I’m an introvert. That is not news to anyone who knows me well, but it may surprise many who know me only through my public ministry. As an introvert, I don’t mind spending time alone. Many of those who know me best think that is a good thing. 🙂
Whereas extroverts (also spelled “extraverts”) thrive on social interaction and are energized by being with people, introverts like me find socializing, except with a small number of very close friends, stressful and energy-depleting. And yet it is an absolutely essential element in most public ministry, especially the pastorate.
When I was in seminary, I took the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator for the first time. The MBTI is a questionnaire which measures personal preferences in the way individuals perceive the world and make decisions. One component of personality type which the instrument evaluates is the propensity toward introversion or extroversion. When my faculty advisor was reviewing with me the assessment of my responses to the MBTI questions, he looked at the results then at me and said, “Hmmm. An introvert in an extrovert’s job. Are you prepared for that?”
“I guess I’ll have to be,” I said, or some words to that effect. I wasn’t surprised by his comment. I had, by that time, spent more than thirty years pretending to feel comfortable in social contexts dominated by the outgoing and gregarious.
I’m not complaining, mind you. I don’t feel burdened by my introversion, and I never thought of introverts as inferior to extroverts in any way. I am blessed with above-average intelligence and the ability to speak in public, both off-the-cuff and from a prepared text. It may be true that, in most group discussions I’ve been part of, the conversation was controlled by garrulous extroverts. Still, I took solace in the knowledge that, if they ever got around to asking for my input, I would have something worthwhile to say.
You might assume that I would consider my current ministry—which is almost exclusively the writing of these blog posts and the recording of podcasts—ideally suited to one with my predisposition toward introversion. You might further conclude that I am happy to spend my time doing something which allows me to express my views and publish my thoughts without having to interact with other people except via email. You would be wrong.
I’m an introvert, not a hermit. I don’t mind keeping my own company, and I believe there are times when the discipline of solitude is beneficial, even for extroverts. But I also know there are times when social interaction, however difficult and tiring it might be, is not only valuable, it is essential for emotional and spiritual health.
Christianity is a group endeavor. While people come to faith one by one, they are often persuaded to believe because they observe the impact of Christian truth claims on a group of people who share a common faith.
The writers of the New Testament use images such as the organs of a body, sheep in a flock, branches on a vine, and members of a household to describe the nature and character of the church. The element common to all of those images is relationship. Expressions such as “community” (or “communion”), “fellowship,” and “one another” occur frequently. It is clear that God intends us to think of the Christian faith and its impact on the world in terms of a community of believers in relationship with Him and with each other.
I thought about this the other day when a good friend of mine commented on the increase over the past year in the number of people who read my blog. He asked if I found the work fulfilling and the growth in readership encouraging. I said yes but then added that I missed the interaction I had enjoyed with my students when I was a college teacher and with my congregation when I was a pastor. Those who are called to be Christian teachers and preachers, even when they are introverts by nature, still require face-to-face contact to fulfill their calling most meaningfully. That’s the nature of ministry—no, more than that, it’s the nature of life—in the church, the Body of Christ.
I hope that what I write in these blog posts and say in my podcasts is helpful to those who read or listen. I work hard at both of those enterprises, and I try to do my best. But I don’t do this work because I think I have such unique wisdom and insight that people will miss God’s will or God’s blessing if they don’t read what I write. I do it because God has called me to do it, has given me appropriate gifts to enable me to do it, and has guided me through a particular set of life experiences so that I can do it with some degree of integrity and credibility.
At their most effective, however, both teaching and preaching are interactive endeavors. At the lectern in the classroom or at the pulpit in the sanctuary, I gain as much as I impart. That’s why a blog or a podcast, as much as they afford me an outlet for my gifting, are less than completely fulfilling as opportunities for ministry. They enable me to give. I still miss what I used to receive when I was able to carry out my ministry in a face-to-face setting.
That’s also why I have, so far, been unsuccessful in realizing my dream of seeing God establish a new church in Columbus, OH, near the campus of The Ohio State University. That venture has to be a group endeavor, and so far God has not brought together a mutually-accountable group of people with a unified commitment to a common vision.
People have asked me why I have not taken more initiative, as an individual, to bring this thing about. After all, they have suggested, the Apostle Paul seems to have been aggressive in taking the Gospel into new communities and establishing churches there.
My response has been that Paul always worked as part of a team—first with Barnabas and Mark, later with Silas and Timothy—and undertook his ministry under the sponsorship and oversight of the church in Antioch, to which he returned after each of his missionary trips. I have neither Paul’s gifts nor his network of support.
But I have not given up. I’ll tell you a little story to illustrate why that is true. It is all the more pertinent because it begins with my blog.
Just over two weeks ago, I received an email note from a young man who had come across my blog while searching the web for church planting efforts in Columbus, Ohio. A professional in his early thirties (I’ll call him “Will”), his pilgrimage, though far different from mine in its particulars, had nonetheless brought him to a place very like my own with regard to a burden for the church and a commitment to the Kingdom of God.
Will and his wife, a doctoral student at OSU, live in Columbus. He and I agreed to meet for coffee and conversation at the coffee shop not far from my office in Grandview Heights. For three hours we shared and listened. I could hardly believe that God had caused my path to cross with that of someone whose vision for the church and whose commitment to the Kingdom was so similar to mine. I joked with him that we are so much alike in that regard that one of us is unnecessary. Then it quickly dawned on me that I am thirty years older than he, and we agreed that we are both needed to carry the banner in our respective generations.
I perceive that we are both introverts. I’m certain that neither of us is an aggressive entrepreneur. We both believe that God could raise up a church like the one I have described in previous blog posts. Neither of us knows if He will do that, but if He does, we both want to be part of it.
I don’t know if anything more will come of this encounter. I told him that a multitude of similar contacts over the past few years which had ultimately come to nought had left me a bit jaded. I hope that our paths cross again, and, truth be told, I hope that we end up working together in the church that God will establish in Columbus near OSU. When we parted, however, we both acknowledged that God is in control, and we are but His servants.
Two men from different generations with a common vision still do not constitute the critical mass needed to form the core of a new church. But the same God who brought us together around this vision can do that again and again until He makes it clear that it is time for the dream to become reality.
If and when that happens, no individual will be able to take credit for the outcome. It will happen because God did it. He will have brought together, by a variety of means, those people He has, even now, chosen to participate in this glorious but difficult challenge. And when we lift our voices in praise on that future day when this church, now but a vision, is then a reality, we will know that it came about because, just as God intends His church to be, we were all in it together.
Soli Deo Gloria.