Book Review Friday: Introverts in the Church by Adam S. McHugh

Introverts-in-Church-3702Though some of my scores on the Meyer Brigg’s personality inventory are closer to the middle than either extreme, there’s no doubt I am a “High I.” I, of course, meaning introvert. If there’s a quality or characteristic associated with being an introvert, I identity with it almost one hundred percent, so of course Adam McHugh’s book, Introverts in the Church was of interest to me.

I mean, look at the quiz from Susan Cain’s website and my answers:

Do you prefer one-on-one conversations to group activities?

Do you often prefer to express yourself in writing?

Do you enjoy solitude?

Do you enjoy work that allows you to “dive in” with few interruptions?

Do people describe you are “soft-spoken” or “mellow”?

Do you tend to think before you speak?

Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. All of the above, yes.

I am an introvert. I’ve always known this about myself, and I’ve never really thought it was a bad thing. I come from a family of introverts. My mom has become more extroverted as she’s gotten older and cared less about what other people think, but her introvertedness/extrovertedness rises to match the situation. She doesn’t mind talking to people, but I’m sure she prefers to be at home more so than at a party.

When I started college, I was randomly assigned to a roommate. We all had to fill out roommate forms saying what kind of music we liked, if we considered ourselves to be clean or messy, and so on. So my roommate and I would jokingly tell people we were the leftovers—the bottom of the stack after they assigned everyone else a roommate. We couldn’t be more different. We were both majors within the religion department—me being Youth and Family ministry and her being Intercultural Studies, but that’s about where the similarities stopped. I was listening to worship music while she was listening to Lil’ Wayne. We took Ethics together our sophomore year, and the class was allowed to pair up for the final. For the final, we had to respond to different ethical issues. We spent the whole time disagreeing.

Now, let me also say I am so grateful we were paired together. She pushed me out of my comfort zone when I would have otherwise spent my freshman year hiding in my room. We had only been living together for a few days before we shared our stories with each other. She is my best friend, and I am so incredibly thankful for having her in my life.

But she is an extrovert. Sometimes she’d be home in the evening and I’d be lying on my bed reading or working on my computer, and she would instantly jump up and say, “I’m going to meet some friends” and leave. Extroverts get their energy from being with other people. People would look at us and couldn’t tell how we got along so well, but I think it helped that we understood we were different.

I got this book for Christmas. I’ve been working my way through my “fun reading” list since finishing college, so I was finally able to read this book. I know there are a lot of reviews about this book already and this book has received some buzz, but I think this is a book worth reading, so I want to highlight it here. I follow Adam McHugh on twitter, but I don’t really read his blog, so I’ve not had much experience reading his writing. However, I highly recommend this book.

Maybe you’re thinking: of course an introvert would like this book; this book is about introverts by an introvert. Well, yes, but this book cannot just be read by introverts. I believe all extroverts working in ministry need to read this book, even more so if they are on staff with an introvert. Which, I pray, there are no staffs made of only extroverts. So that means all people in ministry need to read this book.

“Our slower pace of life, our thoughtfulness, our spiritual and intellectual depth, and our listening abilities are prophetic qualities for the evangelical community, calling us to a renewed understanding of God and a fresh reading on the abundant life Jesus came to give us. Yet because of the extroverted bias in many of our churches, introverts are leading double lives. We are masquerading as extroverts in order to find acceptance, yet we feel displaced and confused. We are weary of fighting our introversion, and we long to live faithfully as the people we were created to be.”

Being in ministry, naturally I interact with a lot of extroverts.  I have often felt drained by ministry, which sometimes leaves me wondering: if ministry exhausts me so much, am I really called to ministry? I’ve felt discouraged and misunderstood by coworkers and fellow people in ministry.

What I liked:

This book is for introverts who feel discouraged. As an introvert who has felt discouraged, this book provided comfort. McHugh encourages introverts to recognize their natural gifts. Those gifts include the ability to contemplate, listen to others (though he says this is not necessarily a skill that comes naturally), and reflect. I have never seen being an introvert as a benefit to ministry. I more often found myself wishing I were more outgoing.

“Let God make you fully you. Rejoice in your God-given temperament and use it for God’s purposes. This point cannot be emphasized enough. We must be authentic. If we try to be someone we are not, people will see it instantly.”

There is no one-size-fits-all introvert. I think that is important to remember as we think and talk about introverts. We are similar, but not all the same. He writes:

“Because introversion is not synonymous with shyness or aloofness, true introverts are harder to identify than you might think. You can’t always look for wallflowers or people staring at their feet to determine who the introverts are. Healthy introverts are not recluses. Just because we are oriented toward our inner worlds does not necessitate that we live in a private world, devoid of social contact and activity. It means that whatever context we are in, we are predisposed toward what is happening inside of us more than we are in what is taking place around us. Introverts can be in an unruly crowd, still immersed in our internal worlds.”

His book helps me realize that as an introvert in the church, I am not alone. As a (hopefully soon-to-be) youth pastor, I pray I will be nurturing others and helping others as they discern a call into ministry. I want to let introverts know they are not ruled out of ministry just because our evangelical culture tends to favor extroverts. McHugh helps answer the “I’m an introvert, can God still call me to ministry?” question.

“God has always been about the business of shattering expectations, and in our culture, the standards of leadership are extroverted. It perfectly follows the biblical trend that God would choose the unexpected and the culturally ‘unfit’ – like introverts – to lead his church for the sake of greater glory.”

There is a former college classmate of mine who gets all the lucky breaks. At least that’s the way I see it. He has grown up in the church and has relatives who have been leaving legacies in the church, so he’s been making connections since his time in the womb. He is articulate (though this is something we can all improve on), and I’ve enjoyed the sermons I’ve heard him preach. I actually happen to like and respect him a great deal. I know he will do great things in ministry and in the lives of others. However, I would be lying if I said I didn’t sometimes find myself resenting him. He is an extrovert, and I’ve often credited his connections and extrovert-ness to his getting his “lucky breaks.” Since reading this book and thinking more about it, I realize how much the church needs both people like me and people like him. As a Church, we need each other. This guy has worked hard, serves and gives of himself, so I am grateful there are people like him in the church who are energized by talking to people.

Adam McHugh writes it is a misconception that because introverts are considered quiet, they would not be good speakers. He points out it is often the opposite—because introverts think before they speak, they are more calculated with their words and often very good at public speaking and preaching. I don’t know if that’s true for everyone, but I have found it is the case with me. I remember when my systematic theology professor heard I spoke in chapel at my college. He was surprised because I rarely spoke in class. He knew I was well-written, but did not know I was well-spoken.

What I didn’t like:

I didn’t like the organization of the book. I felt like the chapters contained a lot of information, and I feel as though it could have been separated into smaller, more specific chapters. The book was only nine chapters, and it could have been more. It is not a long book—I am not a fast reader and it took me a couple days.

Another thing I didn’t like: the cover. I know that’s just my opinion, and I know “you aren’t supposed to judge a book by its cover.” I’m not even a graphic designer, so my opinion probably doesn’t count for a hill of beans, but there you have it.

Overall, I think you should buy this book for everyone on your church leadership staff. Then buy it for your congregation so they can stop being so hard on the introverted pastor who doesn’t want to make small talk until the cows come home. This book doesn’t answer it all, but it does help start a conversation, as well as embrace our differences as the Church serves alongside each other.

To follow up this book, I plan on reading Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.

Disclaimer: I did not receive anything for writing this review. I bought the book on my own and wanted to share a review because I believe this is a book worth reading. However, Amazon Affiliate links included in this post.

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