The experience opened my eyes to other aspects of my life … family, friendships and even my relationship with God. My upbringing was in a large Church of the Nazarene congregation where worship services were designed to evoke strong emotional responses frequently climaxing with an alter call. The absence of deep reflection and what I experienced as emotional manipulation in that culture contributed (along with some doctrinal differences) to my exit to the Presbyterian Church, USA, as a young adult … though I could not have made a connection between temperament and my frustration at that time. It wasn’t until I was in my thirties that I came to better understand what role temperament plays in so many aspects of our lives.
Now comes Adam McHugh’s excellent book, Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture. Adam is a Presbyterian pastor and a spiritual director. While the book is targeted to introverts, it needs to be read by a broader audience … particularly those who are in congregational leadership. I’ve worked with a number of churches going through a visioning process. One of my perceptions is that many of the sticking points about vision for worship and programming are related to the temperaments of the people taking particular positions. People have frequently elevated their personal proclivities to the level of God’s ordaining decree. McHugh’s book is a breath of fresh air.
Extroversion and introversion are not mutually exclusive. McHugh likens it to being left-handed and right-handed. We all use both hands but most of us have an innate proclivity toward one over the other. So it is with extroversion and introversion. Extroverts tend to draw energy from being with other people and expend energy in isolation. Introverts are just the opposite. Extroverts tend to learn through a trial and error process of engagement with a variety of experiences and people. Introverts tend to learn through deep internal reflection on a more limited number of experiences and relationships. McHugh gives other delineations. Neither temperament is right or wrong. Both are needed.
What McHugh astutely observes is the domination of extroverted modes of relating in the Evangelical world. For that reason, many introverted Evangelicals feel deeply out of place in their church community. Introverts in the Church helps introverts give voice to the discomfort they feel … I know he does for me. But it secondarily highlights how the church fails to effectively be a holistic community that brings together people of different temperaments because of deeply held assumptions that see extroversion as the normative way of leading, relating, and worshiping.
In short, I think this book is a must read for at least two audiences. First, are the introverts like myself who need help making sense of their world. Second, are church leaders who want to create truly holistic communities that function with full diversity of temperaments God has blessed us with. Thank you Adam McHugh for one of the most insightful books I’ve read on spiritual formation and Christian Community in awhile.