book for potential review or interview. More often that not the person said yes and would follow through on discussing the book in their space.

Another way that I connected with bloggers who were interested in my book was by setting a few Google alerts on the subject. Google will send you a daily email when keywords that you choose appear on the internet. Then you can follow those links and leave comments on blogs or contact bloggers who are sympathetic to your cause. 

4. Aim for making friends, not building networks. Regular bloggers, especially those who post everyday are constantly looking for material, and I have been regularly surprised by how grateful they are when you give them a topic to write about. I did make a few mistakes at the outset by being overly pushy, and I have learned that the tone you use in your communications with them will make a big difference. I try to connect with people in an informal, personal way and share a bit of myself when I contact them, and I ask them about their ministries and their churches, though never in an invasive way. I always give them room to say no. I follow up, but only once, respecting them and their busy lives. Writing a daily blog can be really taxing, so volunteer to do the work. Suggest an interview or a guest post in which you do the bulk of the work and they can take it easy for the day. 

Reciprocate. Engage in cross-promotion. If a blogger is promoting their own book, link to it, review it, post an interview with them, or draw attention to their stuff in some other way. If they write something about your book, do all that you can to get visitors to their blog, not only to benefit your book sales but to draw more regular readers for them. By doing these things you will find that many of the bloggers you contact will become friends. I now count bloggers I initially contacted for my book - people like Trevin Wax, Rachel Held Evans, Rhett Smith and Anne Jackson - to be friends. (you see what I did there?)

5. Each book needs a blog. I stole that line from Jon Acuff, who started Stuff Christians Like and parlayed that not only into a book but a new career. I started Introverted Church in 2007 and I have slowly built a readership, but perhaps more importantly, if anyone googles "introvert Christian" or anything along those lines they will find my blog in the top 5 results. That comes from 4 years of blogging about the topic. A blog gives you a home base where people can find you, information about your book, and examples of your writing and thinking. These days many people have a need to interact with the author, even if it's just reading or commenting on the author's blog. It's amazing to me how much more people will be receptive to buying a book if they feel like they have some sort of relationship with the author. So, a blog is not only about dispersing information but about building trust and connecting directly with readers. Make sure to include your contact info on your blog, including your email address. I opened a new email account just for blog inquiries.

Share your blog. I only just started asking for guest-posts and it has paid significant dividends. The last two months have boasted record high numbers, not only because of the quality of the guest posts but also because you gain advocates in guest-bloggers who will send their regular followers to your blog. Hopefully, those new readers will stick around and buy your book.

6. Practice saying "yes." I'm one of those people that, when first presented with an opportunity, will immediately say "no." It's my default. I can always come up with a reason for why I can't or shouldn't do something. But authors who want to sell books need to practice the "yes" response. I had to resolve that I would never let fear speak or decide for me, so that when the radio stations called for interviews, I answered, and when the speaking invitations came, I accepted. Speaking opportunities are invaluable for book promotion. No matter how many billions of people around the world are on the internet for hours on end every single day, you will encounter thousands and thousands of people in speaking venues who have never heard of your book. They may even be readers of blogs that have reviewed your book, and your book will still not have registered in their brains.

Always be sure to have plenty of copies of your book when you speak in front of crowds. Have more than you think will sell. People are impulse buyers and if you don't have copies of your book right in front of them, even if it's priced higher than the internet, they likely won't buy it after they leave. That's also why you need to have a very prominent link to your book on your website. Conveniently, you'll notice mine at the very top-right on this blog. Also, include regular links to your book in the body of your blog posts.

7. Encourage people to pre-order your book on Amazon. My publisher told me that this was a "stroke of genius" on my part. My book was up on Amazon 4 months before it was released, and I asked blog readers, social media followers, and all my friends to pre-order it. The large number of pre-orders moved the book up in Amazon searches quickly and also got the attention of other distributors and book sellers.

8. Identify advocates. These people are not who you might think they are. At first, I handed copies of my book to Christian superstars whenever I met them and tried to figure out a way to get it into the hands of the most influential and visible people. That cost me a book and usually benefited nothing, aside from the initial rush. The superstars are too busy, are bombarded with hundreds of random books, and are usually promoting their own stuff and don't have motivation to promote yours. The people who have proven to be the best advocates for me are not usually the most visible members of a church. They may be youth pastors, small group leaders, or not play any specific role at all but have strong ties to influential people or networks. There is an element of mystery in this process that you need to take into account, and it should keep you constantly open, constantly listening and looking for the people whom you may be led to.

9. Maintain the author mystique. This one is intangible. It's amusing to me how much admiration some people have towards authors, even when our books are relatively unheralded. Occasionally I will comment on a small, random blog that mentions my book and the response I get from the blogger will be exuberant. They will then tell all their friends about it and give you free book advertising. The danger of being so available on the internet is that you lose this mystique. This may sound trite, but this is why I will usually take a few days to respond to emails and why I don't respond to every tweet or Facebook wall comment. Somehow we authors need to give an impression of accessibility without giving an impression of average-ness. 

10. Count the costs. Now that we've reached the end, I have to close by acknowledging that putting yourself out there in this process takes a toll. Some of this pain can be ameliorated by having a clear plan and boundaries - for example, I spend no more than 30 minutes on social media a day, and I only blog 2-3 times per week. That's all I can give to the internet without feeling like it's taking more from me than it's giving. But even limited time in online interaction can, in Bilbo Baggins' words, leave you "feeling thin, stretched out, like butter scraped over too much bread."

