Sunday, August 28, 2011

Blog Sabbath

I will be taking off the next week on the blog, to write and enjoy the last week of summer. See you after Labor Day!

p.s. Leadership Journal has shared a long excerpt from Introverts in the Church on their website, in an article entitled "The Introverted Leader." I would be grateful if you shared it!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Introvert Saturday: An Introvert with a Newborn

A couple of weeks ago, Rachel Stephan Simko wrote a post on doing college campus ministry as an introvert. Today her post goes even closer to her heart, as she reflects on her life as a mom to a newborn. Rachel is a former-actress-turned-campus-minister who works with her husband for the Coalition for Christian Outreach She, her husband, and their 8-week-old live in intentional community right outside Philadelphia with another young family. She writes about their experiences at Even One Sparrow and about campus ministry at 15 Minutes of Campus.

Also, if you haven't read the posts from Introverted Parenting week yet, or the post from Cynthia on mothering as an introvert, I highly recommend them. This is a topic that people are clamoring to talk about!

Two months ago, I became a mommy.

My daughter has lived up to the newborn stereotype: she sleeps most of the day away, is somewhat nocturnal, and oozes adorableness. I myself have lived up to the new-mom stereotype: I worry too much, cry at the drop of a hat, and spend most of the day in bed.

And I've decided that, all-in-all, maternity leave is the golden ticket for introverted mothers.

However, I was recently convicted by a poignant post written by Jed Brewer at Relevant Magazine. In The Missions Field of Suburbs, Brewer cautions against the delusion of being called to complacency in the suburbs. Although God places people in all sorts of places -- suburbs (and maternity leave) included -- it is not a free ride to sit back and rest easy. Brewer writes, "If you're in a physically comfortable environment, you'll want to get on your knees twice as often and ask the Lord, 'Jesus, what exactly are you asking me to do here?'

So that's what I'm asking God right now: "Jesus, what exactly are you asking me to do here?"

Because, let's face it, I could easily while away the hours napping and nursing, checking my Facebook page hundreds of times each day, and researching all known facts about newborns. But is that what I should be doing?

It's obvious I won't be scrambling to find the nearest mommy-and-me playgroup. And although I actually live in community with another young family, it takes a lot of effort to interact with people all day, especially while I'm still in recovery. So when I am holed away alone in my room, I want to know how I can serve the Lord -- how I can advance the Kingdom -- while remaining emotionally intact.

In our community, we have a couple of guiding scriptures on which we have laid our foundations. One such scripture is Deuteronomy 6:4-9:

"These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts.  Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates."

As I seek the Lord day-in-and-out for specific ways I can serve him, he has reminded me of this passage. I have been given an enormous gift, but it is also an immense responsibility. My quiet "alone" time with the Lord is now shared with a small person of barely eight pounds. Instead of reading the Bible, I now read the Bible out-loud to curious newborn eyes. Instead of praying internally, we pray together. My spiritual journey is no longer just my own.

And it's kind of ironic, isn't it? -- that a person who has spent so much of her life locked away in confined rooms, quietly reading and writing and reflecting in her own brain -- a person who gains energy from being absolutely alone -- is now never alone. Now the most personal thing -- a walk with the Lord -- is moment-by-moment shared with another human being.

So this is where I will start my ministry: with her. And as I slowly recover and as she slowly grows older, I will take it day by day -- beginning each day behind a door, steeped in the Lord's presence, and asking: "What exactly are you asking me to do here -- today?"

Friday, August 26, 2011

Prayer for the day

Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, you have brought me in safety to this new day: Preserve me with your mighty power, that I may not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity; and in all I do direct me to the fulfilling of your purpose; through Jesus Christ my Lord. Amen.

-Phyllis Tickle

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Redux: Why Pastors Should Get Their Heads Examined

I finished my piece on Father Patrick Conroy, the new chaplain to the U.S. House of Representatives, today. What an incredible story. It's for my undergrad alma mater, so it won't be completely relevant for most of you, but I'll still pass it on when it's online. Next I am writing my piece on hospitality for introverts for Conversations Journal, due at the end of the month. So let's dig into the blog archives again today. Oh, and if anyone wants to write a guest post for Introvert Saturday, you've got a good shot at getting it posted, since I don't currently have anything for this week.

From the archives:

Why Pastors Should Get Their Heads Examined
First published on 5/11

Recently I received the ultimate backhanded compliment, from a former colleague I came to know in my first church ministry job. Back then I was a 25-year-old seminary graduate plotting revival everywhere I went. Now I am a 34-year-old pastor asking her for a recommendation for a hospice chaplaincy. She expressed surprise at my interest in the job. I explained that the chaplaincy would allow me to grow as a listener and to be with people in painful but potentially sacred moments. She said, "You certainly are different from what I remember."

