Introverts at a Conference

NWA1Something I learnt when I became a Christian was that Christians like to go away into the middle of nowhere, spend most hours of the day with people who they may or may not know, sit in meetings together, sing songs together and share rooms together and all this fueled by coffee and cake with not a bit of vitamin C in sight. It seems a bit odd at first glance.

However from my experience conferences are fun and exciting. Especially when you get to hang out with your friends, hear brilliant teaching and share in fellowship with brothers and sisters all around the world.

But for the introvert, conferences can cause a slight flutter of nerves and sweaty palms. The idea of spending a week or more surrounded by people for most the day or sitting in large meetings can be overwhelming. And I often feel like that.

Part of my job is to go to a lot of conferences. So I had to find a way to cope with them so that I wouldn’t shrivel up inside and retreat to my “happy place” every time I am in a social situation where I have to talk “small talk”. So here is my personal mini-guide on how an introvert can survive a conference:

1. Pray – I get quite anxious before a conference and I try to think up 100 diseases I could catch so that I would have a good excuse not to go. So I have to cling on to the verse that I need to cast all my anxieties on to him because he cares for me (1 Peter 5:7). The Lord does care for me and he doesn’t want me to worry about this conference, so a good pray and then several thousand repeated prayers because I am dull of heart, tends to help.

2. Don’t Expect to Speak to Everyone – Having conversations with everyone will tire you out, so don’t place those expectations on yourself. You will have someone on stage saying that you need to make sure you are sociable and speak to everyone. But that may look different for you – you don’t have to be a social butterfly, going from one conversation to another with a flap of your wings. You may find you have a couple of close friends you stick to throughout the week and then a couple of others outside your friendship group that you invest in from time to time. And that is OK. Those relationships will be more meaningful. I have found that through this approach I have deepened a lot of my friendships at work.

3. Take Time Out – Rest. Don’t go to everything. If you need time out and itnextleaders means missing a talk or going to bed early, than do it. And don’t feel guilty about it. At a conference I sometimes feel like I am back at school with my pleated skirt and oversized blazer and I have to go to every lesson for the fear of being told off. A conference is not school. We are now adults. We don’t have to go to everything. We can choose what we go to. And praise the Lord I don’t have to wear that blazer anymore!

4. Rejoice in our Extroverted Friends – Praise the Lord for our extroverted friends. You see them going from one person to another, creating connections, being influential having streams of conversations. Praise the Lord that they are different to you. Don’t be jealous. They are just different to you and you are making connections in different ways to them.

5. Rest Afterwards – Thankfully I get time off in lieu for being at a conference. After a conference I often feel exhausted and drained so if you can rest afterwards then do! Don’t feel guilty having time out and away from people after a conference.

6. Go out of your Comfort Place – Being an introvert is not excuse to hide away for all of the conference and not speak to anyone! It’s not an excuse to not make any connections with people or make an effort. We need to push out of our comfort zone – meet new people, make conversation even if its hard, create connections and be interested in people. Chances are you will meet people from all different walks of life, with various struggles, cultures and ideas. They are exciting to get to know.

So there you go, a small list of how I survive a conference as an introvert. Please do add any of your own advice in my comments as I am always interested to learn in this area.

Inside the mind of an Introvert

Over the road Tanya Marlow wrote a post on being an honorary introvert, it’s a great post and she invites us in to see what its like to be an extrovert at the dinner table. We see a glimpse of what its like to be an extrovert with an illness that keeps her indoors and through this she reflects on how she is an honorary introvert. It’s a great read and it got me thinking again about introverts and extroverts. I wrote some posts a while back on Introverts in the church that shared some of my thoughts from the book that I was reading on that subject.

I laughed a lot when Tanya said: “Sometimes, I will confess, I view introverts as a blank canvas onto which I splash my bright, oh-so-interesting stories.  It came as quite a shock when I entered Twitter and the Blogosphere, and discovered that introverts have thoughts.”

It made me laugh because as an introvert myself with edges of life dipping into pools of the extrovert world, I guess on the outside it would seem I was shy, lacking in confidence and have nothing meaningful to say. I am a blank canvas. But the truth is, inside my brain are a thousand thoughts and pictures, its like a firework display constantly going off. It is noisy. Thinking about conversations I have had, thinking about theology, thinking about conversations that I may have or may never have, thinking about what I will do next, thinking about what the person in front of me has just said – do I agree, don’t I agree? What does that person really mean when they say that? What will they think if I say this in response? …. mmm I wonder whats for dinner tonight.