That's why you need to PROTECT YOUR SOUL, because not only can self-promotion inflate (or deflate) the ego but the process can leave you feeling disintegrated, depressed, and tired. If you're doing most of your promoting online, I encourage you to practice regular technology fasts at least once a week and every few months to take off several days. Protect and cultivate your most important relationships, and develop a regular structure for practicing spiritual disciplines that will help connect and reconnect you to the One who put the book idea in your head in the first place.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Mothering as an Introvert - Guest Post

On Monday and Tuesday I will be posting the lessons I have learned about promoting a book, along with other writers who are represented by WordServe literary. For today, I want to re-visit parenting as an introvert. If you missed Introverted Parenting Week, here is the link to all those guest-posts.

Today's post comes from Cynthia, the The Hippie Housewife. She shares some helpful tips on how to survive those rough days of mothering as an introvert.

Some days I just don't know how to do it. Where I can find solace in some quiet, reflective activity instead of doing what needs to be done? What about ME? Can I just have one hour with no one talking to me, touching me, or needing something from me? Where I'm not being constantly dragged out of my thoughts and back into the needs of everyone else? 

There are days that are especially difficult, filled with unexpected interactions with new people, a preschooler's endless questions, a toddler's need for constant physical contact, and a husband's late-night absence at work. Even a trip to the hairdresser is filled with the dreaded small talk. Question, answer, awkward pause. Lather, rinse, repeat. Doesn't she realize I left my kids at home to get away from all the questions?

Such is the life of an introverted mother. It can be hard to manage in a culture that seems designed for the extroverts among us. It isn't generally considered polite to avoid small talk with strangers or acquaintances - and yet, for the introvert, such interactions can be exhausting, sapping our last reserves of outward-focused energy. Crowds and malls can be overstimulating.We're expected to be social, to go out and "loosen up, have some fun!", when quite honestly "fun" for us might be staying home with a good book. We regularly have to endure the attempts to draw us out of our "shell.” For those of us who don't wear our emotions on our face, we receive "cheer up and smile!" comments from strangers. 

Introversion feels like a constant struggle between reaching out to create community and drawing in to protect/replenish my energy reserves. Rather than a large group of acquaintances, I desire a smaller number of deeper, more intimate cherished friendships - a process in which I am doubly disadvantaged by my inherent shyness (a different trait from introversion). Because of this, I am careful in choosing which relationships to invest in, looking for people I can relate to, have something in common with, and enjoy being around. As an introvert, I've had to learn how to enforce boundaries for my own mental health - boundaries with strangers, acquaintances, friends, family, and even myself. I've had to learn to say no (and mean it), to be cautious with the amount of things I take on, and to jealously guard my quiet time. 

It wasn't until I became a mother, however, that I really needed to develop and depend on these skills. Motherhood leaves little room for drawing inward or finding time alone to recharge. The constant interaction, sacrifice, and meeting of needs can be exhausting even for extroverts; the additional challenges for introverts can feel insurmountable at times. I've found that these parenting-related strategies keep the near-breaking point days to a minimum for me:

Insist on daily quiet time. After the older boy gave up naps, we continued with a daily quiet time instead. As I was pregnant at the time, I desperately needed the downtime. At the beginning, quiet time consisted of the two of us climbing into my bed. He was allowed to bring two cars and a stack of books, and he was free to play with those cars, read, or sleep during the quiet time, while I either read or slept. He was not allowed to get out of bed until quiet time was over.

Now that he's older, his quiet time is spent in his room instead. He may do as he likes (play, read, sleep) as long as he stays in his room. Some days I put on a CD for him and he is allowed to come out when the CD is over; other days I give him an alarm clock and either set it to go off or tell him he may come out "when the first number is a 2."

Fill their cup. Or, "fake it 'til you make it." Sometimes I find myself trapped in the cycle of being overwhelmed, pulling away from the kids, and having them become even more clingy and demanding as a result. The harder I pull away, the harder they push for my attention. Although it feels counter-intuitive, the best way to break this cycle is to spend time focused on them. By meeting their needs first, they are better able to then allow me the time I need for myself.

Carve out regular "me time". Mama-guilt makes this one a challenge, but I'm learning to let go of the idea that "good moms don't" - good moms don't need time away from their children; good moms don't go out alone for no particular reason; good moms don't leave their husbands to parent alone because, after all, they've had a long week too.

Sometimes this "me time" is as simple as closing the door to the bedroom and asking to not be disturbed for the next hour. Sometimes it's a walk to my favorite teahouse, or a drive to Starbucks with my laptop, or a trip to the store all by myself.

My biggest "me time" fail? Joining a weekly knitting group. Great idea in theory, until I realized I was coming home more exhausted than when I'd left. It finally occurred to me that the whole purpose of my "me time" was to be alone and recharge, not to put myself in one more energy-draining social situation!

Get outside. It's magical. Homebody that I am, I can't deny the energizing refreshment of a walk through the forest trails. The open space and fresh air are calming, and it's always a relief to leave behind the steady temptation of access to the online world. With all the distractions of nature, the kids become less demanding, allowing me to regroup enough to get through the rest of the evening.

Go to sleep. If there's any temptation an introvert regularly faces, it's staying up too late, reluctant to give up the extra alone time. While time alone in the evening helps me feel recharged, getting enough sleep ensures I still have that regained energy in the morning.

How do you balance the demands of motherhood with time alone to recharge? Share your tips, too!

Cynthia is the mother of two little boys, an inquisitive preschooler and an energetic toddler. She blogs at The Hippie Housewife, where she shares her thoughts on attachment parenting, natural living, life as a Jesus-follower, and more, all tied together through her journey towards a more intentional life.

