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Posts Tagged "Adam McHugh":

Introverts In The Church: Wendy Dackson

Contemporary church culture, perhaps especially (but certainly not limited to) American evangelical culture, is geared toward extroversion.  The emphasis on ‘sharing’ faith, and personal evangelism, is particularly suited to those who are naturally comfortable with self-revelation, extemporaneous speaking, and multiple simultaneous sensory inputs, and who does not question that faithfulness (to God, to the local church community) is equated with increasingly visible involvement.  The American ‘mega-church’ phenomenon would indicate that ‘successful church leadership’ requires bold personalities who can quickly engage with, and win the loyalty of, large numbers of people.  As Adam S. McHugh points out, this is not necessarily an easy environment in which people who are naturally inclined to deep relationships with smaller numbers of people, defined roles, silence, and reflective space in which to think before speaking.  Indeed, his opening question is ‘Can introverts thrive in the church?’

For the most part, McHugh is far more focused on introverts as church ‘leaders’, with an overwhelming focus on ordained leadership, and the book includes a great many extracts of interviews with introverted pastors, and much of his own struggle as an introverted minister who, in various settings, felt that he was working very much against his own inclinations and strengths, inauthentically attempting to take on a more extroverted persona.  The author suggests strongly that, if a church has the luxury of multiple staff, it would do well to balance the leadership with a good blend of extroverted and introverted ministers—although he notes that many advertisements for pastoral work are worded (explicitly or otherwise) practically to exclude or at least discourage introverts.  McHugh cites many of the strengths of introverts as ordained leaders, including a love of study and preparation (which serves the preaching task well), a preference for individual relationships which is particularly suited to crisis-care pastoral work (such as hospice chaplaincies and spiritual direction), and an inclination toward quieter and more structured forms of worship (which are seeing a revival in the evangelical churches, with many thanks to Brian MacLaren’s championing of ‘ancient practices’).  He gives what appears to me as sound advice to pastors concerning care of the self so that the introverted church leader can function well and authentically from his or her own strengths, even when the demands of the job require more input and interaction than the pastor prefers.

McHugh is weaker, I think, in his assessment of introverted lay people in the church.  Although in the introduction, he promises that his own story will include his church participation as a lay and ordained introvert, I detected no mention of his involvement prior to ordination (or even after, as part of a church community where he was not a member of staff).  He praises introverts’ involvement as lay members of congregations mostly for their willingness to take on ‘behind the scenes’ tasks diligently and dependably, and (rightly) points out that without their help with jobs such as running audiovisual equipment, editing the newsletter, and the like, more extroverted ministers’ work would be hampered—and that the more visible ‘leaders’ should be thankful for the support provided by introverted Christians.  While this is undoubtedly correct, it is not without its problems, especially as it is not a long stride between the attitude of being grateful for this low-key support and assuming that introverts are simply there as handmaidens to the ‘real’ (extroverted) work of evangelical ministry.  McHugh does nothing to counter the possibility of making this step, and is silent on the dangers to extroverts of assuming that a ‘behind the scenes’ person is happy not to receive credit for his or her ideas and contributions, and is somehow less important to the life of the church.

A major point of disagreement I have with Introverts in the Church is the repeated refrain that introverts have less energy and move more slowly than their extroverted co-religionists.  I would argue that introverts (amongst whom I count myself) are less demonstrative about our expenditures of energy—our gestures are smaller, our facial expressions are less dramatic (although in my case that is partly due to an incomplete recovery from Bell’s Palsy)—but we do not have less energy.  We may put considerable energy into the ‘quiet phase’ of a project or activity, where planning and analysis are key, so that the publicly visible manifestation goes more smoothly and efficiently.  And as  Laurie Helgoe, author of Introvert Power, notes, swimming, ice skating (figure and speed), gymnastics, and long-distance running are all athletic activities geared toward those who work best alone—and certainly do not move slowly.

In general, I agree with McHugh that the church—and not just evangelical churches—are often not the easiest environment for introverts, and that the natural gifts of introverted Christians are less appreciated than they should be, for the good of both the individual Christians and for the ecclesial community.  I think the church needs to be considerably more counter-cultural in this regard, as our general secular society is more geared toward extroverts, and the church has taken on that characteristic.  But I think we also need to be considerably more nuanced about introverted Christians—lay and ordained—than McHugh appears to be.


Introverts in the Church:  Finding our way in an extroverted culture, by Adam S.McHugh.  Downers Grove, Illinois:  InterVarsity Press, 2009.  (Kindle edition) 222 pp., $9.19.

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