Introvert Style Church

As any introvert knows, today’s church experience is painful. (If you are unclear about what an introvert is, check out this excellent article in the Huffington Post by John Welrick).

Churches are getting bigger and bigger, and louder and louder. In some churches the amps are turned up so loud during ‘worship’ singing that they literally hurt highly sensitive ears and leave behind a ringing sound. (For those who don’t know, high sensitivity is a physical trait which causes a person’s physical senses to be much more sensitive than normal folks’. For HSP types, super loud music is actually painful, and high sensitivity appears regularly among introverts.) For an introvert, the pressure to ‘put out’ for everyone you meet and laugh, smile, chit-chat, hug, and handshake everyone in sight sucks every last drop of precious energy out of your body — and that’s before you even enter the Sanctuary.

By the time you sit down to the sermon, your brain is so exhausted and foggy that you can barely concentrate on what you are hearing, much less find that Bible passage in time. You end up dragging yourself home to collapse on the couch or across the bed and wonder why you bother going in the first place.

When people grow up in a certain culture and style of civilization, they tend to think that history has always been that way. Christians today seem to believe (at least unconsciously) that Church has always been a big, loud gathering of hundreds if not thousands of people. This is not at all the case.

In fact, the very first churches were small gatherings of just a few friends in someone’s living room. Back when Christianity started, it was looked down upon by the Jewish community as a radical sect, maybe even a cult, and the first believers often had to meet in secret. You can’t do that with hundreds!

This original, small group was what Paul was referring to when he wrote: “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” (Heb. 10:25)

That was the original church. What I call the introvert church.

In fact, all of Christianity seemed in the beginning to be centered more around introversion than extroversion. Although I’ve heard Extrovert pastors claim that they were sure Jesus had to be an extrovert (because there is a ridiculous and nasty prejudice circulating that introverts hate people), there is pretty solid evidence in the gospels to suggest that Jesus himself was (and is) an INFJ. (The ‘I’ at the beginning stands for Introversion.)

I could write an entire post just about that subject, but I’ll be brief.

Although he was an introvert who often had to retreat to be by himself after dealing with large crowds, INFJ’s are the most ‘extroverted’ of all introverts, and have a special gift for speaking in front of an audience. They are very charismatic and magnetic when they want to be, even more so than some extroverts! And aside from the small fact that no INFJ is by nature ambitious, they would probably make the best world leaders out of any personality type. (If you don’t think introverts can make good leaders, read ‘Quiet’ by Susan Cain. You might be surprised how many enormously successful mega-corporations are run by introverts! Bill Gates anyone?)

Although the INFJ is sometimes really good at inspiring large crowds, that is not their primary mode of operation. The ideals and morality of an INFJ comes from deep within themselves, and require a lot of thought for a very long time (years, decades even) before that personality type has it all worked out. Once they do work their beliefs out, that type will become incredibly firm in their convictions and will willingly die for others if it would help them. (Ghandi was also an INFJ, just as an example.)

In other words, the entire New Testament and Christianity itself — as stemming from Jesus — seemed in the beginning to be centered around introversion, not extroversion. All of Jesus’s teachings are immediately understandable to another INFJ, even familiar. They just make sense. Of course you want to spend time every day meditating in silence on God’s word. Of course you want to help others before yourself. Of course you want to love everyone (INFJ’s are notorious for wanting to save the world). Of course the meek will inherit the earth.

While most extroverts love being loved by people (and often mistake this desire for attention as love of humanity), introverts usually do not care if the crowd loves them. Instead, they are totally focused on what they can do for others, especially the INFJ personality. They are known for a deep compassion for others, and a total disregard of their own status. They do not attention-seek in any way, but are obsessed with helping, healing, counseling. How many popular extroverts would completely cast away their own popularity in order to minister to the uncool, to those whose presence could permanently sully their reputation?

“But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” (Matt 5:43) “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) Jesus’ teachings on love were wholly centered around giving yourself for others… not how they treat you, or even whether you have any emotion for them. (Real love is action, not emotion.) His love had nothing to do with being popular. Nor did his love require that the giver smile all the time, hug everyone, or shake hands.