Monday, July 25, 2011

A Designated Extroverted Driver (DED)

I just returned from an incredible weekend at Laity Lodge in the Texas hill country. After speaking 4 times in 4 days, and interacting with (wonderful) people throughout the weekend, you can imagine I'm pretty exhausted. Thanks for those of you who prayed for me. God was definitely present. I'll have some thoughts to share in the near future about the topics I addressed - rhythms and a rule of life - but for the next few days I'm going to get some rest.

If you have never been to Laity Lodge, it is easily the most impressive retreat center I have ever been to. The setting, the staff, the food, the people, the vision of marrying spirituality with arts and music, all of it. Incredible. And it's highly subsidized too, so the cost is extremely low for what you get.

For today, I want to throw out this idea: Introverts having an "Designated Extroverted  Driver" (DED) to take us home after taxing social events. After we have drunk heavily from the keg of dopamine, the last thing we want to do is drive ourselves home. We would like to plant our head firmly on the head-rest of the passenger seat and sober ourselves up with sleep or internal processing.

What would be the qualifications and requirements for a DED?

Saturday, July 23, 2011

An Introvert Goes to Vacation Bible School

Church ministry moves more slowly in the summer....except for one week in July. Vacation Bible School. That's when the extroverts come out to shine, and yell a lot. But what about the introverted students?

A couple of weeks Aubry Smith imagined an ideal youth camp for introverts, and it quickly became one of the most popular posts in this blog's history. Today she gives a glimpse into the mind of an introverted VBS camper.

VBS season is upon us – another event geared toward extroverts in the evangelical realm. I love VBS, but it has always exhausted me, whether I was a child attending or an adult volunteering. VBS combines some of the biggest hazards for introverts:

1) lots of people
2) lots of noise and encouragement for more noise
3) lots of new information via the VBS theme, schedule, new people, teaching, material, etc.
4) quick activity change with no time for processing
5) lots of singing, dancing, and other high-energy activities

In this post, I’d like to give an example of the internal dialogue of an introvert child when they attend VBS. As a disclaimer, know that many introverted children love VBS and do gain a lot from it. It’s just a little more difficult for them to function at VBS than it is for an extrovert because of the way VBS is structured. Also, my experience with VBS has been entirely within the Southern Baptist denomination, with all materials coming from LifeWay. I’d love to hear about experiences from other denominations!

[Approaching the church.] VBS! I can’t wait. So excited. Whoa. There are a lot of people here. Maybe I should have stayed home. I’m not sure about this anymore. What if I don’t know anyone in my class? What if I have to talk? I think I want to go home. No, I’ll stay. It’ll be good for me. But I want to go home.

[Approaching classmates] Try to be cool. Do what they do. C’mon, we rehearsed this for an hour last night in front of the mirror. They’ll say “hey,” and I’ll say “hey” with a little bit of enthusiasm and a smile, but not too much. ["HEY!!"] Ohhh that was too much! They think I’m a major dork now. Like I’m a little too excited to be here. Ok, calm down, just be cool. Think of something to talk about…think…think….think…panic………………………I got nothing. Weather! Can’t go wrong. ["Man, it's really hot today." "Yeah, I'm ready to go inside!" and other "general consensus" remarks] Yes!! Nailed it! They like me! Maybe they’ll think I’m normal.

[Morning introduction to the festivities: "How is everyone today?"] Does she really want to know how I am? I’d rather not answer. [Emcee: "Is that the best you can do?? I SAID, "HOW IS EVERYONE TODAY?!"] Oh gosh, it’s really loud in here. Panic. Panic. Oh man, my leader is looking at me like I’m not having fun. Next time, remember to yell so people don’t think you’re hating it here.

[Worship time] Ok, these dance moves make me feel really dumb. I shouldn’t have come to VBS. Should I do it anyway? This doesn’t feel like worship at all, it feels like I’m one of those token losers they show on “America’s Got Talent.” What’s everyone else doing? Dang it, they’re playing along. Ok, I don’t want to look like I hate it here. I don’t hate it here. I just don’t want to dance. Maybe if I go through the motions, but just not as big and animated as everyone else. [Attempts to dance] What do these lyrics mean, anyway? “Rounding up questions/ Driving home answers?” Do they really think they can answer all the questions? I read a book once that…ah! We’re switching activities already?

[Teaching time] Awesome! I love teaching time! I can sit quietly. I’m good at this. Listening…listening… Asking God for wisdom…this is a good topic. In what ways do I need wisdom? Maybe…grr, interrupted again. There’s no time to think here! ["Who would like to close us in prayer?"] Ahhh! Don’t make eye contact, don’t make eye contact, don’t make… [Aubry, how about you?] Is there a hole around here? Ok, prayer. I can talk to God. How can I make this sound really good? Like I know God, but I’m not trying to be holier-than-thou? Think…think…panic…Can’t think of what to say…Wow, everyone is staring at me, waiting for me to start. Ugh. Just rattle off something. ["Dear-God-thank-You-for-today-thank-You-for-VBS-and-all-the-things-we're-learning-about-You-amen."] Oh gosh, that was horrible. I wish I had more time to prepare for public prayers! I should go home and write out a couple of “just-in-case” prayers for later – what?? Changing activities again?? Wait, what did we just talk about?

