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Book: Introverts in the Church: Finding our place in an extroverted culture

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#41 tenpenny


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Posted 01 April 2010 - 05:34 PM

I just discovered this topic and it definitely strikes a chord with me. First, some background about me. My parents were not church-goers, although they were married in a church, and had us kids baptized as infants (well, at least I was baptized - I was the oldest). Once, when I was eight or nine, my mom decided we should start going to church, and that we'd start on Easter Sunday. My mom was nominally Methodist - her grandfather had been a Methodist minister - and so she trooped us all, including my dad, down to the nearby Methodist church. This would have been either 1967 or 1968. She made my brother and me wear dress shirts and pants - maybe even ties, although I don't remember for sure about the ties. About all I do remember is that I was bored out of my skull and that my pants itched like hell. I think even my mom was bored. We didn't go back.

Despite this inauspicious beginning, about ten years later I would develop a strong interest in religion, and not just Christianity, but also Judaism, Taoism and Buddhism, about all of which I read widely. But I only read about it; I didn't practice any particular form of it, or attend any services. I was quite shy and introverted (I still am). Then, for a brief period of time in my early twenties, after I was out on my own, I lived in Tampa, Florida, and while I was there I attended Quaker "meetings" (where silent worship was practiced). These were my first forays back into a church since the "itchy pants" incident, and I actually enjoyed them a lot. But I soon moved away from there, and my interest in religion waned. Over the next twenty-five years I was immersed in career, marriage, and kids of my own.

Then, early in 2005, I felt a sense of incompleteness. After some initial study - remember, we introverts are never impulsive - I picked a (Christian) church for us to try (our kids were away at college by now). My wife is very much an extrovert; we're polar opposites. She felt the same incompleteness I did, but it made no difference to her which church we attended, except that she'd rather it not be Quaker. I, of course, remembered how much I had liked the Quaker form of silent worship, and I talked to her about it, but she had attended Methodist churches while growing up, and she said she wanted a more traditional form of worship. And, in truth, I think I wanted at least a little bit of liturgy too (and, yes, I know that some Quakers practice a "programmed" form of worship, but in our city the only choice was "unprogrammed" worship).

One of the things that had attracted me to the Quaker church was their historic witness for peace and non-violence; the Mennonite church and the Church of the Brethren share this historic witness, but they have more traditional forms of worship, and so I decided we'd try both and then decide between the two. As it happened, we visited our local Church of the Brethren first, and we liked it so much that we never even visited the local Mennonite church. After several months of attending services, my wife and I became members of the local COB church. And we remained in this congregation for four years, until last September, when we moved halfway across the country to an area without any COB presence.

Our COB church was fairly small. I'm not sure of the exact membership count, but I'd guess it was about 100 members, or maybe slightly below that. On any given Sunday there were usually 50 to 75 people in church. The Church of the Brethren and the Mennonites have much in common. Both are Anabaptist - that is, they baptize adult believers, and not infants (there is a service of "dedication" for infants). My wife and I were baptized in 2005, along with two young adults in our congregation. Of course it was a profound experience (and commitment) for me personally, made all the more meaningful by the opportunity to undergo it with my wife, as well as with two others from our congregation. It's been my impression that, in general, the COB is a fairly staid denomination, as denominations go - not too demonstrative, not at all "happy-clappy." In short, the COB is a pretty decent fit for an introvert like me. Nevertheless, it was interesting to observe the different ways that my wife and I "fit into" our congregation.

I want to preface the following remarks by expressing my profound gratitude for the friendship and fellowship I experienced in our COB congregation. No amount of reading or study can possibly replace the experiential component of religion. I know that now. It was often joyful and inspiring to be with the members of my congregation, and several of them set an example of Christian love and service that I, sadly, will probably never be able to match.

As new members of the congregation, my wife and I were both invited to serve separately on one of the dozen or so committees within our church. The only full-time employee of our church is our pastor. It's possible, although I'm not sure, that the member who serves as our church secretary is also paid something, but if so, it's likely a pittance. Everything else - all other work - is done by volunteers. I'm sure this is common in many small, and even not so small, churches. An effort is usually made to assign church members to committees that suit their talents and interests. My wife is quite the "outdoors" person, and a real handy(wo)man, and so it was natural for her to accept a place on the "maintenance and grounds" committee. It was, so I learned later, more of a challenge to figure out a committee to invite me to serve on. Reading a lot of books, and watching foreign films that most people find unwatchable - even if, as in my case, both of these activities largely cohered around spiritual themes - is curiously unhelpful in terms of the practical concerns of running a church congregation. Funnily enough.

