Adam S. McHugh
InterVarsity Press: 2009
Church should be a refuge from the stress and anxiety of the world. Unfortunately for many, services are, from start to finish, a cause of anxiety. As my wife and I visited churches in the past in search of a place to worship, we came to dread certain things: the endless, almost suspicious questions from total strangers, the forced smiles and empty words during the ever hated “meet and greet,” the music leader’s insistence on clapping, raising hands, closing eyes, (or whatever that particular person considers to be a display of true worship), etc… While some see these things as signs of liberated, spiritual worship, others see them as shallow, frivolous torture.
If you’ve ever intentionally walked into church late in order to miss meet and greet, or left early to avoid “fellowship,” or been accused of not loving the church because you skipped the church super bowl party, then you’ll be thankful for Adam McHugh’s Introverts in the Church.
Not quite sure about the difference between introverts and extroverts? McHugh does a great job of explaining the two personalities, while correcting many of the misunderstandings. An introvert, he says, is not someone who is shy, anti-social, snobby, cold, or backward. Rather, an introvert is one who gains energy and strength from solitude and contemplation. Extroverts gain energy through social interaction, while social interaction drains the energy of introverts. Therefore, introverts need alone time to “recharge.” They also prefer to spend more time thinking than speaking (that’s not such a bad thing!), and they need more time to process thoughts. Most introverts can identify with McHugh’s own preferences: “If I could, I would spend hours every day in my study—thinking, reading, and writing.”
That’s not to say that relationships are not important. Relationships and leadership are really what this book is about.
Many leadership “experts” claim that an extroverted personality is essential to being an effective leader, but McHugh challenges that. Though lots of extroverts are great leaders, both in and out of the church, there is certainly a place for the introverts. Pastors, after all, need to feed themselves before they can feed the flock. We could benefit from more thoughtful, studious, and contemplative leadership:
“In an increasingly fragmented, fast-paced, chatter-filled world, I consider the greatest gift introverts bring to the world and the church to be a longing for depth. Spiritually mature introverts offer an alternative to our contemporary lifestyle, one that is thoughtful, imaginative, and slower,” pg 69.
“People who think before they act and listen before they talk can be very effective leaders. The reflective, thoughtful person may be able to learn, and encourage learning, in ways that people who can’t stop talking are not able to,” pg. 124.
And although McHugh jokes that introverts “write with a flourish, but speak with a thud,” he shows that many are great preachers. “One of the most unexpected findings of my research was that introverted pastors felt very comfortable preaching, irrespective of congregation size. Many of them actually considered it their biggest strength and favorite part of the job.”
I’ve often thought that because of my personality, I wouldn’t do well in church leadership, and that still may be true. But McHugh’s book has helped me see more clearly how aspects of my personality are strengths rather than weaknesses. His book also encourages me to build relationships, serve in the church, and engage in evangelism, even if the ways in which I do those things are different from how my brothers and sisters do them. Extroverts, especially pastors and other leaders, will also benefit from reading McHugh’s book. It may help them think of ways to include the introverts in their church, or at least ways to keep from driving them away.