Now if you ask me a question and there is a silence it doesn’t mean I don’t have an answer. Whats actually happening is that I am running through every situation in my head on how to answer this, I delve into the knowledge I might have around that question, the logical answer, the emotional answer, the truthful answer and I think about all the possible responses you may have to that answer which will determine whether I say it or not.

The danger of us introverts starting to say anything out loud is that someone will interrupt us and disrupt the thought pattern and ruin what we are going to say, which will cause us to start the thinking process again. Which takes time and if you are in a group with extroverts what probably has happened is that they are three topics ahead and the introverts are still mulling over what the first conversation was about. It’s quite funny really!

This is why I quite like twitter and blogging. It gives a great chance to spend time thinking and chewing through ideas before writing it down. Then you can look over it and change anything you want to.Without any interruptions. Check out Tanya’s post on introverts taking over the internet!

One thing I have learnt though is that at times I need to think and speak quicker and I don’t have to go through all scenarios before I say something to someone. I do have things to say, I just need to speak up at times.

Also extroverts do have good things to say. You see, I guess I sometimes think that as extroverts talk out their thoughts I am often thinking that they aren’t saying anything at all meaningful. If I actually sit and listen then I will find that there is a meaningful conclusion and if extroverts sit and wait for introverts then they will hear a meaningful conclusion too. The working out of that is either out loud or in their head. Noise and silence which will bring pain and awkwardness to both people. But in friendship as I learn with my friend Tanya, a bit of awkward noise or silence is well worth it in the end.

Collection of Webs (23)

Its been a while since I have done this, but lets look around the web and see whats going on!

A world with no Page 3 girls? Ellie talks about how she would like to see this happen.

Those who play video games are easy targets for pastors. This pastor writes about why this shouldn’t be so.

Another post by the same guy above (called Stephen) has written a post on leading your small group like a Ninja Warrior. It made me laugh!

Are Introverts taking over Twitter? Post by Tanya Marlow.

Bryony Blogs on 10 reasons why you should support a Relay Worker.


Introverts I know (pt4)

This week I have been looking at the book: Introverts in the church and I have been writing up some of the ideas in the book mixed with a couple of my thoughts. I have been wonderfully surprised by how many people have responded to these posts and a lot of people have felt the same. This has been very encouraging. So here are the links to the three posts:

1. Part 1: The extroverted Church
2. Part 2: Jesus the extrovert or introvert?
3. Part 3: How can introverts serve in church?

Now I want to share with you a couple of introverts that I know, who are just wonderful and bring such vibrance, thoughtfulness and deep friendship:

1. Kristi – Thoughtful and deep thinking. I always have wonderful deep conversations with her which challenge me and encourage me at the same time. I have no doubt that she brings to the church and UCCF staff a great deal of challenges to think through and thought-provoking conversations that lead us to think more of Christ. Lets hope she is heard.

2. Ali  – When Ali spends time with us I can never stop laughing. You would probably not think she is an introvert as she seems such the life of the group, coming out with very funny statement/social awkwardness (love it). Yet she also likes to spend time on her own to re-charge and she is very thoughtful, bringing much fun and thoughtfulness to Staff life.

3. Emily  – She would say that she is in the middle, an extrovert and introvert. Getting energy from people as she has conversations and yet enjoys times of thinking things through. Again I have many fantastic conversations with her that range from theology, work and life. It’s so fun spending time with her.

There are wonderful introverts and extroverts in our churches. Lets look out for them, those on the edge,not seeming to fit in.

Introverts in the Church (pt3)

What is the place of introverts in the church?

As we looked yesterday at whether Jesus is an extrovert, we discovered that he is both and yet most people think he is an extrovert. This assumption can pass through to our pastors. We expect them to be extroverts, being sociable and caring for all our social needs, preaching on the Sunday and then going into coffee time full of energy and ready to listen to the needs of people. But if you’re an introvert these things can be draining and after a sermon you may just want to run and hide in your study. Now I am not a pastor but I do get opportunities to do some teaching in various contexts and I pour all my energy into it and so afterwards I am not always up for talking deeply with people, my conversational function has hit an all new zero. But it doesn’t mean I don’t care about people.

The author of the book, Adam Mchugh is an introvert and a pastor and he shares much of his struggles with the two and the expectations of people and the church. He also shares many stories of introverts in the church. But this doesn’t mean pastors must only be extroverts or otherwise you will lose something of depth that introverts bring. A lot of it is to do with expectations. If you know your pastor is more introverted then how will love them well? How will you not place burdens on their shoulders and expect them to fit into your extrovert character that you think all pastors should be?