It was meant as a kindness. Yet it felt like receiving the "Most Improved Player" trophy, which I may or may not have won on my first-grade basketball team. The subtext of that trophy is: "You're still awful, and you will always ride the bench, but we don't feel as embarrassed to have you on the team as we once did." My colleague had just handed me the ecclesial version, the "Most Improved Pastor" trophy, on which the words are engraved: "You're not the hard-hearted, un-teachable egomaniac you used to be. You should never be a senior pastor, but we can probably trust you not to bring about the demise of Christianity in this country."

If there were an awards banquet for the Most Improved Pastor trophy, I would tell the crowd what I told my former colleague that day: "Thank you. I've been in a lot of therapy." And I would mean it.
After only the spiritual disciplines and my marriage, I would give the greatest credit for my personal and pastoral growth to the numerous therapy sessions I have received over the last seven years. Whenever I interact with young pastors or those aspiring to pastoral ministry, my first suggestion is to find a good therapist. The recently publicized statistics on pastoral burnout, depression, and job turnover have convinced me that the sooner pastors make themselves comfortable on the therapist's couch, the better it will be for them and for the churches they serve.

When I consider the effect of therapy on my life, the word "unraveling" comes to mind. I began therapy because my life was full of knots, which (although they held my life and self-understanding together) choked off my connection to my true self. When threads are tangled together, it's almost impossible to differentiate one from another. They overlap and interweave and you cannot see where one thread starts, where it stops, and what path it takes to get there. Our motivations get lost in our choices, our presents get confused with our pasts, and our conscious behaviors get entangled with our subconscious desires. It's all but impossible to identify these threads and how they interconnect when they're knotted together. Therapy has been a space for me to slowly pull apart those knots and to lay the threads down side by side. I can then identity and evaluate them with an expert who is trained in thread management.

The threads of many pastors' lives are entangled in two major areas: those that relate to their calling into ministry and those that pertain to their relationships with their congregations. In all the recent conversations about the hazardous effects of pastoral ministry, I think these threads have been under-emphasized even though they are critical to reversing the trends.

My foundational belief about pastoral ministry is that God calls us to it not only for the sake of leading others, but also for the sake of healing us in and through our service to others. The call to ministry is both a charge and a prescription. Young pastors usually dive into ministry with all the idealism and passion of youth, equipped with a master battle plan for saving the world and fixing the church, only to discover that their need to be saved and fixed is just as great. If we're honest with ourselves, those of us who are drawn to pastoral ministry are compelled by mixed motives. This is not hypocritical or contradictory. It is simply part of God's healing prescription for us. We are invited to view leadership positions as places of healing.

Near the end of my denomination's lengthy ordination process, when everything seemed to be moving in the right direction, I had an unsettling moment of self-discovery. I realized how much of my ministry was motivated by my desire for the approval and praise of others. My headlong pursuit of "relevance" in my teaching and in our church's engagement with culture was too often fueled by a need to stand out from other pastors.

I found myself tangled in the knot and knew of no way to extricate myself. That was when I first called a therapist.

Young people who are drawn to pastoral ministry may be working out of unmet childhood needs. If they have been given the message that they are not good enough, their feelings of inadequacy may play a role in compelling them towards pastoral ministry. After all, who is more worthy than a minister? If I succeed as a pastor, then I will finally be okay, right? Maybe if I can rescue others from their pain, then I will find the solution for my own. The attention and admiration in the early stages of ministry feels validating, but it cannot fuel a long ministry marked by freedom and joy, nor can it impart those qualities to others. Once you re-discover your numerous inadequacies in the course of ministry (and it won't take long), disillusionment, burnout, or worse consequences will follow. Even the most lavish praise from your congregation will never heal your wounds.

Therapy is also valuable for helping pastors unravel the complexities of relationships with people in their congregations. There is a common psychological phenomenon between pastors and church members called transference. Transference is when people re-direct emotions, desires, and expectations from their childhood onto someone else. What this can mean in a church context is that members transfer their childhood issues onto pastors, subconsciously viewing them as parents. A pastor, after all, is an authority figure who speaks to lives and hearts, much like parents, and in some traditions church leaders are even called fathers or mothers. Transference too is a result of unmet emotional needs seeking satisfaction. Even though they mentally and physically mature in a normal manner, those who experienced physical or emotional trauma as children, or were wounded by other unhealthy family dynamics, may find their emotional development arrested or delayed.

I remember the first time I realized that someone in my congregation looked to me, subconsciously, as a parent. Twenty-five years my senior, he was incredibly successful professionally, excelling in everything he tried, exuding confidence and decisiveness. Yet when he was in my presence, he seemed highly unsure of himself, unable to make eye contact, and deferential on every matter, whether we were talking about the Bible or about what kind of coffee to offer during the fellowship hour. Confused and frustrated with his lack of leadership in the church, I took this matter to my therapist, who helped me see that although this man was in his 50s, his emotional age was far younger. With this new understanding, together we worked on strategies for how I could communicate with this man and motivate him to lead in the church.