[Crafts] Ok, I can do crafts. Wow, everyone is really talky. I better think of some things to say before someone asks me a question. What kinds of things will they want to talk about?…..[Leader: "Aubry, are you learning a lot at VBS?"] Ummm…yes…I know I’m learning something, I just can’t recall anything right off the top of my head….think…panic………["Yes."] Oh, great answer, Einstein. Try to think of something to add…..try harder…nothing. Weather? ["But it's really hot today."] Wow, that was dumb. But now she knows I’m not just trying to be rude by not talking. I need to think of some things to say to people tonight when I get home, because this weather thing is ridiculous. I think I want to put more red dots on here to symbolize…ahh! We’re done with crafts already?? I don’t even know what I made!

[Gospel presentation] I don’t know if I totally understand this. What they’re saying is – wow, singing again? I hope I can remember the dance moves.

[Final songs before leaving] Wow. I am exhausted. It’s only 11:30am, but I am taking a nap when I get home. These songs still don’t make sense to me. How did we learn five already? I can barely remember them. Too. tired. to. dance. [Friends laughing and singing] How do they keep doing these songs and dances after all this? They look like they could do this all day, and I’ve been ready to go home for the last hour! There must be something wrong with me. [Leader: "Aubry, is something wrong?"] Well, I’m exhausted but I don’t know why everyone else isn’t exhausted, I’m kind of hungry, I hate dancing, I can’t remember what we learned today, and I’m not sure how to say all of this without sounding like I have 5,000 issues. What to say?? Think!! Panic! ["No. I'm fine."]

[Mom in the car on the way home: "How was VBS today, honey?"] Sort through emotions as fast as you can…hurry!! What did we learn! Can’t remember! What were the songs about!? Ahh!! Think……think….["It was fine. It's really hot today."] I need to collapse immediately. Are there really four more days of VBS? Mom is going to think I’m grumpy. I think I am grumpy. [Mom: "When we get home, I need you to clean your room and put all your laundry away. Then we're going to Wal-Mart, and all your cousins are coming over for dinner."] I am going to die.

Did you have any of these thoughts when you attended VBS as a child? Do you have these thoughts now?

If you have introverted children, how do they handle VBS?

How could we make VBS a little easier on introverted children?

Is VBS different in your denomination?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Introverted Parenting

Introverted Parenting Week was by far the most popular week in the history of my blog.  To my knowledge, there had not been such an extensive look at the lives of introverted parents and parenting introverted children. If you missed it, or want to review, here are the posts:

On Monday, the 3rd day of a 3-day weekend, Chad Jones kicked us off with a heartfelt post about the agony and God-inspired hope of an introverted parent.

On Wednesday, Helen Lee explained why good, healthy parenting, especially for introverted parents, involves "not giving my kids my all."

On Friday, Susan Cain gave us 10 tips for parenting an introverted child, leaving many people to wish she was their mom.

And on Saturday, Pastors Joe Smith (that's not a pseudonym) introduced us to the rhythms of parenting can be incorporated into a monastic life.

Monday, July 18, 2011

A couple of blog items

1. I have switched my blog's comments to Disqus. I'm new to this, but everyone tells me this will increase the number of comments and the liveliness of the conversation. I'm especially excited that people can now respond directly to another comment instead of having to weigh in at the bottom. You have to create an account with Disqus if you haven't already. The downside is that blogger does not yet have the capacity for Disqus comments on its mobile application, so if you are using your phone and you want to comment, you'll need to click on "view web version" at the bottom of the page.

2. I now have a fan page on Facebook for all my professional updates. You can find it here. So now I will only be updating the Introverts in the Church FB page with topics pertaining to my book. Everything else, including the introvert topics, will be on the new page.

Conversations with the Saints

I've threatened to quit evangelicalism a lot. Over the years I have stood in the evangelical unemployment line on many occasions, but somehow I have never made it to the front to pick up my heretic's severance pay.

Every time I have resolved to leave, I have encountered other evangelicals who are asking the same questions that I am. Well, to be more honest, my disenchantment and my questions haven't always been thoroughly formed. I have experienced a groaning in my soul that something isn't quite right, that some significant piece is missing, and others have helped me put words and questions to those rumblings.

In the past, teachers have helped me express my frustration over the often overly-narrow and party-specific political agenda of evangelicalism. At other times, people have helped me understand that to follow Jesus is not just to save souls but to participate in God's ongoing redemption of all creation and all relationships.

Most recently, I have been disillusioned with the hyperactive and overtly extroverted climate of many pockets of American evangelicalism. This time I have tried to be a voice from within the movement, publishing Introverts in the Church and dialoguing with many others who have similar questions.

In my research for my book, I had the opportunity to spend time with some remarkable figures of the past -- the Desert Fathers and Mothers, Saint Benedict, and Saint Patrick in the early centuries all the way to John Calvin and Jonathan Edwards and Mother Teresa in more recent history. I was reminded that, in contrast to our present age, for much of church history many who have had an introverted bent have been numbered among the greatest heroes of the faith.

It's been these conversations, both with colleagues and with brilliant figures of past centuries, that have kept me in the evangelical fold. These dialogues have not drawn me out of evangelicalism but have pushed me toward a deeper and richer form of evangelical thought and practice. Thus, when I ponder the future of evangelicalism, I consider it essential that we continue to expand the breadth of our conversation partners.

It's not a secret that the tides of evangelical influence in our culture are waning. I see two possible responses to such a trend: first, we back into a corner, throw rocks, and shout louder and louder as we lapse into obscurity. This is a victim mentality, in which we close ourselves off and blame others for our fate. Or, second, we use our loss of power as an opportunity to begin listening to others and to draw together as a family of faith.

