I’m a preacher’s wife at a big-ish medium-sized church.
And I’m an introvert. A hard core, wish-I-could-live-alone-in-the-woods, introvert.
This is not the smoothest cocktail of identifiers.
It is hard to be an introvert in the church, because (as I’ve written before) “the church” is just people. And not just people, people intimately bound in relationship.
—The church is a body, each member a part—a permanent, stuck-together-no-matter-what part. A finger is never alone.
—The church is a family, brothers and sisters sharing and loving and kissing each other with holy kisses. [Tangent: I used to find some comfort in the idea that in Heaven we’ll have our own mansions—privacy! But then I heard a scholar say it’ll probably just be rooms in the same noisy house. Great.]
—The church is the vine. Not stalks of wheat bumping up against one another every so often. Nope. We’re a vine—all connected and dependent and whatnot.
I could keep going: a flock (so much huddling), a temple built with living stones (all stacked on top of one another)…
Are you starting to see a pattern?
Church is about being up close and personal with people.
So, how does an introvert survive?
After thirty three years in church, I have answers. Seven of them:
1. Don’t pretend to be an extrovert.
My sister-in-law posted her Myers Briggs personality type yesterday, and it was, evidently (according to the test makers), the same as Jesus. No surprise, it started with “extrovert.”
Bad news for this girl. And maybe for you.
But there’s hope! No matter what you’ve heard or what unspoken pressure you feel, you don’t have to be an extrovert to be like Jesus. You have to love people. You don’t have to love standing in a crowded room listening to stories about their cats.
God made you to be you. He doesn’t expect you to lead the greeter ministry or host new member dinners or answer the phone when the secretary’s out sick. Trying to be an extrovert will drain you in a way that leaves you bankrupt when you try to step into the work God prepared for you to do.
2. Know Your Role.
The first piece of advice I offer every young preacher’s wife is this: Be yourself.
That doesn’t just mean “Don’t pretend.” It also means finding ways to fully live out your identity.
What can you do to help the body grow in the image of Christ? If you can’t hang out at baby showers, drop off a gift. If you can’t stand in front of everybody and lead a prayer, pray faithfully at home for every member. If you can’t handle the chaos of church potlucks, invite one or two people a month into your home for dinner.
All of these acts bind you to the body just as powerfully as the more extroverted options.
Too, find the “official” jobs that match up with your wiring. Create the bulletin. Organize the library. Design sermon artwork. Teach World Bible School courses over the computer. Be an elder.
Personally, I like to teach (I know, I know—but teaching is sort of an exception to the social tendencies of a lot of us introverts), and I write curriculum for our small groups (alone, late at night, with coffee).
3. Go deep.
Contrary to popular belief, introverts do actually like to talk to people. We just prefer small groups and topics we think matter.
While introverts wilt in the large Sunday morning gathering, they tend to bloom in small groups (12 people or less) and especially one-on-one conversations. If you’re an introvert, you need to get plugged in to a smaller gathering of people, and you need to spend time at lunch or over coffee with people you might bless or who might bless you.
This is the way I stay connected to the body—one cup of coffee at a time.
Introverts also flourish in one-on-one Bible studies. Because I very much dislike strangers and pretty much always hope my plans with people will fall through, I expected to hate studying with seekers and new Christians. But I love it. One hour a week talking about only things that matter is pretty much heaven.
4. Be Up Front
Thanks to viral cartoons, books and morning news, people are familiar with the plight of the introvert. So, for goodness sake, tell them you’re an introvert.
My elders know I’m an introvert. My small group knows I’m an introvert. The people I’m on a committee with know, too. I tell everybody, and I notice an immediate shift in their expectations and understanding.
Do be prepared for awkward comments like, “You’re an introvert? But you’re so… normal.”
5. Find a Wing man.
When in unavoidable social settings like the Sunday morning worship experience, showers, devos, or parties, attach yourself to a reliable extrovert. This should be someone you know very well and someone who understands your social aversion. A good wing man is someone who can shield you from the full force of small talk while also helping you connect meaningfully with the people you encounter.
A wing man doesn’t help you disappear; he helps you participate.
My friend Kim is my wing man at showers. I follow her like a baby duck.
6. Manage Your Energy
You’ve probably heard introverts get energy from being alone and extroverts get energy from being with people. Similarly, introverts expend energy in large groups.
I think of my energy like money in my bank account, and I approach the daily requirements and opportunities of church life in terms of spending, saving, and depositing.
Because Sunday mornings are usually high cost, I almost always spend Saturday nights at home. I also keep an eye on my calendar so that I never end up with three or more days in a row with large groups of people.
Too, I make time in my day to pray and read. That’s a Christian introvert’s magic bullet.
When I do this, I have plenty of energy to enjoy social settings. When I don’t do this, I struggle to fully engage with my church family.
It’s easy to say, “I’m an introvert. Church isn’t for me.” Or to grow discontent at church because “Nobody knows me” (when really we’ve made no effort to be known).
The reality is, even introverts need community. We need people looking out for us and helping us. And that will never happen if we lean into the isolationist parts of our personality.
We’re going to have to try to meet people. And try to talk about work and kids and what kind of music we like. We’re going to have to abide that terrible moment during the service when the preacher tells us to turn around and greet someone sitting close to us.
If we want to find our place in the family of God, it’s going to take some trying—more trying, perhaps, than it takes for extroverts.
But I promise: if we try, and if we try in ways that correspond with who God made us to be, we will find belonging, connection, and intimacy (even with those loud, love-y, huggers).