Practical Stuff for Church Leaders

Understanding an Introvert (aka Tim Stevens)

Probably one of the best articles I have read in the past few months was on LeadershipJournal.com and is titled, "Confessions of a Ministry Introvert" by Amy Simpson. If you work with people, and especially in the church, you really must read the entire article. Here are some of my favorite quotes: On the definition of an introvert...

Psychologist Laurie Helgoe tells us, "What constitutes an introvert is quite simple. We are a vastly diverse group of people who prefer to look at life from the inside out. We gain energy and power through inner reflection, and get more excited by ideas than by external activities. When we converse, we listen well and expect others to do the same. We think first and talk later. Writing appeals to us because we can express ourselves without intrusion, and we often prefer communicating this way."

Another psychologist, Marti Olsen Laney, defines introverts this way: "Introverts draw energy from their internal world of ideas, emotions, and impressions. They are energy conservers. They can be easily overstimulated by the external world, experiencing the uncomfortable feeling of 'too much.'"

On churches and volunteers...

When churches recruit for ministry roles, many emphasize extroverted gifts like "high energy," "people person," and "outgoing." We want quick-thinkers, fast-acters, polished communicators, high-energy handshakers, and outreachers. It's easy to see how to plug extroverts into people-oriented ministries, and to assume that introverts fit best in behind-the-scenes roles with little people contact and little obvious connection to ministry strategy and vision. Such tendencies show a fundamental misunderstanding of introversion and the gifts introverts can bring to a ministry. This is a serious and costly mistake..."

On the difference in brain activity between extroverts and introverts...

One study found that introverts have more blood flow to their brains than extroverts, indicating more internal stimulation. The study also found that introverts' and extroverts' blood follows a different pathway through the brain. In introverts, the pathway is longer and more complicated, with blood flowing to the portions of the brain involved in internal experiences like remembering, problem-solving, and planning. Extroverts' blood flows faster and follows a shorter and less complicated route. It goes to the parts of the brain associated with sensory processing. Introverts are wired to focus on internal stimulation; extroverts external.

On how we treat introverts...

Despite what our extroverted culture values, introverts aren't flawed humans, mutant extroverts, or people in need of correction. Introversion is one of the characteristics that makes the world work, that makes us need each other, and that helps humans, and the church, reflect the image of God. No one should make introverts feel as if they need to reinvent their temperament to find a place in ministry.

Amy ends the article with tremendous ideas on how to engage introverts and tap the best that they have to offer. It is highly practical, like giving introverts a pass on camps or retreats that "require everything introverts can muster and leave them exhausted, crabby, and no good to anyone." Another concept is to give introverts the space and time to think, and then ask their opinion. Introverts often stay quiet and don't engage because the extroverts in the room don't allow any space.

Again, this is a must-read article for leaders (or for anyone wanting a better understanding of how Tim Stevens is wired!). Leave me your thoughts.