Slinkers and Strollers

introvert-pic-goldfishIn a survey of Christian students, 97% reckoned Jesus was an extrovert*. Now, given that He’s the model of real and perfect humanity, what do we make of this? Blessed are the sociable? Thou shalt Mingle More?

I’m not convinced.

On the one hand, Jesus was utterly outgoing – ministering long after the rest of us would have jumped into our pjs and locked the doors. But so often we define extroversion and introversion in terms of what works for us:  for example: do people invigorate you?  Or do they sap your spirits? I can’t find the bit where Jesus says ‘large groups work best for me – that’s where I get my energy’. Instead, He seems to ‘energise’  -neither on His own, or in groups – but with His Father.

Jesus doesn’t really fit the mould. Which suggests that the mould might be faulty.His self-giving was never about a personality preference but a genuine expression of service. In the same way, different situations call for different approaches – and no personality type is Always Right. Extroverts can’t claim to be godlier because they’re temperamental Tiggers – sometimes the Christlike thing for them to do is hold back to serve others. Equally introverts can’t simply hide behind ‘a personality type’ – there are times when they’re called beyond their comfort zones to show love. Plus, most of us are a mixture of the two.

Whilst some stroll confidently into the heartbeat of church life, others slink into the back pews. Here’s how some ‘introvert’ friends have described their experience:

‘Bad days make church seem overwhelming and hard to handle.  But within the large, I have a handful of dear friends who know a lot and can support and help. It’s all about the relationships’.

‘Social anxiety is worse for me in church because I feel churches have so many cliques and behaviour that is expected of you.  I feel I need to conform and when I see a big group talking together and I’m not with them, I feel awful’.

‘My anxiety is at its worst in social situations.  Even something as simple as trying out a new church- the thought of standing around in the lobby sipping tea and desperately looking around for someone to acknowledge me is enough to fill me with panic and dread for the entire weekend leading up to church.  I get anxiety around people I don’t know well and in group situations’.

Don’t judge …try to understand…. accept with love… understand that just because I am the last one in church and the first one out – it is not because I am being unfriendly – it is because I am frightened of people. I want to be involved – I don’t want to be on the edge, excluded. I am worth getting to know but I struggle to interact socially. I look longingly at those chattering away, laughing and hugging as I sit alone in the pew pretending to read the notices!’

How then, do we love with each other in the body of Christ? How can we make church welcoming for the slinkers as well as the strollers?

  • don’t force everyone into the front pews.  Leave spaces at the back for those who feel safer near an exit.
  • offer quiet places and times for folks to pray or reflect (either alone or with others). Don’t ask them to pray out loud.
  • don’t take offence if some people are not good at small talk or whizz off after meetings
  • recognise that people worship in different ways.  For some this might mean sitting rather than standing, or not singing as well as belting out tunes.
  • remember that involvement in activities is not necessarily a sign of whether or not someone is committed to church.  Take time to find out individual gifts and often a variety of ways of serving – for example, prayer rotas. If it helps, offer people low-pressure roles to help them interact.
  • teach new skills in small groups or private
  • be patient and gentle in conversation – especially if someone seems stressed, make inappropriate comments or run for the exit
  • don’t draw attention to them – check before asking folk to stand up in church or singing happy birthday to them
  • give people time to think through new ideas or make decisions
  • try to keep meetings short, provide breaks and keep to time
  • emphasise the variety of personalities and giftings that God has given us: and don’t promote a particular ‘type’ of person or Christianity.  Some new converts will want to share their faith with the world – and that’s brilliant.  But some will take time ton think things through and want to be more private – that’s brilliant too.
  • give advance notice of changes to schedules or meetings etc
  • remember, introverts can also make good leaders!
  • don’t try to convert them to ‘extroversion’, either up-front ‘make some NOOISE!’ or in private, ‘you just need to mingle’ etc

 

‘For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ…. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell?’

(1 Corinthians 12:12–17)

* Source:’Introverts in the Church: Finding our Place in an Extroverted Culture’, Adam McHugh.

6 thoughts on “Slinkers and Strollers

  1. thanks Emma – this is great advice. I well remember our vicar getting the idea that we all had to sit close together at one point- no sitting in the back pews. Suffice it to say, I very nearly found another church – and I loved that church and really don’t believe in moving churches on a whim – it was just. too. much. Thankfully, a little meltdown in his general direction seemed to solve the problem!

  2. Interesting and helpful to think about from that side. Expecially as someone who is definitely an extrovert. Though I do especially like the idea that the mould is wrong. Too often as a loud extrovert I feel like Godliness is equated to introvertedness, that my personality is ‘wrong’ and I need to be more like the quiet, considerate introvert and just be OK with being alone and learn not to need to talk things through with people. This is a caricature but it is right that we all need to be more like Jesus not more like the other ‘vertedness

  3. Blessed are the sociable…brilliant Emma! After reading this my head went to the way we think about youth and children’s work. We often think you need to be an extrovert to be a leader. I remember someone trying to dissuade me because I wasn’t extrovert enough from a church post as a youth worker. If I had the presence of mind, I would have asked ‘but what about the introvert kids? Don’t they need Jesus?’ But I didn’t think of that! Also, I think there is far too much emphasis on conversation as a deeply cherished value in church life. What happens if we are better at just inviting someone around to help garden together or push the kids on the swings? A very helpful post I shall refer to again, particularly if it helps kick Myers-Briggs into touch which is a nightmare of a tool!

  4. Very true Simon: one of the reasons I gave up leading kid’s work is because I felt like had to be especially ‘up’ – and I didn’t have the energy. If I were to go back now, I think I’d do a lot of things differently: as you say, what about the introvert kids? And the gift of swing pushing? :-)

  5. Thanks Caitlin: excellent point about introverts being sometimes seen as ‘godlier’ (probably because they say less and give themselves away at a later stage!)

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