In recent decades, many churches have noticed that their cultural power is diminished, and they often have gone in one of these two directions. Some have tried to regain their power by lobbying harder, shouting louder, and trying to buy more political currency. They have become dogmatic and polemical, attempting to speak over their detractors. Other churches, however, have tried to pay attention to the vast changes that have occurred in the culture. They have listened to the people in their local communities, and to broader cultural trends, and have embraced the adventure of ministry in a post-Christian culture.

A key question for the future of evangelicalism is this: Will our loss of power pull us apart or draw us together? Will churches and denominations insulate themselves, or will we open ourselves to other believers from different traditions and ages? Will we use this as an opportunity to humble ourselves, listen to others, and repent of our thinking that our tradition is the true and perfect expression of the gospel of Jesus? Will we dare to learn from Catholics and Anglicans, from Christians in Africa and South America and Asia, from believers of past centuries and cultures, from Calvinists or Arminians or even, dare-I-say-it, from mainline Protestants?

My hope is that our loss of cultural power will provide an occasion for us to lay down our arms. The world is tired of Christian in-fighting, and so are a lot of us. I am encouraged that some evangelical scholars and writers have begun to emphasize what unites us with other Christian traditions over what divides us. They are doing so by listening to the voices of the past and unearthing the historic creeds that comprise the "Great Tradition" of the church, shared by Christians across all times and places.

To listen to others in our Great Tradition does not mean that we will agree with everything we hear, nor that we will lose our distinctive tradition. But it does mean that evangelicalism will change. I think in many cases we refuse to listen to others because we fear we will be persuaded by their position and will have to surrender our own. In other words, we are human and we fear change. But vast changes have already taken place in our culture, and in order to continue to have a voice, we simply cannot let our fear prevent us from the transformation we so desperately need.

An example of the good that can come from interaction with other traditions is the increasing depth of evangelical spirituality. In the last two decades evangelicals have embraced the spiritual disciplines, means for cultivating our personal lives of faith that have traditionally been practiced by non-evangelicals. We have taken the mystical and sacramental elements of other Christian traditions and incorporated them into our Word-centered spirituality to create a richness that did not exist before. Individual lives and churches are being transformed because a few people with a vague sense of dissatisfaction decided to read the thoughts of forgotten saints.

No one can fully know what will result from a renewed evangelical commitment to listen to and learn from other Christian traditions. What I do know is that as evangelical influence continues to be pushed to the margins of our culture, we can't afford not to listen.

This article originally appeared on

Friday, July 15, 2011

Are You Shy, Introverted, Both, or Neither, and Why Does It Matter?

Today's post comes from Susan Cain, author of the forthcoming book QUIET: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking.

I have read an advanced copy of the book, and I assure you that it is fantastic. This book is a game changer. Susan looks at introversion not only from a personal standpoint, but from a societal perspective, in a way that has not yet been done. She even looks at introversion from the perspective of various religious traditions, including evangelicalism. Susan is a careful and thorough researcher, an elegant writer, and a genuine person. You can help out by pre-ordering the book. Also, be sure to follow her on Twitter and check out her blog

Since I'll be riding her coattails for a while, permit me one moment of self-promotion. Here is what Susan wrote about Introverts in the Church:

"As an author and consultant, I have seen firsthand the struggles that introverts face in a society built for extroverts. But I have also seen how powerful introverts can be once they embrace the gifts of a quiet and thoughtful temperament. In this deeply felt and beautifully reasoned guide for introverts in the church, pastor Adam McHugh shows the way for introverted Christians to find peace within themselves and their community."

On to her post. There continues to be great confusion about the relationship between introversion and shyness. Many equate the two, others try to distance them as much as possible. Susan's post is the most lucid I have seen on the topic. Enjoy!

Bill Gates is quiet and bookish, but apparently unfazed by others’ opinions of him: he’s an introvert, but not shy.

Barbra Streisand has an outgoing, larger than life personality, but a paralyzing case of stage fright: she’s a shy extrovert.

Shyness and introversion are not the same thing. Shyness is the fear of negative judgment, and introversion is a preference for quiet, minimally stimulating environments. Some psychologists map the two tendencies on vertical and horizontal axes, with the introvert-extrovert spectrum on the horizontal axis, and the anxious-stable spectrum on the vertical. With this model, you end up with four quadrants of personality types: calm extroverts, anxious (or impulsive) extroverts, calm introverts, and anxious introverts.

Interestingly, this view of human nature is echoed all the way back in ancient Greece. The physicians Hippocrates and Galen famously proposed that our temperaments – and destinies – were a function of bodily fluids. Extra blood made people sanguine (calmly extroverted), yellow bile made them choleric (impulsively extroverted), phlegm made them phlegmatic (calmly introverted), and black bile made them melancholic (anxiously introverted.)

But if shyness and introversion are so different, why do we often link them, especially in the popular media?

The most important answer is that there’s a shared bias in our society against both traits. The mental state of a shy extrovert sitting quietly in a business meeting may be very different from that of a calm introvert – the shy person is afraid to speak up, while the introvert is simply overstimulated – but to the outside world, the two appear to be the same, and neither type is welcome. Studies show that we rank fast and frequent talkers as more competent, likable, and even smarter than slow ones.

Galen aside, poets and philosophers throughout history, like John Milton and Arthur Schopenhauer, have associated shyness with introversion. As the anthropologist C.A. Valentine once wrote,

“Western cultural traditions include a conception of individual variability which appears to be old, widespread,and persistent. In popular form this is the familiar notion of the man of action, practical man, realist, or sociable person as opposed to the thinker, dreamer, idealist, or shy individual. The most widely used labels associated with this tradition are the type designations extrovert and introvert.”