The closest fit for me was deemed to be the "education" committee, so that's where I served. Oddly, the one area of education that would have been the best fit for me, "adult" education, was not within the purview of our committee; for some reason, it was handled by the deacons of our church. Clearly, I was years away (if ever) from being deacon material. But perhaps it didn't matter anyway, because the adult portion of our Sunday School was very poorly attended - averaging two or three people, if that - and was simply not a focus for our congregation. Our congregation had no book discussion group, much less a film discussion group. Had I been an extrovert, I probably would have tried to start either a book or film discussion group. It's not as though there weren't well-educated people in our church - a few had advanced degrees - but our church just didn't seem to sponsor activity that wasn't directly, and obviously, practical. It is a congregation of doers, and not (so much) thinkers. But no, that's not right. I know it's not right, because I became friends with two or three people in our church who were, in fact, deep thinkers. It's more accurate to say that their thinking, deep though it was, was not much valued or used by the wider congregation.

My work on the education committee was behind-the-scenes, a fact which suited me well as an introvert. For example, we spent a lot of time evaluating, and selecting, a new curriculum for the kids in our Sunday School. Everyone was tired of the old curriculum, but the new one was pricier; we finally bit the bullet, and were glad we did. Preparing for Vacation Bible School, both times (I served on the committee for two years), felt a bit like Grant preparing to take Richmond. The movement of the kids, from station to station, was as choreographed as a ballet, as well thought out as the placements and movements of the actors in the final scene of Ordet. Every minute was accounted for. It's probably the closest I'll ever come to what it must feel like to direct a film. Over my two years on the committee - and there were only three of us on the committee - we met at least once a month, and sometimes more often than that. It was a lot of work, especially for the chairwoman, who was also the church secretary (!). She confided to me, when her two-year term was up, that she was never so glad to be done with serving on a church committee (and she had served on many over the years).

On the other hand, if the maintenance and grounds committee that my wife was on met even once during those two years, I'm not aware of it. Which is not to say that she didn't do things on her committee. It's just that that committee's activities didn't require much planning: "Can you get over to the church later today to mow the lawn? I'm tied up today." Or: "Let's all meet at the church on Saturday afternoon to rake leaves." That kind of thing. My wife, being the extrovert that she is, ended up working "unofficially" on several other committees, at one time or another. She is multitalented, unlike me, and her skills are highly practical, unlike mine. All told, she probably worked as much as I did, but her work was spread out over multiple committees. Her contributions also tended to be more visible to the congregation than mine.

Although we both were warmly welcomed by our congregation at all times, I'd be kidding myself if I didn't acknowledge that my wife made a bigger, and more positive, impression overall than I did - as well she should have. Of course, introverts must always guard against simple laziness, must test their "I do not want to" constantly to see whether it springs from a cold, uncaring heart. I admit that I let too many opportunities - for connection, for friendship - slip away from me in my old congregation, and I regret this. But I also know that I am wired differently from my wife, that I will always find social gatherings, etc., draining, and that I have to accept this fact. The congregation as a whole will always consist of a mixture of extroverts and introverts, and the trick for the congregational leaders is to take care that they are not overlooking - no, more than this, to make sure they are doing all they can to encourage - us introverts in their midst whose talents are always going to be less obvious.

We haven't yet found a new church home where we now live, but I'm sure that we will. I have to admit that I'm eyeing the local Quaker worship group and wondering if I could talk my wife into trying it, at least once. Of course, I could always go there alone, but I would prefer that we worship together. And who knows? I might find, after thirty years, that silent worship doesn't work for me anymore. Or not.

The Quakers have an old saying that I've always liked: "Don't just do something, sit there."

Edited by tenpenny, 01 April 2010 - 07:52 PM.