Transference is dangerous because it happens without conscious thought and it often leads churches to place inordinate expectations on pastors. People hope that their pastors can fill the emotional holes left by their old wounds. They subconsciously want pastors to make up for the mistakes their parents made, to be available where their parents were unavailable, to provide the direction or accountability or compassion that their parents never did. Transference is one reason why church members can take a pastor's failure or resignation so hard. On a primal level, it feels like a parent has disappointed or left them, and they feel vulnerable, scared, and abandoned.

Compounding the issue is the pastor's temptation towards countertransference, allowing ourselves to be caught up in the expectations that people place on us. We can give in and play the parental role, doing our best to meet all of their emotional needs, rescuing them from pain and uncomfortable situations, and masquerading as the spiritual superhero. Or else we can reverse the roles and place our congregations in the position of our parents, desperately hoping to please them and win their praise. In these complex situations, everyone is looking for a parent but everyone is left feeling orphaned.

These are just a few examples of the issues I worked through on the therapist's couch. It's easy to see how the lives and ministries of pastors can be choked by these knots of tangled motivations, relationships, and wounds. We do not have the expertise or the courage to untie these knots on our own.

I'm hopeful that if pastors would commit to unraveling these threads in the safe place of a therapist's office, we could live in the reality that we are being parented and healed by a Father who approves of us and loves us. We could learn to live and serve as we truly are, and not as the person we or others think we should be. That, to me, is the key to joy, freedom, and longevity in ministry.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Sympathy and Empathy, Part 2

I don't know why I can't get this sympathy and empathy issue out of my head. Last week I shared some thoughts on the differences between the two, but I can't seem to shake the topic. Most people get songs stuck in their head, whereas I get psychological concepts playing on a loop.

I think I overstated my point that sympathy is primarily reserved for people with certain qualities of "feeling," and therefore I overstated the difference between people who tend toward the sympathetic versus those who tend toward the empathic. Sympathy is hard-wired into each human being; it is utterly natural for us. Recent neurological findings have uncovered what are called "mirror neurons," which demonstrate that we naturally "mirror" the emotions and body language we see in others. Daniel Goleman in his book Social Intelligence demonstrates how people automatically and subconsciously mimic the body language and facial expressions of others, often on micro-levels, and how that mimicking actually produces similar feelings in us to what the other person is expressing. So, if someone we talk with is sad, on a microscopic level our mouth actually curls downwards and our tear ducts are activated and that produces a sad feeling in us. That's sympathy on a primal level.

There is quite a bit of folk wisdom out there that says sympathy = feeling for someone whereas empathy = feeling with someone. What's true about that is that when you see someone in pain, and that produces a feeling in you, that is sympathy. When you encounter a homeless person and you feel pity for him, you are having a sympathetic reaction. However, the etymology of sympathy is "to feel with," which is how a lot of people define empathy, which literally means "to feel into." A sympathetic reaction is one when your emotions mirror the emotions of another person. While everyone has sympathetic reactions, there are those that feel more strongly.  Recently I was a co-speaker at a retreat, and my speaking partner was one of those people that relished opportunities to sit with people in pain, literally grieving and crying with them. She was a profoundly sympathetic person. What is most remarkable about that gift is that strongly sympathetic people can feel feelings for the other person that the person can't feel themselves. I have had therapists cry tears on my behalf that I was unable to cry. That is an incredible gift, and one I don't have.

The danger with sympathy is that we turn the feelings we have in response to another's feelings into something about ourselves. Jessica Jackley, co-founder of, confessed that for a while she gave to the poor in order to buy herself the right to go on with her life. That illustrates how sympathy can turn in on itself and become about us, not others. When you are experiencing an intense emotion it tends to close you to the emotions of others.

Empathy, on the other hand, is what really helps us open ourselves to others. The grammatical breakdown  - "to feel into" - means that we seek to enter into the world of another person. We seek to identify with them - their thoughts, their emotions, their assumptions, their questions. Empathy has more to do with understanding another person's feelings than it does feeling their feelings, though that may certainly happen to a degree as well. But in empathy we can seek to understand another person even when we disagree with them or don't relate to their experiences.

Empathy does NOT require that we have undergone the same experiences as another. In empathic response we are not necessarily bringing our past to bear on another person's situation. I can show empathy for a person who has lost a parent, even if I have not lost a parent. Again, the danger is that if you have experienced a similar thing that you turn it into something about your story and you lose the other person's grief in the process. Empathy is always moving towards the other person, going further, going deeper, seeking more understanding, fighting to keep the attention on the other.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Introvert Saturday: The Ministry of Quiet Study

Saturday on the blog will henceforth by known as Introvert Saturday. I probably won't have a guest post every Saturday but I may get close.  If you want to write a guest post, go here for guidelines.

Today's post comes from Christy McDougall, who describes herself as a 30-year-old female Pentecostal introvert from Montana. She has graduate degrees in theology and plans to teach continuing education to pastors and missionaries in Europe. 

