August 8, 2011

An Introvert's Place in a Church Community

Over the past decade or so there has been a huge upswing in the amount of talk/discussion/sermonizing about being a part of a church 'community' or 'family.' Listening to these discussions, you'd tend to believe that it is somehow wrong, or even sinful, to keep your spiritual life largely to yourself while simply attending just the weekly worship services. This misconception is understandable, especially knowing that preachers are almost all extroverts, as are the majority of people they encounter and work with. Getting the introverts to be a comfortable part of a church community takes understanding and work from both the extroverts and the introverts, but it can be done effectively and lovingly.

Back when this movement to strengthen the sense of community in churches started, I left a church, partly because of the incessant pressure to participate in "small groups" and other functions outside of worship services. I was left with such a bad taste from that experience (and others) that I refuse to ever attend a church of that denomination ever again, except for a funeral service. Since I didn't attend the first couple of meetings of the small group, I was put on the 'telephone ministry' list (my term for it). This started off with weekly calls from two or three of the small group members entreating me to join their weekly get-together, and eventually became near-daily calls from one member that I assume was assigned to get me to come back into the fold. Out of all that pressure, this introvert quit going to church, and didn't attend another one for almost a decade. So exactly whom was the beneficiary of all of that 'evangelism'? Not the church or the small group, since I quit entirely. Not me, since I was apart from even a small part of communal worship. And certainly not God. So how can we change this and bring introverts and extroverts together as one vibrant, effective community?

First, the extroverts in the church need to understand how an introvert functions, and that being an introvert isn't somehow wrong or subversive to this renewed effort to re-establish the close nature of the first-century church. The first problem to look at is that there is no history of monasticism in the vast majority of church denominations that have arisen since the years of the reformation and restoration movements. This is a mixed bag of blessings and curses, though; the removal of layers of hierarchy and separation being a good thing, but the near-complete ignorance and indifference to the needs of introverted people being a bad thing. At one time in history, there was a great support for monastically and eremitically inclined people from the church at large, to the point that it became fashionable for wealthier people to support a silent monk or a mendicant friar on their own property. Our modern world doesn't lend itself well to that kind of lifestyle for most people, and most introverts don't want to be cut off completely from their fellow man. (We actually crave the feeling of community, but we get it differently than extroverts, by forming deep relationships with a few people, rather than more casual relationships with many people.) A few good-hearted extroverts understanding that about introverts can go a long way towards bringing comfort and community to those of us that just can't jump into the community life with such ease.

Second, we introverts need to fully understand how we can be an effective part of the church community, and that we are needed to be a part of that community. We have to understand the needs of our introversion, how it makes us behave, that it is not somehow 'wrong' or 'sinful' in any way, and that we can meet some needs of some individuals in ways that most extroverts cannot. We are a part of the Body, regardless of whether or not we feel that way, and 1 Corinthians 12:15ff explains it perfectly. The Body has many parts, and each has an important function to allow the body to work in complete wholeness. It has a voice to proclaim the Gospel, feet to carry the message, hands to reach out and help with work, but also ears to hear, a mind to understand and a heart to empathize, and shoulders to cry upon. Knowing our strengths and weaknesses in these areas, helps us to know our function and purpose in Christ's Kingdom, helps to complete the Body in our individual churches, and ultimately helps to bring wholeness to ourselves.

The third point I have here is important to both introverts and extroverts in making our church bodies complete. Once we understand our place in the Body, and the job that our part does, we have to learn to be most effective in that job. And learning how to be most effective usually requires work, and uncomfortable work, at that. For an extrovert, that might mean making a conscious decision to spend more time in prayerful introspection on one's own life. For the introvert, it could mean making ourselves step out of ourselves, and reaching out to the inner being of another, while letting that person touch our inner being also. And for both groups to do either effectively requires the help of the other group, and doing that helps us all to better help anyone we may come across. And, ultimately, that is what God wants us all to do, isn't it?

Whichever side of the Introvert/Extrovert spectrum we fall on, integrating ourselves into one Body effectively will require us to step outside of our comfort zone and try something different that what we normally do. And that will ultimately bring us comfort, as individuals, as parts of the Body, and as a whole and complete Body.

Ready to take that step out of the comfort zone with you,

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