Confessions of an Introverted Pastor (and Christian)

Most folks are surprised when I say I am an introvert.  Yes, I do, literally, dance in front of crowds!  (cf,  Liturgical Dance: Live Like You Were Dying)  But, what folks may not see or know or believe is how much it all wears me out–not just in body but in emotion/psyche.

Here, it’s important to have the right definition of introversion before we proceed much further.   Dr. Ruth Barnhouse (at seminary, we called her “Dr. Ruth”… and for more than the fact that her name was Ruth) defined introversion and extroversion on the basis of what “charges and replenishes spirit/psyche when one is drained”–i.e., “when you’re tired, does being with people give you energy or does it drain you?”  On the basis of this definition, I am clearly an introvert.  Yes, I can dance and preach in front of a crowd!  But it takes time for me to recover from it all–low-key time, “down” and away!  (As I have shared this concept with others, I have explained the difference between Kathy and me.  She goes to a family reunion and says, “Wow!  When can we do that again?!”  I go to the same get-together and come out saying, “Whew!  Glad we got that over with for another year!”  Mind you, I love the folks!   I really do!  It just takes a lot of energy to stay engaged and focused!)

It’s not easy, I might add, to be an introverted pastor in your typical mainline Protestant congregation.  Nor, for that matter, is it easy to be an introvert member of a typical Protestant congregation.   There’s such a premium placed on extroversion.  Activities (from Worship to Evangelism to “Fellowship”) favor the extrovert.  That’s part of what fellow Pastor and introvert, Adam S. McHugh, discusses in his Introverts in the Church.  (I so appreciated when I came across his book a few years ago!  Finally, a sense of “I’m not alone” and “I’m normal [at least, in this area].”  You might want to engage more of what McHugh has to say at his website,  www.introvertedchurch.com/.)

Having said all this, you can understand why an article on introverted leaders caught my eye (and heart) this morning–prompting this post.  Ron Edmondson’s “Seven Pitfalls of Being an Introverted Leader” conveys a lot of the things I wish folks knew about me–as a person and as a pastor:

I am an introvert. With all my public appearances on Sunday mornings, this surprises many people. But in my private life and with those closest to me, there is no questioning that fact.

If anything, the larger our church has grown, the more introverted I have become. 

I wish I were otherwise, but this is how I am wired.

Here are 7 pitfalls of being an introverted pastor:

1. People often think I’m arrogant, aloof, or unfriendly.   Now, I may be a lot of negative things, but those are not really the main three.  I sometimes have to go back and apologize once I hear someone thinks I avoided them. This happens especially with extremely extroverted people.

2. I sometimes hesitate to make the connections I should.  When this happens I could miss opportunities to build my network.

3. I’m worn out after a long day of talking and need time alone to rejuvenate.  This can impact my family time if I’m not careful.  It also leads to people at the end of the day telling me I look tired…guess what? I am!

4. Crowded rooms, which I love in terms of reaching people for Christ, are actually intimidating to me as a person.  

5. I’m not as quick-witted when in crowds…  and when I try to be, I sometimes appear awkward on first impressions.  [JR: maybe that’s why so many of my jokes flop in worship!!??!]

6. My introverted tendencies add stress to my life.  I realize the need to talk with people…it’s what I do, but wrestling through the introverted tendencies actually adds even more stress to my life.

7. If I’m not careful, and thankfully I’m fairly disciplined here, I will close out people from really knowing me.  This subjects me to all kinds of temptations, anxiety and even depression.

Now, don’t get me wrong here!  By so sharing, I do not intend to say, “now this is the way I am wired… accept it and live with it!”  Truth is, just as the extrovert must moderate their behavior at different times, so must I.  (I especially feel this as I age!  “O Lord,” I pray,  “I do not want to become a recluse!!!”)  No, I share this as a way of asking you to “be patient with me and pray for me (in just one more way)…  God isn’t through with me yet!”

And maybe there’s one more reason to share: if, perhaps, it gives another, fellow introvert in the Faith a little more permission to accept the way they are wired.  If such be the case with you, I sound this call and invitation: “Introverts of the world unite!  But, you, over there… and you, over there… and…”

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