The MTBI. The Enneagram. The Four Temperaments. The Big Five. What kind of ice cream are you?

When I was in college and graduate school, I met and fell in love with the study of personality. I took as many tests as I could (including the ridiculous ones—“What is your inner shoe color?”) and analyzed myself up, down, sideways, and every which way I could. I wrote reams of journal entries and read books by Myers and Briggs and Briggs-Myers. It was an absolutely fascinating and enthralling study.

But at the same time, I was concerned about this propensity for solitary self-analysis. I grew up in that most extraverted of churches, the American Pentecostal tradition, and I knew that a good Christian is not selfish, not self-absorbed; a good Christian goes out of her way to be loving and welcoming to others; a good Christian doesn’t spend all her extra time sitting on her couch thinking about herself but goes out and invites the neighbors to church and helps them mow their lawns or volunteers at the homeless shelter. Analyzing myself to death seemed merely selfish, nothing more.

That was when I realized I was wrong. There are more ways to minister in the church (or out of it) than the traditional extraverted ways we always hear about. I realized this when I found myself unexpectedly in a position to help two close friends, a father and daughter, understand why they had been struggling to have a good relationship. Because of my personality studies, I understood why the father acted in a certain way, why the daughter responded to it in a certain way, how I could explain them to each other in their own language, so to speak, and how I could begin the process of training them to understand each other. My internal study had led me to a wider understanding of people and thus to my own kind of ministry. My time alone had paradoxically prepared me to help people.

I came to see other results of my personal study over the next few years. I am a writer of science fiction, not a genre that you’d expect to have great ministry value, but I have found myself naturally infusing my theology, psychology, and personality studies into the stories and the characters. This love that I have for study and analysis, for understanding the inner workings of myself, humanity in general, and God Himself, has served to deepen my own fiction writing and turn it into a kind of ministry of its own. For now, my quiet writing life is my ministry.

This is what I have learned through my struggle with seeing my introverted traits and activities as an asset for the Kingdom of God rather than a liability: If we introverted types truly desire for God to use us, He will. Maybe at times He’ll stretch us and take us out of our comfort zones to do those extraverted things, but often times He will use the traits and loves and gifts He put in us to use. God made me an introvert who loves to study and analyze myself on purpose, and so far He has used me as an introvert who loves to study and analyze myself. I love it.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go read a blog on INTPs.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The difference between sympathy and empathy

Sympathy and empathy are not the same thing. Most people use the words interchangeably, but there are subtle differences. Why is the distinction important? I'm not really sure. I needed something to write on my blog. But seriously, here is why I think it's important: sympathy is by-and-large a personality trait, mostly available to people who fall on the "feeling" side of personality tests, whereas empathy is a learned practice, which gives hope to those of us on the "thinking" side of things.

As always, the definitions are fluid and the two experiences are not mutually exclusive (that could be my blog's tag line). But here are a couple of working definitions:

Sympathy is feeling the same feeling as someone else who is experiencing distressing emotions. If you are sad, I feel sad. If you are grieving, I feel grief. The response is mostly automatic. I don't choose to be sympathetic; sympathy happens to me. This is why there is a physiological application of sympathy. Organs work "sympathetically" with one another. An action in an organ produces a reaction in another organ. If you ever watch House, you know that a condition present in one part of the body can produce unexpected reactions in other parts of the body. The human body is dependent on sympathy. My favorite sympathetic reaction? The yawn. If one person yawns, I yawn in "sympathy" with her. This is why you should never look at another woman, especially a really tired one, when you're sitting in a restaurant with your wife.

You can also experience sympathy on a belief level. If someone believes that the way to economic recovery is through debt reduction, and you agree with that position, then you are in sympathy with that person.

On an emotional level, I am not a naturally sympathetic person. Note that this is NOT a moral situation. A more naturally sympathetic person is not a better person than someone who is not. In fact, I would argue that my lack of inherent emotional sympathy helps me thrive as a hospice chaplain, because emotionally distressing situations do not naturally produce pain or distress in me. The exception is when I encounter a man who is losing his wife. I can sit for hours with a woman who is about to become a widow, and not personally experience grief, but if I spend 2 minutes with a man who is about to become a widower, I am wrecked. Game over. Place head between knees and rock back and forth. That is a sympathetic reaction. A really socially awkward one.

Empathy, on the other hand, is paying attention to and trying to understand another person's feelings. As far as I understand, empathy can happen with both painful and pleasurable feelings. I can make an effort to understand someone's grief as well as someone's joy. It's more of an intellectual undertaking than an automatic emotional response. The practice of empathy involves temporarily taking on another person's internal situation. To coin a phrase, it involves "walking a mile in their shoes."

To practice empathy will involve asking questions: "What brought on this rush of grief? Was there a trigger?" And paraphrasing and repeating back: "I hear that you feel really alone and that you feel most lonely at night."