But over the centuries and millennia, the Extroverted method of worship (which so often focuses on everyone feeling good together rather than people focusing on giving of themselves) has become far more popular than the more difficult, quieter, smaller, lonelier introvert version. Extroverts by nature usually take over when in competition with introverts as anyone knows who has worked in a group project with both personality types, and it’s easier to control (I mean teach) large crowds of people than small tight-knit groups.

I’m not saying extroverted style is bad, I’m just saying it does not seem to be how Christianity was originally built. And if we deviate too far from the original design of anything, it will become less and less efficient and display more and more flaws. I don’t know if anyone has noticed, but the modern Church does seem to have a few flaws…

Could it be that the Church has become unbalanced? Has a focus on pure extroversion (business, activities, meet and greets, lots of bustle) crowded out the very heart and soul of our faith? It seems these days the Church has a whole lot of activity going on but isn’t accomplishing nearly as much as it could or should. A lot of spinning of wheels, a lot of patting of backs, a lot of committees, not much action. I notice this when I attend services and am shocked by the rudimentary, elementary level of the teaching. Where is the depth? Where is the meat? Lost, I suppose, and the disappearance is easily covered up by too-loud amps.

I don’t intend to criticize the extroverts out there. Most extroverts who are serious about Christianity have learned to be a little introverted. They usually set aside quiet time in a study room with their Bible, they usually take time to pray alone and seek God, self-reflect and improve their souls in a very introverted manner.

But you know those extroverts who don’t; they are always rushing from one meeting to another, one social to another, one committee to another, putting on this or that charity, leading this or that group. They barely have time to fall into bed every night and sleep, much less time to set aside for isolated prayer! And these are the people who generally lead the Church and its various functions. (Not always. Just too often.)

The extroverted method of following Christ is vehemently defended by those who claim that introverts do not like people, and extroverts do. The fact is that introversion and extroversion has nothing to do with liking anyone. Both types like people equally. The difference is expressed this way: introverts gain their energy from being alone in a quiet place and become exhausted by crowds, extroverts gain their energy by interacting with other people and crowds and can become restless and bored when alone.

Because they gather energy differently, their attention is focused in the direction that their energy comes. Since introverts gather their energy from within, from their own spirit, they are focused within and tend to be introspective and quiet. Since extroverts gather their energy from other people, they tend to be social and focus their attention on other people.

Focusing on other people isn’t bad. It’s lovely and helpful. I’m just saying that it is foolish to declare that those who focus on other humans in order to gain energy from them are superior to those who focus on their own spirit in order to gain energy from it.

But I want to take a closer look at this. What do we mean when we say ‘energy?’ Are we talking about physical energy? No, actually. An introvert can be physically rested, and still completely exhausted by being around too many people (especially by being around extroverts).

In fact we are speaking of spiritual energy. Introverts gain spiritual energy by being alone; where do they get it? They draw it out of the deep well of their own spirit. This is the “living water” that Jesus talked about. This spiritual energy is refreshing and enlivening to an introvert (and to extroverts who practice this) and brings with it nourishment from God; ideas, revelation, even visions. When people gather this living water, they feel alive and powerful, joyful and confidant. It is Life itself.

Extroverts on the other hand pass spiritual energy around among themselves when they get into a group. The spiritual energy is like electricity running round and round a circuit. Because the Holy Spirit said that He would show up wherever more than two of His people gather, He contributes to the energy in the room and it grows, which energizes the people more. This even happens at sports stadiums and rock concerts, because God gives to everyone equally. The rain falls on the wicked as well as the just; he gives life-energy to all groups when they begin to experience joy together. It is how the universe functions.

Introverts carry around their living water, their spiritual energy, within themselves like carrying water in a clay vessel. This energy is very precious to them, takes a lot of time and effort to draw up, and they do not like to lose it. However, when they get around a bunch of extroverts who are literally passing energy around, the extroverts inadvertently suck the spiritual energy out of the introvert and add it to the flow which is in the group. However while the other extroverts have the ability to sip from this communal pool, the introvert does not. That leaves him feeling completely empty of energy while the extroverts are all filled.

