In a society where around 50% of people are introverts, but the accepted measure of normallity is extroversion, the quiet person is at a disadvantage. Extroverts often consider introversion as a deficiency – that the person is either a snob, or antisocial, or even socially incompetent, In the church introverts are frequently seen as needing healing. Introverts themselves, on observing these reactions, often fear that it is true. They long to be “like everyone else” so they could move with ease in social situations.
If they were able to fulfil this desire, the world would be immeasurably poorer for their loss.
In Introvert Power: Why Your Inner Life Is Your Hidden Strength Laurie Helgoe says the opposite of social is not antisocial, but asocial. ‘Antisocial’ is a pathology that can afflict both introverts and extroverts. She goes on to also say that the opposite of social is not introverted. An introvert may be a deeply social person who just prefers to interact with people in a very different way. The introvert is oriented to the inner world, and so would prefer to go deeper into conversations with just a few people, and have time and space between conversations to reflect on what was shared and to prepare for the next time.
I Like Helgoe’s analogy of people being like hotels. On page 6 and 7 she says:
If we think of each person as having a finite amount of interpersonal space, an extrovert is more like a hotel – able to accommodate a large number of interactions that come and go. Note that I said interactions, not people. Extroverts are often able to accommodate more people as well, but because extroverts wrap up the interactions in the interaction, even a close friend may check in and check out as needed. An introvert may have the same square footage, but each meaningful interaction is reserved in its own luxury suite, awaiting the following interaction. Bookings are more limited.
As for introversion being an indication of social incompetence, this is also false. Of course, because introverts are expected to willingly fit in with events which are more often designed by extroverts for extroverts, they themselves will often feel socially inept, and appear so to others who see them struggling to socialise. It is hard for an extrovert to understand that an introvert will feel far more lonely in a crowd than if they were with just one or two people, or just alone. This loneliness can cause them to fear such social occasions. Interacting in such an environment is emotionally exhausting. They will defend themselves by avoidance.
On the other hand, put the average extrovert into a small group situation in which deep sharing is expected and they will probably unconsciously try to dominate it with their talking, keeping the conversation safely on surface issues. This is their defence.
Which is right and which is wrong – introversion or extroversion? The answer is, of course, neither. Both personality types need to appreciate each other and be prepared to adapt.
Does this mean that introverts and extroverts would be better off working in different spheres? Not at all, but this is all too often what happens, and it is a big mistake. Both types are needed in any group, ministry or event, and both types really need each other.
As an introvert I have often looked at well-functioning leaders and assumed that they were extrovert. Far too often I have been wrong. Introverts can function well in any field if that is what God wants them to do. It might be even harder for an extrovert to excel in an area requiring deep, personal, one-to-one, sensitive interaction, but this too can happen.
However, the best scenario is one where introverts and extroverts work together, each using their giftings in the most appropriate way to complement each other.
In 1992 I was introduced to a version of the Myers Briggs method of assessing personality types. At that time I was typed as an INTP – which denotes Introversion, Intuition, Thinking and Perception. The test I took also included a circle of influence, indicating how far I could move from that preferred type before I found it too difficult. In other words, how big was my comfort zone? Mine was quite small. I would be an Analyzer, and my best friend might have been Mr. Spock from Star Trek!
As I became involved in learning about, receiving, practicing, and eventually teaching prayer counselling, I changed. I took the test every few years, and a remarkable thing was shown. I always tested out as INTP, up in the Analyzer quadrant, but each time, the centre of my circle of influence moved nearer to the origin of the graph, and it also increased in size. Today, if I was tested again you would see that I still prefer the INTP comfort zone, but there is considerable overlap into the Controller, Worker and Socializer quadrants so that I am also able to function there if needed. What I consider to be important about this is that being an introvert is OK and does not need healing. What needed healing was my inability to adapt when necessary.
As an example of a person operating beautifully while well outside their comfort zone, I once heard Graham Cooke prophesy and teach powerfully for three days to a conference of several thousand people. The Lord used him mightily. At one point he shared that he is an introvert. Getting up on that stage in front of so many people, all expecting him to minister prophetically and supernaturally to them, is one of the hardest things he could do. On top of that, he was suffering at the time from a debillitating brain disorder that made it even more difficult. He has had to make a bargain with the Lord – if Jesus will be on the platform with him and enable him to hear and see what is needed then he will do and say what he needs to do and say. He shared that this is exactly what happens. He also told us that as soon as he steps down from the platform all he wants to do is run and hide!
My own experience is not dissimilar. I spent my early career with technology. It’s easier to work with electronics, computers and robots – they expect nothing from you. Yet, I always had a hankering for the academic life. I suppose I had some idealised ivory tower image of being able to shut myself away with books, but the thought of having to also teach a class seemed like an undesirable side effect. The reality is that the Lord eventually openned a door for me to become a university lecturer, and gave me the courage to go through it. I had no training in teaching, and with only a first degree in mathematics ( a good subject for nerds) and an amateur radio licence, I was not qualified to be a university lecturer in electrical and electronic engineering. But Victoria University wanted me because of my practical experience in robotics, computer programming and design.
My introduction to teaching came after they had accepted me for the position. I gave a demonstration lecture to the professor and a number of the staff so they could see if I could make myself heard with my quiet voice. Two weeks later, on the first day of semester one, I began lecturing on microprocessor technology in a large theatre to 100 new engineering students. To my surprise I found that I could do it, and do it very well, and I soon grew to love it. It was not long before I was teaching post-graduate students and developing my own specialized subjects and teaching material in artificial intelligence, and in the history and ethics of technology. One of my project students won a national AI prize and went on to work for NASA on the Mars Rover project.
I continued teaching for 13 years, picking up a masters degree in electrical and electronic engineering along the way to qualify myself for the job I already had. I loved the teaching and the research, but hated the administration all academic staff were required to do.
There came a time when I knew it was time to move. The Lord made it possible financially, and having completed a part time honours degree in theology I was appointed, with my wife Diana, to the pastorate of our church, Williamstown Baptist Church. This was something I never thought could happen, and yet, again, I believe we do it well.
Diana is not an introvert, and she and I function well as a team, with personality types, natural and spiritual giftings, and callings which are complementary. Together we fill that anomalous position called ‘pastor’, in which one person is unreasonably expected to be apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, teacher, administrator, intercessor, preacher, visitor, cleaner, and photocopier technician. I still hate administration. We are working at redefining our roles in line with each person’s calling. In fact, with the Lord’s help, we are reworking what was a traditional Baptist church into the flat-structured, Jesus-headed, simple, organic, network of small churches that it would have looked like in the First Century.
Along this journey I have learned so much about who I am as God has made me. I’ve learned about the value of highly-sensitive people such as intercessors and burden bearers; about prophets and seers; about the misused and abuse role of apostle; about how to use your imagination for what God created it – not just to make things up but in far richer ways for hearing his voice, seeing into the future and the spiritual realm, and perceiving people’s hearts. I’ll probably share more of these things in time, but for now you might visit the teaching pages at our Listening to God website.
If you want to look further into these things then, apart from Helgoe’s book above I also suggest Marti Olsen Laney’s The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert World, and for a view from the church world, Adam McHugh’s Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture.
As an INTP, which is commonly called the ‘Thinker‘, I am certainly in good company. Albert Einstein has always been one of my heroes. You know, if I had to choose, then for all its pain and struggle, its loneliness, its lack of acceptance by others, I would still choose to be an introvert at heart. In short:
I LIKE WHO I AM!