You can also empathically understand someone on a belief level. If you are Keynesian, and you think the way to economic recovery is through government spending, you will not be in sympathy with someone who thinks big government gets in the way, but you can learn about their position and understand it from their perspective. That would involve empathizing with their position. I'm really not sure why the economy is playing the analogical role in this post. Perhaps it's because I would like to see a lot more empathy in our political system. Or maybe I'm just trying to impress people by inserting "Keynesian" into everyday conversation.

Neither sympathy nor empathy is a superior trait, but empathy is something that can be learned. I also think the practice of empathy can help us keep better emotional boundaries. At the same time, sometimes a truly sympathetic response from someone can help us feel less alone.

What is your understanding of the difference between empathy and sympathy? 

Are you a more sympathetic person or empathetic person? 

Monday, August 15, 2011

Youth Ministry Falsehoods: The Wisdom of Lars Rood

Lars Rood is a friend of mine, a fellow Presbyterian, and what I call a "master youth pastor." He has done a ton of deep thinking about youth ministry, the character of a youth pastor, the expectations churches place on youth pastors and youth ministries, and so on and so forth. Recently he has posted a series on "youth ministry falsehoods." I recommend the entire series - it's brilliant. Here are a few of my favorite sections:

A few months back I did an interview with Adam S. McHugh [that's me!] for his blog the Introverted Church. In the interview I pretty much outed myself as not being an extrovert. This came as a surprise to a lot of people who have interacted with me over the years. Many of them were surprised because I clearly don’t come across all the time as an introvert. But, it’s true. I don’t get energy from being around people and I need a lot of alone time to recuperate after an event. I call myself a “Functional Extrovert” which in general just means I can “fake” it really well.

This doesn’t mean I don’t like people. I love people and being around people. I find myself at conference, camps and events sleeping very little because I don’t want to miss anything. At times I do this really well. But, you should see me in the few days after those events. I’m a wreck and really wiped out.

One of the dominate beliefs since the early days of youth ministry is that youth workers needed big outgoing dynamic personalities. The paradigm was that youth workers needed to be Outgoing Extroverts who “drew” students to them like the Pied Piper. And in many cases this model of youth ministry worked really well. The “superstar” youth worker was the leader who received all the praise, had some of the largest ministries and was invited to speak at all the conferences, retreats and events. But, this model also worked pretty horribly when that Youth Worker left, fell apart or had a life transition.

It used to be that Introverts didn’t have much place in our ministries. It was difficult to figure out what to do with someone if they weren’t a dynamic outgoing personality. But, I think things have changed.

One thing I’ve seen happen in the last 5 years is an explosion of new ways in which introverts can have larger roles. With the rise in new media we’ve had a whole bunch of people who blog, tweet, e-mail, text, Facebook etc. all of the sudden how find a place where their voices are being heard by many people yet they are not forced to try to fit into big upfront roles. It used to be that the youth workers who wrote books were only those who were also speaking, teaching at conferences and big events. Now that’s not the case. A whole bunch of new voices of youth workers are starting to write and publish amazing content independent of having to be those upfront voices or major extroverts. I think this is a great thing (says the guy who is sitting alone in his office) because it gives a voice and a place for introverts. Now we should be able to approach people in our church who might not be the stereotypical youth workers and find great meaningful roles for them to be a part of.

My challenge is to churches to really think about what the needs are for their students and ministries. I think a lot of churches think they are “one hire” away from having a great dynamic youth ministry program. In general a lot of people have still bought into the Extrovert model and believe that if they can just find that right person things will be great. But, it might be that hiring a behind the scenes master planner, organizer and thinker might actually be a better fit/need for the longer term success of the ministry.

So if you are not an extrovert you are fine. You can do great youth ministry. My advice is to do what I do and make sure to set your self up for success and have great trips, activities and retreats that you can go on and love and care for students but also make sure you have some downtime to be able to recharge in the midst of it. 

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Introverted Worship Leader

We have pretty much covered all church ministries here at Introverted Church, continually surprising people that introverts can thrive in virtually all roles in the church. It seems that God is much more comfortable with our personality types than some of us are. One role we have not spent much time with is worship leader. That ends today.

This post comes from Alina Sato, who is a pediatric intensive care nurse, a worship leader, and a pastor's wife. She has been leading worship for 19 years. She reports that she finds photography and writing to be wonderful outlets for her introverted heart, and you can catch up with her on her blog: A Pilgrim's Lens

I had been asked to lead worship for our denomination’s annual winter youth retreat. My first inclination was to say no. The idea of attending a youth retreat, much less being a leader at one, was exhausting in and of itself. But the more I prayed about it, the more my heart burned with a desire to facilitate a space for these high schoolers to truly connect with the Lord.

Being in my early 30s at the time, I was quite out of touch with the current worship songs for the younger generation. Hence, I started listening to the latest worship CDs, and so many of them were incredibly powerful and inspirational. However, there were a couple of obstacles. One was that I didn’t have a full band and choir rockin’ out behind me, and the second was… I’m an introvert. I couldn’t picture myself yelling into a microphone. I had a harder time leading the high-energy songs that the young people seemed to engage with. I really had a sense that the Lord wanted me to go to this retreat. But I didn’t know how to do this as an introvert.

