Those who know me (family included) would describe my personality as extroverted. I certainly have my moments. I (Michael) am often the first one to speak and the last one to shut up in public settings. If I think really hard about my life, however, and as I come to understand what defines someone’s personality as introverted, I am starting to realize that I sit more in the middle of the introvert-extrovert spectrum. As an only child I would often get lost in my own little worlds of make-believe. As I got older that became less played out with toys, and more with mornings laying in bed, dreaming of what life would be like if I followed this path or that one. Now as I have the freedom to decide my own schedule and relationships, I still find myself needing time to myself. Now I would never go so far as to say that I am a dyed-in-wool introvert, but I certainly have my moments.
Recently, I watched an interview by my favorite Canadian talk-show host (George Stroumboulopoulos), and he was speaking to a lovely soft spoken woman who was promoting her new book. Her name was Susan Cain and her book was called QUIET: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. In addition to my own leaning towards “introvert-time,” I am also married to a pure introvert (introverts and extroverts are often drawn to each other) and pretty much everyone I work with on the SBS staff are introverts also. It quickly became clear to me that this was a book I needed to read. Now that I am finished it, I find myself in even great awe of introverts. In her book, Susan Cain makes a clear case for the “Extrovert Ideal” that is glorified in the western world. Introverts are often wrongly accused of being anti-social when they are deeply social people who are just not interested in the overwhelming stimulation of being the social butterfly fluttering around a party. Additionally, many of the truly creative geniuses in almost every field have been introverts. Really, introverts have much more to teach extroverts than the other way around (though they are often encouraged to pretend to be extroverted). Overall, I have come to appreciate the stress it must be on my beautiful wife’s system to be married to me at times. Thanks Helen.
One of the interesting questions I came away with from reading this book, that I would challenge anyone to think about, is how the “Extrovert Ideal” has shaped what we consider to be appropriate Christian behavior. Susan interviews ordained Presbyterian minister Adam McHugh (www.introvertedchurch.com) in one chapter of her book discussing the ways in which what is defined as “good Christian behavior” can be very draining for the introvert. She attended a Sunday worship service at Saddleback Church with McHugh. Much of the social emphasis, though designed to connect people, only acts to intimidate and overwhelm the introvert. As I read this portion of the book these were some of my thoughts that I wrote down: “Is the modern evangelical community and evangelism in general anti-introvert?” “Is the public expression of faith today buying into the ‘Extrovert Ideal’?” “Does sociable = good Christian?” I must admit that if Jesus is the model, then I see Him seek as much solitude as he does time with the crowds. All of this has had me wondering what this looks like, especially in a missions organization. Where is the place for the introvert in the great commission? As I have thought about it, I have realized that the introvert may actually be our greatest tool in world evangelism. We need more people who are willing to listen before they speak. We need people who, when they speak, do so from a place of contemplation and with depth and conviction. We need people like those I work with, who love to dig deep into the riches of the Scriptures and bring the truth into the light. I personally need my wife who will take the time to edit this post and maintain the kind of thoughtful connection to those who partner with us in this work. I marveled recently at the amazing and creative teaching Helen did recently that came from her hours of thoughtful study. In an age when televangelists and mega-churches have become the face of the church, we could seriously benefit as the body of Christ from those who are willing to sit and listen to a world that longs to be heard.