Were these sages flat out wrong? No. Psychologists have found that shyness and introversion do overlap (meaning that many shy people are introverted, and vice versa), though they debate to what degree. There are several reasons for this overlap. For one thing, some people are born with “high-reactive” temperaments that predispose them to both shyness and introversion. Also, a shy person may become more introverted over time; since social life is painful, she is motivated to discover the pleasures of solitude and other minimally social environments. And an introvert may become shy after continually receiving the message that there’s something wrong with him.

But shyness and introversion don’t overlap completely, or even predominately. Recently, I published an op-ed in the New York Times on the value of these two characteristics. It touched a chord in a readership hungry for this message. It quickly became the #1 most e-mailed article, and I received over a thousand heartfelt notes of thanks.

But some letter writers felt that the article conflated introversion with shyness and, as such, had misrepresented them. Though I did make a clear distinction in the piece between the two, these writers were correct that I moved on quickly, perhaps too quickly, to other subjects. I did this because of space constraints – if I had tried to explain everything I just outlined above (and even this post only scratches the surface of a highly complex topic) I would never have gotten to the real point – the importance of shyness and introversion in a society that disdains them.

Still, I understand why non-anxious introverts feel so frustrated when people treat them as if they’re shy. It’s inherently annoying to be misunderstood, to be told that you’re something that you’re not. Anyone who has walked down the street deep in thought and been instructed by a stranger to smile – as if he were depressed, rather than mentally engaged – knows how maddening this is.

Also, shyness implies submissiveness. And in a competitive culture that reveres alpha dogs, one-downsmanship is probably the most damning trait of all.

Yet this is where the shy and the introverted, for all their differences, have in common something profound. Neither type is perceived by society as alpha, and this gives both types the vision to see how alpha status is overrated, and how our reverence for it blinds us to things that are good and smart and wise. For very different reasons, shy and introverted people might choose to spend their days in behind-the-scenes or “passive” pursuits like inventing, or studying, or holding the hands of the dying. These are not alpha roles, but the people who play them are role models all the same.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Interviews with Introverts

Here is the compiled list of interviews I have done with introverts in different professions. This is my favorite thing that I have done on this blog and all these interviews still gets lots of readers. If you haven't read them, I think you will find them insightful and compelling!

Introverted Therapist - Kristi Cash White

Introverted Recording Artist - Natalie Nicole Gilbert

Introverted Youth Pastor, Part I and Part II - Lars Rood

Introverted Pentecostal Preacher - John Lathrop

Introverted Missionary and Writer, Part I and Part II - Kent Annan

Introverted Writer - Jason Boyett

Introverted Church Planter, Part I and Part II- Jamie Arpin-Ricci

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Lots of Hot Air

Well, this week I had planned to write a couple of posts on what I have learned about book promotion, but my literary agency wants to do a blog tour of its authors on August 1st on that subject. So I'll have at least two posts on book promotion around the end of the month. I have LOTS of thoughts on that - at last check at least 18 bullet points. I'll be firing a lot of shots on August 1st.

So, change of plans. I am leading a retreat in the Texas hill country next weekend, at Laity Lodge, which means that I have limited creative energy for writing blog posts. What I am going to do is post a few of my favorite posts from the past on the blog. There are lots of new readers to Introverted Church, so they will be new to many of you. I'll have one posted about 5 minutes after I post this one. I also have two guest posts that I will be putting up this Saturday and next.

I am excited for Laity Lodge, not so much because the average high is 174 degrees there in July, but because of the topic I am speaking on and also the chance to see my good friend Mark Roberts. I am speaking on "The Sacred Groove" - how we can find and embrace our "rhythms" of life in order to grow and love as ourselves. This is a topic I have been fascinated with for a while and I am hoping that some of my material will make it into my second book.

Here is what I am nervous about. I am speaking 4 times over the course of 3 days, which is a first for me. Has anyone ever spoken in such rapid succession before? Do you have any suggestions for me for how to thrive?

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Introvert Fantasy Camp

Today's post combines two of the most hazardous arenas for introverts: conferences/camps and youth ministry. Aubry Smith wrote a post the other day that I loved so much I asked her if I could re-post it. If you were designing an "introvert fantasy camp," what would it look like? Enjoy the post and weigh in at the bottom!

Last week, I went as a sponsor with my husband and our youth group to the Student Life camp in Orange Beach. David Platt was our speaker, so I was definitely as challenged and stretched as any teenager there, but nearly the entire time I thought to myself, “Wow. Extroverts plan and lead this whole operation.” Seriously, there isn’t a single aspect of camp that has introverts in mind. So, here is my fairy-tale proposal for church camp geared toward introverts.

1) Actual Quiet Time. Now, every church camp is going to say that they schedule time for you to read your Bible and pray. They just don’t tell you that you’re only going to get ten minutes before the craziness begins, unless you are disciplined and wake up before everyone else. The only problem is, you can’t actually get away from everyone else, so you’re exhausted and really need every minute of sleep that you can grab. And it takes us introverts at least ten minutes for our internal dialogues to slow down so that we can actually pray clearly or meditate on Scripture. In my fake Introvert Camp, you get one hour scheduled in the morning and evening for quiet time. Extroverted teenagers will be finished after ten minutes and will be dying to talk to anyone to break the silence.