Incredibly, we had a powerful weekend, and on the last day, I received some encouragement notes from a number of the young people stating how much they appreciated the times of worship. One note in particular stated, “I have never experienced times of worship like this. I’m not sure exactly why that is, but thank you for leading us.” I found myself on my knees, in tears, in awe, and in worship of our faithful, glorious God.

These were the lessons I learned from that weekend:

1. Leading worship effectively as an introvert really does not mean leading louder. In order to lead a group into worship that is in spirit and in truth, we ourselves must be free to worship-lead in spirit and in truth, out of who we are as introverts. I loved facilitating more open, quiet spaces for people to pray, repent, and receive. I think this is important for an increasingly restless, overstimulated generation. According to Isaiah 30:15, “This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: ‘In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.’” Perhaps we are shaped as introverted worship leaders so that we might be used to facilitate more times of repentance, rest, quietness and trust in our congregational times together.

2. Be humble as a worship leader and partner with other leaders who have the personality to lead the more upbeat songs. I ended up leading a lot of the quieter or medium-paced songs, and had my guitarist, also a gifted leader, take the higher-energy songs. The result was leadership that was more effective all-around, and a greater sense of unity among our worship team. It became less about me as “the” leader, and more about us as a team serving together.

3. I learned that there are introverts in that young crowd - more than we realize. Not all of them want to be yelled at through a microphone to be stirred up for worship. Not all want to dance, scream and form a mosh pit. Many of them have a lot of heavy issues on their heart that they want space to work through with the Lord. We as introverted worship leaders can be such a refreshing gift for them.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Who are your heroes?

One of my favorite questions for taking a conversation to the next level is "Who are your heroes?"  Who a person identifies as their heroes reveals much more about them than it does about their heroes. It reveals their passions, their hopes, how they identify themselves, and what they dream of for the future. It may even be an indicator of that thing we all long for: vocation.

I realized something recently. My heroes have changed. From late college through seminary into church ministry and along to campus ministry, me heroes were pretty much consistent. I may have oscillated from one person to another, but they were all teaching pastors with a scholarly bent. They had Ph.d's or were extremely well read. That was who I wanted to be. I wanted to be a senior pastor, maybe with a adjunct professor gig or two, with a breadth of knowledge, who was primarily a church educator. I went out of my way to initiate with those pastors and I sought to imitate them - their preaching and teaching, their disciplines, even their mannerisms. Most of the books I read were about doctrine and theology and teaching and leadership, and I often considered enrolling in either a D.Min program or Ph.d program.  That's what you do if you want to be a scholar-pastor.

A few months ago my spiritual director called me an "artist," and something clicked. You know that moment when you arrive home after a trip or a long day, and you let out a long sigh, your body relaxes, and you know you are somewhere familiar and welcoming?  That's what the word artist did for me, almost like it was some sort of password into another realm. I am an artist and my medium is the written word. It helped me make sense of some of my outlier tendencies - i.e. my dislike of meetings and overly structured days, and my need for quiet, reflective space, for beauty, and for words and sentences that dance.

Ever since, I have been on the lookout for new heroes. I have spent more time in museums in the last year than I did in the previous 10 years. It seems that I have to force myself to read theology books these days, but my heart naturally tends towards fiction, biographies about Van Gogh and Coltrane, and people who are better writers than they are theologians (except for N.T. Wright, who is a brilliant writer). And honestly, these new tendencies produce quite a bit of tension in my life, because I feel somehow that artists or writers contribute to the church less than do theologians and teachers. Once my gifts sat right in the heart of church ministry, but now I find myself in a circle of people that has sometimes felt alienated, especially in Protestant churches. Suddenly I find myself more wrapped up in beauty and story and mystery than I am in precise doctrinal categories. I am quickly bored by theological debate and discussions about detailed exegesis (and I have a Masters of Theology in New Testament), but I am captivated by poets and mystics, even though they still seem really weird. I have become far more comfortable with expansive questions than I am with capsulized answers. I still have pastoral heroes but they are pastors who can write, who can paint pictures in words, and who can capture the emotion and the transcendence and the color of the Christian vision in black words on white paper.

When your heroes change, often it signals a change in your community. It's like "home" relocates. And it's a painful transition, but even more painful is denying the changes that are taking place in yourself.

So, who are you heroes? Have your heroes changed?     

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Best assignment ever

Occasionally I receive writing assignments for my alma mater's, Claremont McKenna College's, alumni magazine. The assignments are always interesting and usually quite different from the rest of the writing that I do, plus they pay much better than any other publication I have written for. This month I have the incredible opportunity to interview the new Catholic chaplain of the House of Representatives, an alum, and write an article about him for the fall issue.