But also, as introverts we can help ourselves too in church.  Here are some ideas:

What not to do:

  • Stop going to church. This is the worst idea in the world. The church is the bride of Christ, he loves her and has died for her. No church is perfect and you need to be going and supporting your local church.
  • Grumble and complain. This will destroy you and the church. Its spreads like wild fire too.
  • Avoid relationships. You were made to be in a relationship. Relationships are good and your default will be stronger and deeper relationships, which adds great value to the church.

What to do:

  • Learn to plan time well and plan in time for rest and thinking. Planning in down time is important and how you do it – if you wait to the weekend and have a huge amount of downtime you may find you get bored and restless, when actually what you need is spurts of downtime in your week. Are you planning your week well?
  • There is a word that we find hard to say: “no”… yes that word, it gets stuck on our tongue and never quite comes out. We have to learn to say no when we know that some situations will drain us or we mentally cannot do any more or see any more people.
  • Encourage your church leaders, if they are naturally introverts – encourage them to rest and find time for thinking space.
  • Serve in the church. Find a place you can serve well and doesn’t drain you.
  • There will be times when we need to plan in “people time” and plan that well. Even if we connect with only one or two people, then that is good, it’s when we start thinking we need to connect with EVERYONE thats when the problems start. Building relationships is important and spending time with people is important too.
  • Your identity is in Christ. This is most important because you will compare with others and how sociable they are and how they are well connected in the church. But the small things you do, the connections you make with people are seen by Jesus and have a lasting affect on the church even if no one realises to start with. Have heart, you are in Christ and nothing can remove you.

I mentioned serving in Church which I think it can feel hard, but we need to think of ways that complement our gifts and don’t drain us. If you put me in charge of hospitality for the whole church then I don’t think I could handle the constant social need, however if I was involved in planning, teaching or closer communities for homegroup/small activities etc, I think I would flourish.

In our day, I am convinced that introverts are an important ingredient in the antidote to what ails evangelicalism. Our slower pace of life, our thoughtfulness, our spiritual and intellectual depth, and our listening abilities are prophetic qualities for the evangelical community, calling us to a renewed understanding of God and a fresh reading on the abundant life Jesus came to give us. Yet because of the extroverted bias in many of our churches, introverts are leading double lives. We are masquerading as extroverts in order to find acceptance, yet we feel displaced and confused. We are weary of fighting our introversion, and we long to live faithfully as the people we were created to be. (p. 31)

There are ways that introverts can serve in the church that bring depth, vitality, thoughtfulness, gentleness, compassion, reflective time and deep personal relationships. Not to say that extroverts can’t do this, but I think introverts have particular gifts in those areas and the book speaks more about them, which is why its worth reading. But it’s when we start to think we need to fit into an extrovert mold that we begin to find trouble, we get confused and unhappy. We put pressure on ourselves to be something we are not. Are you doing that?

Website of Introverts in the Church

Final post tomorrow. The introverts I know and what they bring to the lives of other christians and the Church.

Introverts in the church (pt2)

When you think of Jesus in the Gospels, do you think he was an extrovert or an introvert?

Might seem like an odd question. But some research was done in 2004 by Susan Howell (this was mentioned in the book on page 15) that when they were asked whether Jesus was an introvert or extrovert they concluded that 97% said that Jesus was an extrovert. This test was taken by introverts and extroverts. So even introverts have concluded that Jesus was an extrovert. However is that from what they read in scripture or is that what church culture is portraying to them?

“The evidence of Jesus’ personality is not clear-cut. Our bibles that print his words in red tempt us to see him as a talking head, while relegating other aspects of his ministry to incidental circumstance” pg 15

Jesus hangs around with a select few, his closest friends and he retreats from the crowds. Yet on the other hand he is surrounded by many people, teaching to many crowds, he goes to weddings (although he is not the centre of that party), he has dinner with lots of people and seems to show extrovert qualities as well as introvert qualities. It seems that Jesus shows us both. But what is most interesting is that we tend to home in on the extrovert qualities and say that we must be like that. Its difficult when you can’t be like that – where does that leave me? Pray harder? Ask God to change me to an extrovert? Read my bible more?… mmm