2) Low-key worship. I love music, I really do. But I literally had to get those little orange earplugs to stuff in my ears at camp, because the volume was making me panic. Combine the raging music with the flashing concert lights, not to mention all the jumping around and “shake or hug your neighbor and say ‘ARE YOU READY TO WORSHIP???”’ and you have a room full of stressed-out introverts who are definitely not ready to worship. My solution? An acoustic set. Unplugged. Just get a guitar up there, maybe a djembe and one of those little shaker things, and we are good to go. Let’s have times of singing, then times of extended silent prayer, confession, and centering interspersed throughout. Oh, and no touching your neighbor and saying awkward things to them. It’s not allowed at introvert camp.

3) Processing time after the message. David Platt brought it this week. I took furious notes, but after he was finished speaking, we went right back to the crazy band, jumped around, and then went straight to church group time to discuss it. No surprise: the introverts in our group never spoke about what they’d heard. We are slow thinkers; it’s why we find conversations difficult. So for maximum impact after the sermon, allow five or ten minutes of silent worship and response. The low-key band should play quietly during this time as we introverts process the message we just heard. You might find us rather talky during the church group sessions at Introvert Camp.

4) Separate sleeping quarters. Now, this is a cost issue, but we’re at my fictitious youth camp, so bear with me. We love you, extroverts, but we need time away from you so that we can really be with you. We need our sleep. We can do the fun stay-up-all-night-talking-and-partying for one night, but the rest of the nights at camp, we need to recharge. Alone. So we’re going to have separate bunks in separate rooms. Even just a little cubicle would be sufficient. Youth pastors should enforce quiet hours – which need to last at least 8 hours (I myself need nine).

5) Group time. You thought I was going to try to spend the whole camp getting away from everyone, didn’t you? No, introverts do enjoy being with people, and we gain a lot from building relationships and having shared experiences with extroverts (I am married to an extrovert, and I happen to think he’s a lot of fun). We really do want to be part of the group, and it is actually very painful to be left out because of cliques. This was the biggest thing I struggled with when I worked at Kanakuk for two years; if you weren’t a wild and crazy extrovert, few people really wanted to know you since you didn’t have a super fun personality. But we go through cycles of needing to recharge alone and periods of being with people. So yes, we love group time and hearing what everyone else is learning. Bring on the group time and the games and the silliness.

6) No guilt for introversion. I didn’t attend, but I heard that at Super Summer Arkansas this year, the speaker (a coach) told youth pastors to focus their time and attention on gaining 10 “sharks” (extroverts who are wild, crazy, and love to talk to people) in the youth group, because these people are the ones who will really make an impact for the Kingdom of God. No, no, no!!! You can serve God in a way that is compatible with your personality. My husband and some of my closest friends have confirmed that the Spirit has gifted me for evangelism. I’m an introvert! And I struggled with ridiculous shyness for years! At my camp, you won’t be made to feel like you’re no good because you’re not an extrovert. Your introversion is not something you need to “grow out of.” No matter what our culture tells us, introverts can and do make faithful and devoted servants of Christ.

7) Excitement and volume don’t equal devotion. How loud you scream weird cheers about Jesus will never determine your spiritual development at Introvert Camp. So if they make you feel awkward – no worries. No one cheers “We love Jesus yes we do, we love Jesus how about you?” at my camp. Yes, you can be passionate about Jesus without having to yell about it.

Would you come to my introvert church camp?

Aubry Smith is passionate about missions, theology, and helping the Church to think critically through her blog. She is a wife and stay-at-home mom to her two boys.

What would your "introvert fantasy camp" include? What would it not include? 

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

From Monk to Evangelist

You might not guess it, but I'm surprisingly good at book promotion. In my next post, later in the week, I will share what I have learned about how to promote a book. For today, I want to post a little article I wrote for Psychology Today, about my experiences as an introvert making the abrupt transition from writer to promoter. 

I went from monk to evangelist in one trip to the post office. I mailed in the final draft of my book, and suddenly I was no longer the solitary writer relishing hours at my desk; I had become the mingling, preaching book promoter in the spotlight of a large conference hall. So content in my introvert-soaked word just minutes earlier, I had been abruptly launched into the scary, extroverted world of "the proactive author," that half-introvert, half-extrovert dynamo who is all the buzz in the cash-strapped publishing world. Yet I resolved that I would never let fear speak or decide for me, and so when the radio stations called, I answered, and when the speaking invitations came, I gratefully accepted.

Admittedly, some of these forays into the extroverted were fun, like the few surreal times that I was "recognized" or the day I literally chased down one of my heroes in a hotel parking lot, breathing hard like a stalker, in order to get a book endorsement. Though I was of course gratified that people were interested in my work, each interview and speech made me feel a little separated from myself, almost disembodied, like someone else was doing the talking while I was watching.

If you have promoted anything, do you connect with my experiences? Do you have a story to share? How have you succeeded? How have you failed?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

5 Components in Healthy Mentoring

I have talked at length about spiritual direction on this blog and elsewhere, and also about the benefits of a relationship with a therapist. What I have not discussed much is mentoring. And that's where today's guest post comes in. 

Today's post is from Beck Gambill. She has been in full-time ministry for 9 years and is passionate about serving the church through mentoring. She's also writing a novel. You can find her at her blog and also on Facebook.

Even though relationships in our digital age have changed, the need for meaningful human relationships is an enduring reality. The Bible envisions mentoring as a central relationship in which we grow, learning from another person who has walked the road ahead of us. I consider mentoring a critical component to our discipleship. Unfortunately, it’s not always a concept that is well understood.