Of course, some of the article must be reserved for discussing his college experience and how that relates to his current ministry and his path for getting there. But I can also ask him anything that I want about his position, the relationship between politics and religion in this country, the current roiling political climate, etc.

So, if you had an hour to talk to him, what questions would you ask??

Monday, August 8, 2011

Recovering Spiritual Direction

From the archives:

"Oh, so you're like an astrologer?"

I had just informed a youth pastor at an evangelical conference that I was a certified spiritual director, and he, in a disarmingly curious way, linked me with people who look to the stars for mystical guidance and dating advice. In that moment, I realized I had another presentation problem.

Let me explain. It seems that I have stumbled into a less-than-dazzling vocation of label resurrection, of breathing life into once-vital terms that have in recent decades, especially in evangelical circles, turned cold and blue. I spent the last three years trying to restore the word "introvert" into the evangelical consciousness as something other than a shy misanthrope who resists community life and sharing the gospel. I even penned a book in which I attempted to correct misunderstandings about introverts and to demonstrate the gifts that introverts bring to their communities. And now it seems that my newest debate with evangelicalism's etymological coroners is over the term spiritual direction.

The conversation about introversion and the conversation about spiritual direction have some interesting points of intersection. In my book Introverts in the Church, I make the link between the two, saying that while many of our church leadership models are highly extroverted, the practice of spiritual direction may be tailor-made for introverts. Because of that, some of the misunderstandings evangelicals have toward introversion are parallel to their confusions over spiritual direction.

David Benner aptly defines spiritual direction as "a prayer process in which a person seeking help in cultivating a deeper personal relationship with God meets with another for prayer and conversation that is focused on increasing awareness of God in the midst of life experiences and facilitating surrender to God's will."
Though a new concept to many evangelicals, spiritual direction is an ancient discipline, practiced in various ways throughout the history of the church. Since its roots are in past centuries, many of its features feel unfamiliar to us.

First, spiritual direction is a slow ministry. Few spiritual directors will be described in words like "energetic" and "charismatic." It involves an almost plodding relationship between two people who are utterly devoted to paying attention to the Spirit's movements in one person's ordinary life. One of the attractions of spiritual direction is that it forces believers to slow down, to remove themselves from the frenetic activity of our culture, and to pay attention to what surfaces in the quiet. It requires a patient relationship that examines behaviors, motivations, relationships, and emotions, in the context of an individual's relationship with God and in response to God's presence.

Spiritual direction is also a quiet ministry. It centers around deep listening, prayer, and waiting on God. "Direction" is really a misnomer, as it rarely involves one person telling another what to do. It doesn't replace teaching, discipleship, or pastoral counseling, but is for the purpose of helping a person hear and respond to God's voice in his or her life. The director isn't trying to make anything happen or to elicit a particular response in the directee. The role of the director is to ask questions and to listen on multiple levels: to the directee, to God, and to what's happening inside him or herself. It's a ministry that eliminates small talk, except where that small talk relates to God's movements in the mundane, and is sparing of words in general, injecting enough space into conversations to attune people to God's subtle wavelengths.

Spiritual direction is also a small ministry. It usually involves a mere two people in an ongoing, developing, deepening relationship. Sometimes it involves a small group of people who seek to listen to God both for themselves and on behalf of the other members. It is not glamorous, and has no production value. It takes place away from the limelight and behind the scenes. Since very few churches offer spiritual direction as a part of their official services, spiritual direction tends to happen outside of the building: in retreat centers and coffee shops, or even email. Most spiritual directors work pro bono or for very modest honoraria.

Slow. Quiet. Small. Not exactly evangelical buzzwords. Yet those words describe the practice of spiritual direction -- and also the contexts in which many introverts thrive. We introverts often move a little slower, listen a little more than we speak, and tend toward deeper relationships with fewer people.

Over the past few years, as I have become more comfortable with my introverted preferences, I have found myself withdrawing from some aspects of evangelical culture -- especially where it tends toward hyperactivity and an unhealthy restlessness -- and I have discovered a quiet passion for spiritual direction. I have had a spiritual director for five years and I just completed a three-year training program to become a certified director. Of course, extroverts can be excellent spiritual directors as well, but I consider the gifts that many introverts have -- a readiness to listen, a rich interior life, and deep compassion -- to be wonderful assets of spiritual directors.  

I am grateful that evangelicals in recent decades have rediscovered the benefits of spiritual disciplines, though it seems that many still conceive of those disciplines as largely individualistic. Spiritual direction combines the cultivation of the interior life with the formation of a partnership with another person who can provide an alternative voice to our own, who can help us pay attention to the Voice that continues to speak, not through the wheeling stars but through his Son and his Word.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Introverted Campus Ministry

I worked for four years in college ministry - one year in a church and three years in campus ministry - and while I loved much of the work, I found it to be a quite extroverted ministry. It's no secret that college is a particularly extroverted stage of life, and those that are called to minister to people in that phase find that the social demands are high. Sometimes the energy and passion of college students are welcome; other times they are exhausting.

