Writer, wine theologian, author of The Listening Life: Embracing Attentiveness in a World of Distraction, and Introverts in the Church.
If you’re an introvert, chances are likely that you feel a bit like a fish being told your faith is about climbing trees. But Adam S. McHugh takes you through a guided tour of what it means to be introverted Christian and offers a path to healing and renewed desire to share the Gospel in our own unique way.
Introverts in the Church offers something that most Christian introverts probably thought was impossible; a way of worshiping, discipling, and evangelizing in a way that doesn’t cause us to want to crawl out of skin and question ourselves as members of the Body of Christ. I’ve only just recently begun learning about the unique attributes of my introverted personality, but McHugh takes that a step further and shows introverts a meaningful path forward through our spiritual journey as introverted Christians. This book is both a breath of fresh air and relief in so many ways as it helps me to see who God made me to be rather than believing the lie that there is something wrong with my introversion.
As an introvert myself, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. It is true that the American church is geared far too much towards extroversion leaving us introverted faithful feeling, not just a little weird, but often times questioning whether or not we have enough faith. As it turns out, God’s design for introversion was no mistake and we’re not as weird as we might think. I highly recommend this book to anyone wanting to understand how introversion is a gift and not a deficiency.
Adam S. McHugh
Adam is a writer, spiritual director, speaker, and retreat lead and has been published in The Christian Century, The Washington Post, Leadership Journal, RELEVANT Magazine, Psychology Today, and Conversations Journal, among other publications and websites. He’s served as a guest chaplain in the U.S. House of Representatives on February 28th, 2012 … and he’s super sarcistic (according to his blog bio, which is where I got this from) 😉
Can introverts thrive in the church? This is the question that McHugh asks and he offers a resounding “yes” in response. For McHugh this question is beyond mere theory and is personal as he himself is an introvert. If you’re an introvert as well, you may understand this. As an extrovert, you need to understand this.
As an ordained (but not practicing) minister of the Presbyterian Church USA, McHugh outlines the differences between extroverts and introverts, describes introverted spirituality, community and relationships, our ability to lead, our style of evangelism, and how we interact in the church. While he does offer the introvert a chance to heal through affirming the gifts of introversion, he also challenges the introvert to stretch themselves outside their comfort zone without taking the typical Christian approach, which is to suggest that introverts to put on a little more extroversion.
Qualities and analysis
Being an introvert myself I understand very much where McHugh is coming from with this book. For most introverts, being introverted is looked down upon, not just by the church, but by American culture in general. Introversion is often associated with shyness, which it shouldn’t be – shyness is a social awkwardness and while certain social situations may overwhelm us and zap our energy, making us appear social awkward, it’s (relatively) easy (at least for me) to tune all that out when engaging in conversation with an individual. Shyness is almost being too afraid to engage with any individual much less a group.
I began to learn about introversion when I took the Myers-Briggs personality test about a year ago. (McHugh mentions Myers-Briggs at the beginning of his book). Learning about my personality from this test was like a revelation to me – I’m not weird after all!!! It was comforting to know that not only was I not as weird as I thought, but that I could use this knowledge to my advantage with work, play, and relationships.
But what about faith? How does introversion play with faith. Here’s one example: I’ve never liked praying out loud. I think of myself as a “prayer closet” prayer – it’s a private conversation between God and I. And not even one where I speak all the time, or where there is a definite start and stop to the prayer. Maybe I begin a prayer, go to Scripture, read, think, and then listen … listen for what? “Listen” to how the Spirit connects the dots for me. This is certainly not the pattern taught in the American church like the “popcorn” prayer, or the ACTS prayer (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication). My prayer has no formula. I’ve studied other religions, including paganism, and I’ve always felt like a prayer formula was too akin to spell casting. If you just say these words, or use this pattern of speech, then you will be “praying” and somehow God is going to listen to that. I’ve never mentioned this to my fellow Christians who advocate these sorts of formulas because a) I thought I was weird and possibly “not-Biblical” in my prayer life (though neither the “popcorn prayer” nor the ACTS prayer formulas are found in Scripture either), and b) I didn’t want them to think I thought they really were spell casting. (Generally, I think prayer formulas come from the notion that we don’t know what we can say to God, and so someone tries to make it easy for us by creating a formula).