The second chapter of Titus provides insight into the art of mentoring. Paul instructs Titus to,

Promote living that reflects wholesome teaching. Teach older men to exercise self-control, be worthy of respect, live wisely... have a sound faith, be filled with love and patience... Teach older women to live in a way that honors God... These older women must train the younger women... Encourage young men to live wisely. Be an example, doing good works of every kind... reflect the integrity and seriousness of your teaching... For the grace of God has been revealed, bringing salvation to all people... You must teach these things and encourage the believers to do them.”
As we invest knowledge and time into those around us our church communities will grow stronger, and we ourselves will grow stronger in faith.

My experience, as someone who has mentored and been mentored, has taught me that there are at least five components present in healthy mentor-ships. Let's look at them together.

Feed yourself:  Mentors must first consume a rich diet of truth if they want to invest in others. Frequent air travelers have memorized the safety guidelines instructing passengers to put on their own oxygen mask before attempting to help others. In the same way, you need to spend time with Jesus, feeding on his Word, to be prepared to point others to the Truth they're in need of. A lot of mentoring is digesting truth and feeding others who have not yet tasted it. Understanding God's word will also prepare you to deal with challenging situations that may arise while investing in another person's life.

Listen to their story: A mentor's hearts needs to be a safe place for people to unburden the contents of their own hearts. A lot of your time spent one on one should be in listening. People are hungry to be heard and understood. Because people were created for community there is a lot of comfort in being known. Healing and growth often come from processing past hurts and verbally working out solutions to problems. Having a trustworthy listener can be invaluable.

Ask questions: As people work through hurts, learn new concepts and broaden their understanding of truth, an important part of guiding them is through asking questions. A good mentor can see the big picture in a situation and ask questions to guide someone to that light-bulb moment. You could merely tell someone what you perceive the heart of an issue is or inform them of an action that needs to be taken, but if they are able to discover the truth themselves they will own it.

Share your story: At the appropriate time transparently sharing your own story is a healthy way to build trust in a growing relationship. Personal stories are good ways of offering perspective and helpful advice in a less intimidating and practical way. Sharing stories in ways that highlight God's faithfulness, empathize with brokenness or failure and remind of ever-present grace can bring hope to those you are caring for.

Give grace: Being in a mentoring relationship can be a vulnerable experience for both the mentor and the mentored. In these relationships sin is often exposed and dealt with, weaknesses identified, painful past experience may be brought up or fears confessed. An effective mentor will have learned to deal honestly with their weaknesses and have embraced their own need for grace. There is no situation beyond the reach of the Savior's redeeming power. Since he has chosen to extend mercy instead of judgment, that should be our posture as well.

I encourage you to prayerfully consider relationships in your own life that God may be calling you to develop into a mentor-ship. Some of my richest times with God have come as I rely on him for wisdom in shepherding another's heart. How about it, are you willing to take the plunge and come along side of someone that you see could use guidance?

What about you? Do you have experience in mentoring or being mentored? How have you grown through that relationship and what would you like to pass on to others?

Friday, July 1, 2011

What kind of pastor do you want to be?

Back in the summer of 1999, I was an intern at Irvine Presbyterian Church. I stumbled upon this internship for one reason: my future wife (know at the time as my "girlfriend" - weird) was spending the summer in Irvine. Thus, I felt a strong call from God (right) to find an internship in Orange County, flying all the way across the country from Princeton. It did in fact turn out to be providential, as I built a relationship with a church that has continued to be an incredible support for me and my ministry. Some of my best friends are still there and I return to preach every couple of years.

I preached my very first sermon at IPC and the overwhelmingly positive response I received from the congregation propelled me on through the flaming hoops of the ordination process. A few years later, I listened to the recording of that sermon, and it....was.....AWFUL. I've since heard this sagely preaching advice: Exegesis is like underwear. It should support you and provide a sturdy foundation, but don't show it to people. And I realized that I preached that first sermon with my pants on the ground. It was pedantic, boring, and sounded like an academic paper for a New Testament class.   

So, here I had thought that my moments in the pulpit there were an indication of the tremendous preaching gift that God had given me. Instead, it turned out to be an indication of the tremendous encouragement gift that God has given that church! 

Even more memorable than my first sermon was the conversation I had with the senior pastor, Mark Roberts, afterwards. I was in the last week of my internship and Mark invited me to have coffee. We talked about a number of topics regarding the church and seminary and preaching. There is one story he told me that I have never forgotten. It went something like this:

"When I was a young pastor I attended a retirement party for the senior pastor of the church. I was an introverted, scholarly type who spent a lot of time in study and sermon preparation. I always had one foot inside the academy and considered myself more of a professor than a pastor. But when I attended this man's retirement party, I saw how incredibly beloved he was. Hundreds of people had turned out to honor him, and they told affectionate, tearful stories about him sitting with them in times of loss and grief and doubt. And I realized what an incredible, eternal impact he had had on their lives and how meaningful his ministry had been. At that moment, I asked myself, "What kind of pastor do you want to be?"

Mark's question has echoed in my head ever since. As an introverted pastor, my first tendency is towards study, writing, reflection, and individual spiritual disciplines. And if you have followed my blog or read Introverts in the Church you know how much I value those practices. But I have to keep reminding myself that the goal of the Christian life is love and that means that I can't let my inner life be an end in itself. My inner life must be the fuel for an outer life of love, of self-sacrifice, of hospitality, of listening. And if that means that I work a few midnight-8 shifts as a hospice chaplain, sitting with people in their pain and grief, then so be it. Because that is the kind of pastor that I want to be.