Today's post comes from Rachel Stephan Simko. Rachel is a former-actress-turned-campus-minister who works with her husband for the Coalition for Christian Outreach.  She, her husband, and their 4-week-old live in intentional community right outside Philadelphia with another young family.  She writes about their experiences at Even One Sparrow and about campus ministry at 15 Minutes of Campus.

I never thought I'd be working in ministry with college students.
I never thought I'd be working in ministry, period.
But God has a funny sense of humor.

My husband and I work for a campus ministry called the CCO (Coalition for Christian Outreach), which challenges students to live out their faith in every area of life.  When my husband initially joined the CCO, I was locked away in a little cubicle doing sales.  I hated the job, but I never envisioned myself joining the ministry.

And then all of a sudden, there I was: responding to a call from the Lord to work alongside my husband.  We were set up to do a five-week-long training program, and I left my introverted nature off to the side and allowed excitement to carry me through the days.

That is, until my said introversion reached a scary climax.
We were about a week and a half into training, and suddenly I was stricken with severe agoraphobia.  It was not something I had dealt with before -- not to this extreme.  I had always been massively introverted, and I had traces of anxiety in my life, but never before had I been gripped with uncontrollable, debilitating fear.  I was in over my head.

But the worst part was that this sudden bout of anxiety only solidified my greatest fears about joining the ministry:  I wasn't equipped.  I would fail.  An introvert like me could never make it in an extrovert-geared ministry for college students.  I had to wonder...

Why did God bring me here at all?

I was fortunate that the agoraphobic attack only lasted about a month, but it was an excruciatingly long and confusing month.  However, if it weren't for my intense struggle, I would have never known the root of my problem:  trusting the Lord.  I had been living my life on my own efforts and not trusting God with it.  Even with a clear call into ministry, I didn't trust that God could use me.  I thought that maybe He had made a mistake -- or maybe I misheard Him.  With agoraphobia, the Lord brought me to my knees and I had to face my delusions.  And once I relinquished myself unto Him -- once I acknowledged the fact that I could do nothing apart from Him, including trusting Him -- I was released from the worst of the attack.

If you've ever found yourself in a similar situation, you should join me and take solace in knowing that you are in good company.  The reality is that when God chooses a person to do something for His Kingdom, He doesn't make a mistake.  He has a plan, and His plans will succeed.  While I was battling with my own feelings of inadequacy, God was quick to remind me of the plethora of ill-equipped people He called to do courageous things.  I'll jog your memory with a select few:

  • In Exodus 3&4:  God says, "Lead the people out of Egypt."  Moses says, "But I'm not equipped to speak."  
  • In Judges 6:  God says, "Conquer the Midianites." Gideon says, "But I'm in the weakest clan of warriors."
  • In Acts 9:  God says to Ananias, "Give sight back to Saul; I am going to use him to bring many to my name."   Ananias says, "But he has persecuted the Christians."

In each case, God used these ill-equipped people to do mighty things and bring Him glory.  Again and again, we see examples of God calling people to do things they have no business doing.  Not only do these people feel ill-equipped, they are ill-equipped, and maybe that's the whole point.  If we were always perfectly equipped to do every work, then the glory could potentially fall on us.  We would miss out on witnessing the miraculous power of our Lord.  2 Corinthians 12:9 reminds us, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."

Sometimes God does call us to do things that match up well with our personalities and talents; sometimes the calling goes against the grain.  In my case, God made me utterly weak in order to show His almighty strength.  He called me to a position in which I had no official qualifications -- vocationally or personally.  But it was as if I heard Him whisper in those dark moments, "Trust me, and see what I will do!"

The results of this trust have been surprising, but also very confirming.  I have mentored so many girls who have struggled with similar anxieties and fears.  I am able to identify and reach out to the introverts on college campuses -- the ones who may have otherwise gone unnoticed.  God has combined the differing personalities of my husband and me in order to build an overwhelming ministry on campus.  And when we reflect on the past year, we can only say it was His hand moving, and not our own efforts.  

And I stand in awe of a Father who creates introverts, extroverts, and everyone in between, and I repeat the words of Paul boldly:  "Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest upon me."  (2 Cor. 12:9)

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Hospitality for those would rather stay "in"

I love that title. It's what I'm working with for an article I'm writing for Conversations Journal, which is the lone survivor of my recent magazine subscription amputation.  I have been asked to write an article about introverts practicing hospitality. The audience for Conversations is made up primarily of spiritual directors, and my guess is that there are plenty of introverts in that set. I always like to solicit feedback about topics I'm working on, so let me throw out a few questions.

1. What is required in order to be a genuinely hospitable person? What are the outer requirements? The inner realities?

2. How might introverts be particularly skilled at practicing hospitality? How might they struggle? 

3. How have you, as an introvert, succeeded at hospitality? How have you failed?

Thanks everyone! I've been feeling particularly grateful for this community recently. Thanks for all your thoughtful comments.