Introverts have been getting a lot of press recently. And that’s probably because instead of going out, introverts are spending more time at home writing articles about what it’s like to be an introvert in an extrovert’s world.
Unfortunately, there’s a lot of nonsense mixed in with the truth (some of it perpetuated by introverts themselves).
- Introverts don’t hate to talk
- Introverts don’t hate being around people
- Introverts don’t like to go out in public
- Introverts don’t struggle with public speaking
What’s an introvert?
The introversion/extroversion spectrum is about energy. Basically introverts are energized from within, while extroverts rely on people and outside stimulus for energy.
When you visualize it as a spectrum with extreme extroverts and introverts on either end, you realize that the vast majority of people lie somewhere in the middle. You won’t find that many people stuck on either end of the spectrum.
As Carl Jung says, “There is no such thing as a pure introvert or extrovert. Such a person would be in the lunatic asylum.”
The pastor as an introvert
Introverted pastors are not rare. The mental image of a professional who spends all his time studying and working on sermons is a draw for the more introverted personality. It’s isn’t until they get thrown into the job that they realize how much energy-zapping interaction is really required of them, and often these interactions are sprung on them with no warning.
But despite the obvious challenges, introverts can shine as pastors.
Here are a some tips to help introverted pastors excel.
1. Get out of your comfort zone
We all gravitate to the areas we’re most comfortable. For introverts in a position that requires a lot of interaction, it means that we’re often looking for ways to get out of social situations (or at least escape early).
It’s not only important that you learn to invest yourselves in the lives of others, but you also need to downplay your introversion. The people in your care don’t need to hear how emotionally draining they are on you.
It takes some self-discipline to overcome our natural tendencies in this department. And that becomes much easier when you:
2. Establish a rhythm with rewards
It can be depleting when you open your calendar and it’s suddenly full of counseling appointments and visitations. Instead of having your week control you with random and sporadic appointments, block off specific times every week for your congregation use.
Maybe you can block off four hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays. With a tool like Calendly, you can create regular blocks of time every week for congregational needs. This way you have a better handle on your regular social expectations and they’re not randomly occurring all week long.
Obviously stuff is still going to come up occasionally, but this will make you feel like you have more power over your schedule.
Then offset your social-heavy times by rewarding yourself with some energizing alone time. Put a 30–45 appointment on Tuesday and Thursday to take a walk or sit quietly in a coffee shop with a book.
The key is to try and make your social requirements as predictable as possible, and then to reward yourself with some time to recharge.
3. Invite others on errands with you
When you know there’s someone you need to spend some time with, invite them to run errands with you. Maybe you can ask them to come on a trip to get some church supplies, or they could help you work on some household projects. Interactions can feel a lot more natural when you’re not staring at each over a coffeeshop table.
One of the more draining parts of interactions for introverts is the feeling that you’re responsible for keeping the conversation alive. You’d be amazed at how much of that pressure disappears when any silence doesn’t feel unwanted and awkward.
4. Learn how to make small talk
I never enjoyed small talk. It’s not that I don’t like talking to people, it’s that I had convinced myself that small talk was a waste of my time. Deep and profound conversation was so much more important. Why should I waste my time with small talk?
But some of the best advice I ever received as a young pastor challenged my natural inclinations. An experienced mentor of mine told me just how important small talk was for building relationships and establishing trust. “It’s a skill,” he said. “You can learn to do it.”
He was right. Small talk was incredibly important, and the more I worked at it, the easier it became.
As an introvert, it was a simple case of putting my natural curiosity to work for me. When I met someone, I learned how to push through my awkwardness and ask them questions. Learning as much as I could about the person I was talking to became a game for me. I did become better at it, and I quickly recognized it’s relational value.
Stop romanticizing introspection
As pastors, we can’t allow ourselves to fall into the zeitgeist of romanticizing introversion. Introversion makes it easier to do parts of our job and challenges other elements. If we allow ourselves to glamorize introversion’s extremes, we run the risk of excusing ourselves from the very important, people-oriented tasks that pastoral work is ultimately about.
Extroverts shouldn’t get a pass on the hard work of prayer, study, and meditation. Like anyone else, they should find ways to make up for their personality-type’s weaknesses. The same is true for introverts.
After all, can you imagine hiring a shepherd who enjoyed the quiet, outdoorsy parts of shepherding but found caring for your sheep exhausting? In the end, you’d expect them to prioritize the features of the job accurately—and your number one expectation would be that they care for your sheep.