You are different than the person next to you. That's a good thing.
In a community, others won't believe, look, or act like you. When it comes to personality types and temperaments, the differences get even more distinct -- especially between introverts and extroverts.
Whether intentional or not, many aspects of Western culture operate with a bias toward extroverts, especially much of evangelical Christianity. Ask a sample of introverts, and they will tell you about bracing for impact when they walk through loud church lobbies and the breath of relief when they make it back to the car:
- "As an introvert, I often feel that I'm living in an extrovert's world. I feel as if I'm expected to adapt..."
- "I remember feeling terrified and pressured to change who I was just to be able to smile and walk through the atrium."
A variety of voices have confirmed they sense the same thing. One introverted pastor explained: "Churches sometimes unintentionally equate faithfulness with extroversion; we draw up a composite sketch of the 'ideal' Christian -- gregarious, with an overt passion and enthusiasm, eager to participate in a wide variety of activities, shares their faith with strangers regularly, assumes leadership positions quickly, opens up their home to others often -- and this ideal person starts sounding suspiciously like an extrovert" (Adam McHugh, author of Introverts in the Church).
Though the church's outgoing ideal often presents a challenge for introverts' preferred style of relationships, they still want to connect with extroverts and ambiverts; they would simply rather have a more in-depth conversation with one or two people in a less distracting environment. (For example, introverted visitors may enjoy a laid-back evening at a familiar acquaintance's home, but would rather avoid small talk with everyone seated in their row after announcements and before the next song in a church service.)
In an effort to be a better church -- a variety of people with different personalities who work together to become better disciples of Jesus and help others do the same -- introverts, extroverts, and ambiverts can begin by learning to understand each other.
What Is An Introvert? What Is An Extrovert?
The types are described in psychology: "Introverts are drawn to the inner world of thought and feeling, extroverts to the external life of people and activities. Introverts focus on the meaning they make of the events swirling around them; extroverts plunge into the events themselves. Introverts recharge their batteries by being alone; extroverts need to recharge when they don't socialize enough" (via Susan Cain's book, Quiet).
Ambiverts display qualities of both introversion and extroversion, and adjust depending on their current surroundings. (To find out your inclination, take this brief introvert/extrovert quiz.)
Being Introverted is Not a Problem to Solve
Communication and community are essential components of the church, and no one is meant to live in isolation. However, the problem is not that introverts are isolated: It's just that the way introverts connect and communicate may not look like their extroverted peers.
I am an introvert, and I used to feel bad about needing time away from people. It wasn't until I became an adult that I realized I didn't have to apologize for it. [That was part of the journey of learning about myself, others, and God, which I write about in my upcoming book, The Variable Life.] Fellow introverts tell me they've felt underappreciated because they weren't vocal, assertive leaders, loud evangelists, or talented conversationalists with strangers. If you're introverted, maybe you've experienced similar discomfort, but there's nothing wrong with you. Introverts are simply wired to recharge by calm, less-stimulating environments, limited time with people, and being alone -- something even Jesus practiced (Luke 5:16).
Do Introverts Need to Change?
Should each side of the spectrum try to shed their personality, or are their natural social tendencies something to appreciate and cultivate?
Self-expression and solitude work together to develop character and connection with God.
Neither introverts nor extroverts are healthy if they stay in their extremes; people are made for relationship as well as for reflection. Self-expression and solitude work together to develop character and connection with God (Psalm 119:59-63, Lamentations 3:13-33, 2 Corinthians 13:5, 2 Peter 1:5-8). Though introverts and extroverts may go about it in opposite ways, we can respect each other enough to recognize our temperaments are not inherently right or wrong, just different.
Like all personality types and temperaments, there are strengths and challenges to work through. Introverts need extroverts like extroverts need introverts; "there are different kinds of service, but the same Lord." We can coexist and cooperate with each other for the sake of our personal growth and the growth of the kingdom of God; "in everyone it is the same God at work" (1 Corinthians 12:4-7).
Differences Are A Requirement For A Growing Kingdom of God
The kingdom of God is described throughout Scripture as a diverse collection of people who respond to an invitation from God to belong to something bigger than themselves. The Gospel is good news of renewed connections and peace with God and with others (2 Corinthians 5:18-21).
In Old Testament Israel, God instructed His people to welcome foreigners from surrounding nations into their community (Leviticus 19:33-34, Isaiah 56:6-8). When the movement of Christianity spread, a variety of people joined in: Philip found an Ethiopian receptive to the message of Jesus, and Paul found Gentile believers in Greece and Turkey (Acts 8:26-40, Acts 16:11-15). My vision of the kingdom of heaven is populated by people of every race, nationality, and language (Revelation 7:9-10). Clearly, God intends to assemble a variety of people with different practices and characteristics to belong in His family.
Diversity is God's design.
Of course, differences surface disagreements, which lead to conflict. It's no wonder Paul wrote to one early church, "be patient, bearing with one another in love" -- upholding unity in a community of different people with different backgrounds, ideas, and identities, brought together by God, "who is over all and through all and in all" (Ephesians 4:2-6).
The solution is not to accommodate only to introvert preferences, or only to extrovert preferences. Rather, a balanced and open-handed approach from each person can take the church further together than segregated personalities ever could. Different personalities aren't a reason to sever relationships; it's a reason we need to stick together.
What can introverts and extroverts do to help each other develop meaningful friendships? Have a thoughtful conversation with someone whose personality differs from yours. Listen to his or her perspective, be willing to embrace each other's differences as evidence of God's creative intention, and perhaps you'll find more in common than you expected.
That's something worth quiet consideration.