McHugh discusses something called contemplative spirituality which I felt described my prayer life very well. “Contemplation appeals to people of many different temperaments, who find that their hearts cry out for a focus and a depth that modern life does not offer.” He further points that in Eastern Orthodoxy, they practice something called apoptotic spirituality which is focused on those things that cannot be be understood about God through rationale, words, or images. In western Evangelicalism, the focus is on kataphatic spirituality which focuses on what can be known about God.
As a student of philosophy, I’m fascinated with the existence of negations – that is the existence of ‘what is not.’ If you don’t understand what I’m speaking to, don’t worry, you’re not alone, and I think it’s a result of this one sided spirituality found in western evangelism. It’s hard for us in the west to think about what is not; or to think about things that we cannot experience with our senses. Although the ultimate conclusion to this kataphatic contemplation is more than likely “I don’t know” those of us who can do it, understand that “I don’t know” is a perfectly acceptable conclusion, but rather that exploring these things help us keep in mind the mystery and holiness of God when examining Scripture. Even popular Evangelical theologians like John MacArthhur and R.C. Sproul understand that there are things that we simply can’t understand about God and how exactly the infinite interacts with the finite.
McHugh discusses other aspects too along with more practical things like what evangelism, church leadership, and discipleship looks like for the introverted Christian. This is valuable analysis for the introverted Christians. It’s too often that we’re told that our tendency toward introversion is an act of selfish, “fleshly desires,” and that we’re “spending too much time alone.” How much time is okay to spend alone and who gets to judge that? Is there a command in Scripture that says, “Introverts shall not spend more than X number of hours by themselves?” or how about “Thou shalt put away thy introversion and put on some extroversion?”
The assertion that extroversion is selfless is implicit; no one gets accused of spending too much time with people – in fact, it’s applauded. “Wow, so-and-so volunteers at the local homeless shelter, reads to kids at the library, has organized the monthly fellowship meals, and makes sure to greet everyone she sees at church.” Yes, when anyone speaks about how introverts should be less themselves and more like the extroverts because too much introversion is sinful, they’re implying that extroversion is preferred due to its selflessness. This is not only not Biblical, but can actually harm introverted Christians by making them believe something that is not true about what it means to be a Christian.
Clearly I enjoyed this book. (I’m borrowing it now from a friend, so now I will have to buy it and read it again … introverts know we learn something new from reading something a second, third, or even fourth time). McHugh suggests that introverted Christians need healing from the way we’re treated by the extroverted culture. And I believe he’s right. There have been countless times where I felt like my faith was lacking, or I didn’t have a strong relationship with God because it didn’t look the same as that of my extroverted brothers and sisters.
I highly recommend this book both to introverts and extroverts. For introverts, it helps put your faith in perspective; it helps heal; and it helps you see a path forward in sharing your faith in the way God designed you to share your faith. For extroverts, it aught to help with how you perceive introversion. It’s not a sin; it’s not a deficiency; it’s not selfish; and it can actually fill the gaps of evangelism that are sorely missing in western Christian culture.
Introversion is not a fleshly desire and that’s the point of Introverts in the Church. Introversion (and extroversion) are different ways that human beings process the information received in life, recharge our energy, and even live out our faith. Those aren’t fleshly desires … They’re the way God made us and if the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever, then we should be in awe of these things and learn to appreciate them rather than jumping to the conclusion that it must be sinful. Especially since we can’t interpret what our “identity in Christ” is without it.
If we are a new creation, doesn’t that warrant exploring that new creation and appreciating what that is? How can we do that if we’re constantly being told, that we shouldn’t explore too much because it’s selfish? Isn’t “glorifying God and enjoying Him forever,” entail enjoying the person God made us to be? So what if introverts don’t gather as many fish in their nets as extroverts; if the introverted Christians can pick up the introverted fish that fell out of the extrovert’s net while they were busy doing extroverted things, then isn’t it possible that God intended it that way, and that it’s actually a good thing?
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ADAM S. McHUGH