After reading Susan Cain’s book ‘Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking‘, I’ve been fascinated with introversion and extroversion and how our personalities affect each and every aspect of our lives. Cain examines the way in which extroversion became the cultural ideal in the United States, to the point where certain traits common to introversion are now viewed as defects to be minimalised or challenges to be overcome. Her book is a well-researched, articulate and engaging discussion of why introversion is not a defect, but a strength to be harnessed by the quieter ones amongst us.
I’ve always classified myself as an introvert… and yet secretly wished I was more extroverted! So much of what my culture holds up as the ideal – in the workplace, in school and university, in the social setting, even in church – tends towards extroverted traits.
My perception of my apparent shortcomings shifted a little when I heard the Myers Briggs definition of introversion and extroversion, which focuses more on how a person is energised. An introvert gets energy from their inner world of ideas and images, while an extrovert is energised by the outer world of people and things.
I think it shifted a little more when I realised just how many people I admire – both historically, and among my own social circles – were introverts. And as I’ve got older and become a whole lot more comfortable with just being me – as cool or uncool as that might be – I’ve become even more accepting of the ‘introvert’ label.
There’s one point that Cain raised in Quiet that really got me thinking. She identified the way in which the extroverted ideal had influenced modern day religion, particularly in the American evangelical church. Her observations struck a chord, and I’ve been reflecting ever since on my own faith and experience of church.
My reflections are really just a bunch of questions I’ve been pondering: Was/is Jesus an extrovert or an introvert? How does an introvert best love God – and how will that look different from a more extroverted believer? Is extroversion really idealised in the modern-day church? If so, what are we missing out on… and is there another way?
And… is it okay to be a ‘quiet Christian’?
I’ve been thinking back through my journey of faith in light of my questions. It’s an interesting lens to use to reflect on past experiences! Funnily enough, a lot of things began to make more sense.
Like, how my most treasured experiences of church have tended to happen in a home group / connect group setting. We often categorise extroverts as ‘people persons’, which always confused me because I’m an introvert but I also really like people. But introverts tend to crave deeper conversation, which rarely happen on a Sunday morning, and prefer small group settings to engage – hence why I feel a whole lot more comfortable at a mid-week evening home group, to sitting amongst a congregation of hundreds on the weekend.
Looking at my faith as an introvert, I realised why really loud music sometimes distracted me from God more than drew me to Him – introverts are more easily overstimulated by noise, smell, taste, even caffeine – which also finally explains why coffee always makes me shake!
I realised why I enjoyed sharing a message at youth or young adults – reflecting and discussing ideas is a sweet spot for the introverted – while the thought of meeting leading or giving announcements made me so nervous. Introverts aren’t so inclined to small talk and what not, so the thought of being funny and engaging while announcing various events always made me sweat.
I realised how even the way I sin – how I hurt God and those around me – is perhaps shaped by my introverted nature. I’m dreadful at stewing away on issues and holding grudges and judging others – getting all stuck up in my head over an issue or person I need to forgive or ask forgiveness from.
And I realised why I was so excited when my rather Pentecostal, contemporary, always-loud-and-energetic church invested in creating a space for silent reflection and prayer by building a prayer chapel on site, complete with soft music, muted colours and a pretty stain glassed window.
I wonder if the supposed ‘rise of the extroverted ideal’ may be correlated to the increasing popularity of more contemporary churches, with their rock band style worship, snappy video clips and engaging, charismatic preachers. I wonder if the way we express our faith has shifted from more introverted practices – like silent reflection and contemplation – to meet the demands of the extroverted ideal, where ‘fast-paced’, ‘high energy’ and ‘loud’ are the new values of the day.
I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. I grew up in a typical contemporary, Pentecostal church, with a pretty cool band and poppy media. I appreciate that kind of church and I’ve seen the impact it can have on community. But I also believe in balance, because not everyone is a extrovert – as much as we may all try to act like we are *wink*
I wonder how I can better love God, as the introvert He made me to be.
I think I need some more intentionality in my schedule. I know I need a lot of margin in my life – a lot of down time to recharge, to reenergise, to relax. I need to carve out more alone time with God, because for anyone, but especially an introvert, a Sunday morning experience with a hundred others in a room will not build the kind of connection I want and need with God. The battle we fight is not against flesh and blood, but against busy schedules and crazy work hours and our own inability to say no to everything else that will demand our time and attention.
I think I need a solid commitment to my home group community. The structure, the regularity, the purpose, the same group of people week in, week out – I lap it up as an introvert. But since it’s also not all about me, I know that being part of a small group and creating that safe space for deeper conversation is an opportunity to serve the other introverts in my community. We all need connection and community, and by showing up and contributing each week, I can contribute to something special.
And maybe when I’m next at a huge worship concert, I think perhaps I need a pair of ear plugs – to enhance, not hinder, my experience with God.
How can I embrace a ‘quiet Christianity’ that is true to the gospel, true to Jesus, and true to who God made me be?
I continue to ponder… which is rather introverted of me, indeed!