#42 tenpenny


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Posted 02 April 2010 - 05:11 PM

Thinking about this topic reminds me of a passage I recently read by Semyon Frank (1877-1950), a Jewish-born Russian religious philosopher who converted to the (Eastern) Orthodox faith as an adult. The passage, which is from an extended essay, the translated title of which is "The Meaning of Life," impressed me as a profound statement of the effectiveness and communal power of ascetic contemplation. Of course, many introverts are not spiritually inclined, and even among those who are, probably very few are actually ascetic contemplatives. But all of us — extroverts included — who have an interest in spiritual things have at least moments when we ponder The Unknowable (the title of possibly Frank's best book). And usually when we do this, we are alone; if not in our persons, then at least in our thoughts. In short, we are at least temporarily introverts in those moments. What looks to others like idle daydreaming may actually be the most productive work at which a person can be employed. How so? As an answer, I offer the following abridged version of Frank's passage (as translated by Boris Jakim — the translation is unpublished, but Mr. Jakim will freely share his translation of "The Meaning of Life" with anyone who asks him; if interested, contact me privately, and I can put you in touch with him):

A branch of the vine — if it is conscious of the fact that it lives only by the juices that flow in the entire vine and issue from its common root — cannot fail to feel the primordial unity of its own life with the life of all the other branches. Love is the foundation of all human life, its very essence; and if, in the world, a man appears to himself to be an isolated and self-enclosed fragment of being which must assert itself at the cost of other lives, then a man who has found his genuine essence in the world-embracing unity is conscious of the fact that without love there is no life, and that the degree to which he truly asserts himself in his genuine essence is directly proportional to the degree to which he overcomes his illusory self-enclosedness and finds a foundation in the other. Outwardly, the human personality appears to be self-enclosed and separated from other beings, but, inwardly, in its depths, it communicates with all other beings, is fused with them in primordial unity.

Therefore, the more deeply a human being goes inside himself, the more he will expand and the more readily he will attain a natural and necessary connection with all other human beings, and with the entire life of the world as a whole. Thus, the usual opposition between immersion into one's inner depths and social interaction is superficial and based on a total misunderstanding of the structure of the spiritual world, of the genuine structure of being, invisible to the sensuous gaze. It is usually thought that people "socially interact" with one another when they ceaselessly run around, meet many people, read newspapers and publish articles in them, attend meetings and give presentations at them, but that when a person immerses himself deep "in himself," he isolates himself from other people, loses his connection with them. That is an absurd illusion. At no time is a person so self-enclosed, so isolated, so abandoned by other people and himself forgetful of them, as when he totally devotes himself to external social intercourse, to external business dealings, to "society." And no one attains such loving attention, such sensitive understanding of another's life, such breadth of world-embracing love, as a hermit who, in prayer penetrating down into his own deepest depths, attains the primordial source of world-embracing universal life and of all-human Love, and lives in this source as in the unique element of his own being. A nonreligious person can gain some understanding of this relation if he considers the constant relation between depth and width in the entire sphere of spiritual culture: A genius — an individual who is immersed deeply into himself and goes his own way, predetermined by his own spiritual depths — turns out to be necessary and useful to all people, and even understandable by later generations and remote nations, because, out of his own depths, he extracts what is common to all. But a person whose life consists in the vanity of continuous external social interaction with a multitude of people, and who is ready to imitate people in all things, who wants to be "like everyone else" and to live together with everyone else, knowing only the outward surface of human life — such a person turns out to be an insignificant being, not needed by anyone and always alone.

This fundamental relation of spiritual being, this relation according to which the greatest human commonality and solidarity are found in the depths, has as its consequence the fact that genuine creative and productive work also is accomplished in the depths, and that precisely this profound inner activity is the common work accomplished by everyone not for himself alone, but for all. We have seen what this true and fundamental work of man consists in. It consists in the active grounding of ourselves upon the Proto-source of life, in the creative effort to pour ourselves into Him and Him into ourselves, to ground ourselves upon Him and thus actively to realize the meaning of life, to bring this meaning close to life and thereby to disperse the darkness of meaninglessness. It consists in the exploit of the directedness of our souls in prayer toward God, in the ascetic exploit of the struggle with the murk and blindness of our sensuous passions, of our pride, our egotism, in the annihilation of our empirical being for the sake of resurrection in God. People usually think that a man who engages or attempts to engage in this type of activity either is "doing nothing" or, in any case, is egotistically concerned solely with his own fate, with his personal salvation, and is indifferent to people and their needs. They cite the counterexamples of "social activists," who are concerned with the organization of the fates of a multitude of people, or of soldiers, who give their lives for the good of their homeland, as individuals who truly act and, moreover, who act for the common good, for the good of others. But this entire argument is fundamentally false, since it is conditioned by total blindness, by the attachment of consciousness to the deceitful, superficial appearance of things.