It is estimated that anywhere from 25 to 50% of our population are introverts. That means it is likely that the same percentage of any church congregation are the same.

I have a theory. I believe that spiritual energy is just like any other kind of energy, and it has to follow laws that would be familiar to anyone who has taken physics. I postulate that introverts in the Body of Christ function as water-bearers who draw deeply from their own personal wells of spiritual energy and carry a great deal around inside themselves. They then transfer this energy to the extrovert crowd, who pass it around. Of course the extroverts bring their own ‘water of life’ as well, but I suspect their reservoir of spare energy isn’t as large (and it runs out quickly when they are alone).

I think perhaps in the Kingdom of God this transference of energy will be understood. I have great hopes that, rather than being looked down upon as taciturn, unfriendly, and any number of other things they are usually called, someday introverts will be respected as ministers of energy — those who draw the water of life for the others.

When introverts gather in small groups with maybe just a couple of extroverts, the spiritual energy is high. It is indescribable. The power, the revelation… it takes your breath away. To have all that spiritual energy, like huge batteries of it all around you, charging the atmosphere. It lights up the night.

I can imagine what the first Church meetings were like when Paul explains: “Whenever you come together, each of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a tongue, has a revelation, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification. If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be two or at the most three, each in turn, and let one interpret. But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge. But if anything is revealed to another who sits by, let the first keep silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, that all may learn and all may be encouraged.” (1 Cor. 14) Can you imagine all of this happening in one hour, in one night? Can you imagine this going on until dawn?

“Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight… After talking until daylight, he left.” (Acts 20:7-12)

The first groups were probably minyans. This is a Hebrew word meaning “count,” as in ‘the proper number’. A minion was like a baker’s dozen; although officially ten people were needed for group prayer and worship, they threw two more in just in case someone was sick, and that made it twelve. That was the original, historical worship group size. That is why Jesus had twelve disciples or ‘talmidim’ (students). They were a minyan; they were a church.

Jesus said, “go into all the world and make disciples.” The word he almost definitely used was ‘talmidim’— students. His own talmidim would have understood how many to make: twelve, because that’s the number of a minyan. Their direct orders were to go, and each of them find twelve students. In turn, when fully trained, those twelve would go out and find twelve more students. That is how Christianity was made to work on a daily and weekly basis.

Enormous groups like today’s Church did have their place in Biblical faith; they were called Assemblies. These happened during a Festival. Thousands, maybe even millions of people would come together in Jerusalem to celebrate the Holy Days (where the word holidays comes from). But those massive get-togethers were the exception, not the rule. There were only three days a year when enormous crowds were supposed to gather. The rest of the time the Church was to function in minyans.

During Festival Assemblies, it was assumed that no real work was going to get done, so nobody was supposed to try. Festivals were just for partying, enjoying fellowship, singing, and dancing. They were not for making disciples, doing any serious teaching, or carrying out the day-to-day work of the Kingdom. That was for the rest of the year when everyone went back to their home towns again with their small minyan.

Frankly, I think this original model of Christianity is the only way it can really function correctly. We spend far too much time in our big Festival Assembly style Churches playing loud music and listening to light, fluffy feel-good messages to get any real serious work done! The serious work is done in the quiet, in the heart, and on the move with a small dedicated group.

I think extrovert-style worship has eclipsed introvert-style insight and seriousness, leading to a Church that knows how to party, but has little else going for it. I think the Church had better tone down the fun and start getting serious or it will run into war suddenly and won’t be prepared for it. And I think that preparation begins with learning about the power and usefulness of introversion, which it currently dismisses and even despises.

Introversion is just as important to Christianity as extroversion. In fact I believe that serious study, serious thought, and serious sermons that can effect real change can only come from introverted style study and worship, whether a person is themselves introverted or extroverted. And until the Church recognizes the value of introversion as a whole, and the enormous power that such people should be bringing to the Body, it will remain a lion with its claws clipped and its teeth blunted.

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