by Bill Mowry
Hooray for introverts! Discovering and naming my introverted side was a liberating moment for me. I now know my “sweet spot” preferences and can maximize them for the Great Commission.
When I’m asked if introverted people can make disciples, I respond with a resounding “yes!” After all, I share the traits of introversion.
Introversion describes a preference for how we process life; we’re energized by quiet and reflection. Extroverts process verbally; they’re energized by groups and conversation. Neither is more correct than the other; they’re simply preferences for how we process and become energized for life.
Personality strengths have a push/pull effect on us. When pushed to the extreme we’re pulled into moral or morale issues. When I push too hard on my positive quality of thoughtfulness, I’m pulled into isolation from people. My isolation deflates the morale of marriage, a workplace, or a ministry team.
When I push too hard on my introverted analytical strength, I get pulled into a critical and complaining spirit; complaining is a moral issue. Have you ever noticed what God does with complaining people in the book of Numbers (Numbers 11:1)? Complaining is not something we want to practice for long!
How can introverts maintain this healthy push/pull tension and make their God-given contribution? Here are four strengths introverts possess and when held in Godly tension, they are an asset in the Great Commission. You will also discover some suggestions on how to disciple my fellow introverts.
1. We’re thoughtful not always enthusiastic. Let’s be honest. Sometimes we measure our spirituality by the enthusiasm we express. Author Susan Cain makes the observation that “If you don’t love Jesus out loud, then it must not be real love . . . there’s an assumption that [my love for God] must be displayed publicly.”
I’m not the most enthusiastic person in worship settings. Most worship services are high on communication and expression, qualities which are not an introvert’s first choice. My sweet spot is finding the space and time to pause, reflect, pray, and connect with God. Please don’t read my reserved thoughtfulness as a lack of spirituality.
When discipling others let’s not confuse spirituality with personality. The reserved person is not less spiritual because he or she is not as verbal as another. Learn to value an introvert’s thoughtfulness and reserved approach to worship.
2. We’re reflectors not immediate initiators. Introverts can be labeled as lacking initiative because we take time to think and reflect before responding. We slowly analyze situations and come up with well-planned actions rather than on-the-fly solutions. Sometimes this reflective and slow nature can be read as lacking initiative.
When I ministered to faculty, I complained about the lack of initiative some faculty took in ministry. This thoughtful insight from a professor gave me perspective: “You know Bill, I consider myself a reflective activist.” That set me straight — I had focused on the activist side and neglected the reflective side. Both are needed.
In discipling others, don’t read an introvert’s slow reflective nature as a sign that he or she lacks initiative. An introvert needs time to ponder the best course of action. When they initiate it will be a well-thought-out response.
3. We’re private not always transparent. I describe my introverted preferences as someone who “holds their cards close to their chest.” I will lay down my cards when I have carefully worded my response or thoughtfully considered how to express myself. This sometimes comes across as lacking transparency. Introverts can be transparent but a high level of trust must be present for vulnerability to take place.
Sometimes we have to look in different ways for an introvert’s transparency. Many introverts enjoy writing and our writing is where we reveal ourselves. Read what we write and you will discover who we are. My hunch is that many introverts value loyalty over vulnerability. Introverts make great lifelong friends.
When discipling someone who is introverted take time to develop relationships of trust. Realize that transparency is not easily given but once it happens you can be assured that it’s genuine. Introverts seldom reveal themselves to win approval; they evaluate themselves too much to be someone they’re not.
4. We’re analytical not contentious. Introverts can be labeled as people who aren’t “team players.” We’re not immediate cheerleaders of other people’s ideas until we’ve had time to thoughtfully examine them.
We need time to think, explore, and critique ideas before giving a wholehearted endorsement. Our propensity to ask penetrating questions can be construed as contentiousness or a lack of a team spirit. We’re simply doing what comes natural to us — asking questions, thinking differently, and responding slowly.
When discipling an introvert don’t be afraid of their questions or take their analytical spirit as being contentious or deliberately argumentative. Give introverts time to think before responding. The strength of many introverts is that once won over to an idea or proposal they demonstrate great loyalty to making it happen.
In her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, Susan Cain calls both introverts and extroverts to “the rubber band theory.” “We are like rubber band’s at rest. We are elastic and can stretch ourselves, but only so much.” It’s good for extroverts to stretch themselves to be alone to think or be silent before expressing their opinions. It’s good for introverts to stretch themselves and participate in groups to process verbally and quickly. Elasticity keeps us from the push/pull tension of creating moral or morale issues.
Isn’t it great that our Creator has created each of us in “wonderful ways” (Psalm 139:14). In considering our extroverted and introverted natures we must keep in mind that we’re more than these categories of personhood. Our introverted/extroverted tendencies can be descriptive of who we are but they’re not always prescriptive of how we act; these categories simply describe our “sweet spots” — the preferences of our personalities. They do not describe the totality of God’s design of us.
If you’re married to an introvert or are discipling someone with an introverted nature take time to appreciate how the introvert in your life is . . .
- thoughtful but not always enthusiastic.
- reflective but not always quick to initiate.
- private but not immediately transparent.
- analytical but not necessarily contentious.