But the concept of productive and non-productive labor has apparently disappeared from the domain of spiritual life, even though this concept has an essential and decisive significance in this domain. In order to propagate ideas, in order to organize life in accordance with them, one must have them. In order to do good for people or to battle evil for the sake of good, it is, after all, necessary to have good itself. Here it is perfectly obvious that, without productive labor and accumulation of goods, life would be impossible, the distribution of goods in life and the utilization of them would be impossible. But who does the producing and accumulating here? Our notions about good are so vague that we think that good is a "relation between people," a natural quality of our behavior; we do not understand that good is substantial, that it is a reality which we must first of all seek to attain, which we must possess before doing good to other people with it. But only a spiritual activist ["podvizhnik" in Russian — derived from "podvig," ascetic exploit] can attain and accumulate good; and each of us can attain and accumulate it only to the extent that we are spiritual activists and dedicate ourselves to inner spiritual activity. Therefore, the activity of prayer and ascesis is not a "fruitless occupation," unnecessary for life and based on the forgetting of life; rather, in the spiritual sphere, it is the sole productive work, the sole genuine production or acquisition of that nourishment without which all of us are condemned to a hungry death. This is not idle contemplation. This is difficult labor "in the sweat of one's face," but also a productive labor, which enables the accumulation of goods; and this is therefore the fundamental and essential work of every man — the primary productive work without which all other human works would stop and become meaningless.


All of us, we people of the present day, live more or less in a crazy society, which, like Russia in the years of the Revolution, exists only by squandering the goods which were once imperceptibly produced by our predecessors in tranquil, invisible workshops.


In reality, spiritual power is always supra-individual, and it always establishes an invisible connection between human beings. The experience of prayers and of spiritual activity confirms this in a myriad of particular examples, and discloses it at once as a general relation. A solitary hermit in his cell, not seen and not heard by anyone, accomplishes a work that, at the same time, has an immediate effect on life as a whole and touches all people. He accomplishes a work that not only is more productive but that is also more communal, involving and influencing more people, than the work of the most skillful political orator or editorial writer. Of course, we, who are weak and unskillful ordinary laborers in the field of spiritual being, cannot count on such an effect of our inner work. But, if we are not conceited, can we count on greater results in the domain of our external activity in life? The fundamental relation here remains the same: that which is impossible for man is possible for God, and no man knows in advance to what extent he is capable of helping other people with his prayer, with his search for truth, with his inner struggle with himself. In any case, this fundamental human work of the active illumination of life with meaning, of the growing in oneself of the powers of good and righteousness, is not only the singular work of each one of us in isolation; rather, according to its very essence, according to the nature of that domain of being in which this work is being accomplished, it is a common and communal work in which all men are connected in God, and all are for one and one is for all.

This is the great and unique work by means of which we are actively realizing the meaning of life and in virtue of which something essential is really being accomplished in the world — namely the regeneration of the inner fabric of the world, the defeat of the forces of evil, and the filling of the world with the forces of good. This work, a genuinely metaphysical one, is in general possible only because it is by no means merely a human work. The role of man's work here is to prepare the soil, whereas the growth from the soil is accomplished by God Himself. This is a metaphysical, Divine-human process, in which man is only a coparticipant; and this is precisely why, in this process, the foundation of human life on its genuine meaning can be realized.

Edited by tenpenny, 02 April 2010 - 10:05 PM.

#43 Tyler


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Posted 09 April 2012 - 07:37 PM

The introvert life verse:

But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. (Luke 5:16)

#44 CherylR



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Posted 02 February 2013 - 01:07 PM

Adam McHugh has re-entered the blogging world. :) Of course, maybe you didn't realize he had left. :)

#45 ralfy



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Posted 04 February 2013 - 09:27 AM



"His philosophy, in his published books and articles, is of a relaxed approach to life, enjoying it as it comes rather than toiling for an imagined better future."

#46 Attica


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Posted 04 February 2013 - 08:39 PM

Adam and his book is mentioned in a recent book Quiet: The Power of Introverts In a World That Can't Stop Talking. This book has a chapter specifically geared towards the extrovert friendly culture of modern Evangelical Christianity.