A quote from the book –

“Because introversion is not synonymous with shyness or aloofness, true introverts are harder to identify than you might think. You can’t always look for wallflowers or people staring at their feet to determine who the introverts are. Healthy introverts are not recluses. Just because we are oriented toward our inner worlds does not necessitate that we live in a private world, devoid of social contact and activity. It means that whatever context we are in, we are predisposed toward what is happening inside of us more than we are in what is taking place around us. Introverts can be in an unruly crowd, still immersed in our internal worlds. (p. 42)”

I think we need to start thinking about this in our churches, CU’s and homegroups. Even think about our own expectations because the silly thing is that I can quite easily cast judgement on people if I don’t think they are performing as much socially as they should, because that is the expectation and how we should act. But do our hearts, churches and CU’s accommodate for introverts who won’t be the social butterfly but will be the ones that think more deeply, spend time in study, think and ponder over questions, have deep conversations and relationships and enrich the church in this area? Or is the church all about the outward loud appearance of always being active and social?

I guessing I am leaving with a question. Any comments please do comment.

Next post: How introverts can serve and lead in church?

Website of Introverts in the Church

Introverts in the Church (pt1)

I have been reading a really interesting book recently called “Introverts in the Church” by Adam S.McHugh which is what it is about: introverts in the church. His website is here. The book has been somewhat a comfort to me as its revealed a lot about what I find uncomfortable with church and general Christian gatherings because I am more introverted and find some activities more draining then others. So I want to share with you some of what the book has been saying and also some of my own thoughts, if you are an introvert and find some things uncomfortable and you have not known why, you should have a read of this book! If you are not an introvert, you should read this book anyway, it may be really insightful for you.

Firstly it is good to identify what is an introvert and what is an extrovert. Most people may think that introverts are shy, timid, awkward people and extroverts are loud, life of the party, flourishing in conversation and life. Although perhaps some of that is true, actually it is more to do with energy and where you get your energy from, for an extrovert they tend to get their energy from people and are able to be in social situations for long periods of time and find it gives them abundance life and energy, they find that being on their own for long periods of time is a nightmare and very draining and lonely. Where as an introvert it is the opposite, introverts can spend long periods of time on their own, thinking, gaining their energy from being alone where as being in a social situation for long periods of time can be draining and just sucks the energy out of them.

I wonder where you fit? Perhaps you are a bit of both or perhaps you fit perfectly in one camp. Maybe think about how you feel after long periods of social interaction  – are you full of energy or drained?

I know where I fit. I fit into the introvert circle, I find long periods of social interaction quite draining and things like coffee time at church can be quite overwhelming for me. I love time to be on my own to reflect, read or write. There is also a dialogue going on in my head and it takes me forever to think and speak, so most people think I am quiet when actually I am just processing everything in my head. These are some of the things that this book addresses and it really hit the mark for me and showed me why I find some situations in church or in Christian circles quite difficult. (not just true for Christian circles of course)

And the main reason why it is hard is that most churches that are more charismatic lean more towards those that are extroverted. The book explains this is a huge factor in American churches, but it is also true for British Churches and I don’t just mean the church I am at now, but a lot of charismatic/evangelical churches across the UK are more geared up for extroverts. You may think I am being unfair and disagree with me, or you may be reading this and some of the pieces fit together as to why you have been feeling on the edge of church community.

An interesting quote from the book:

“Sometimes our value for community life can become a substitute for our relationship with God. Psychology professor Richard Beck says that for some churches spirituality is equated with sociability. The mark of a progressing faith is familiarity with a growing number of people and participation in an  increasing number of activities.” pg20

I think there are huge expectations in churches for the congregation and also for the Pastor to be a continual social butterfly, tending to all the needs of the church, being able to attend all the social activities, being very sociable during church time, attending various groups and activities, being able to serve in as many areas as possible, being able to worship in a loud outward way with no room for quietness and reflection… it makes it hard for introverts to fit in, in a way that doesn’t make people think you are anti-social.

Another quote from the book:

“Emotionally one would have to say that evangelicalism is a much more “up front” form of piety, and very talkative, whereas in some church traditions you enter a sanctuary in a spirit of quiet reverence, in evangelical churches you walk into what feels like a non-alcoholic cocktail party. There is a chatty, mingling informality to evangelicalism, where words flow like wine” pg 21

I don’t think this is always a bad thing and churches can lean-to one extreme or the other. Which makes it difficult to fit in and be able to use your gifts in either extreme. What is needed is a balance and space for both types of people, however its difficult to get there if the church itself still thinks Christians need to be extrovert type people to serve well and effectively and the whole ambience of church is for the expression of extroverts rather than introverts…

Tomorrow we will be looking at this some more…stay tuned! Would love to know what you think, please do comment!