The two worlds of the introverted pastor

I recently saw a meme about how tired we are of hearing about introverts. There’s been a lot of that going around lately, so I apologize for carrying on about it here. I do this not because it’s the thing to do, but because I’ve been reading and thinking about it lately. It has been a great exercise in understanding myself more and in identifying strengths and weaknesses.

One of my seminary professors once told our class that the majority of pastors are introverts. A useful, but shallow, definition of an introvert is someone who is energized by solitude (and its related activities) and whose strength is drained in crowds (and their related activities). Desiring solitude is not the same as shyness; an introvert is not necessarily shy, however. As I say, this is a very shallow definition of introversion and really doesn’t do justice to the nuances and spectrum of the trait. But it’ll do for now.

If my professor’s statistic is true, it’s an interesting one to consider. On the positive side, an introverted pastor is suited to the calling of preaching and teaching, which requires significant time studying in solitude. On the potentially negative side, an introverted pastor is nevertheless required to spend significant time with people. I say potentially, because to be an introvert is not to say that one doesn’t like people or spending time with them. Rather, it means that a good portion of the introverted pastor’s work is work that drains rather than energizes. I am not a pure introvert (I assume that few people, if any, are), so I find Sunday mornings, for example, both energizing and very draining.

But I’m thinking of this at the moment in terms of the introverted pastor (me) at home. At church and youth functions, I am relatively lively and energetic, making a point of interacting with people. At home, I tend to be quiet and solitary (as far as that’s possible with a wife and kids). That doesn’t mean I’m pretending at public functions, acting like something I’m really not. It just means that I’m drawing on a different part of who I am, or like a rechargeable battery, at public church functions I’m a battery plugged in and making the bunny walk and beat its drum, whereas at home I’m a battery plugged into the charger.

What I’ve wondered about it when the two worlds collide: when someone from the church or a one of my youth is over for non-“official” reasons. What does is it like for them to experience me recharging at home—not very talkative, reading, keeping to myself? Can those two “sides” of me coexist in their minds? Should I plug the battery back into the bunny when people come by? Sometimes I do, but not always.

It’s one reason I think understanding personality can be very important in communities like the church. We live in a world in which extroversion is generally assumed to be the ideal (see Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain). Misunderstandings can occur when we don’t understand how people are wired, or more specifically, how each person is wired in a unique way. Our expectations of others can easily be shaped by either the ideal or dominant personality within a community (and extroversion is by nature dominant).

Something I’ve been pondering.

3 thoughts on “The two worlds of the introverted pastor

  1. Toni

    As with so many things, we (humanity) seem to have a desire to break things down, take them apart, dissect them under the microscope, label them & parcel them up into neat little boxes that may never be connected or work together. The example of the pocketwatch and hammer springs to mind.

    In church we can choose to accept people as they are, or reject them because they don’t fit what we want them to be. There’s no need to break everyone down, analyse them, box them up – people just are who they are. I’d suggest it’s generally better to be ‘you’ as long as you is a healthy, honourable, loving and righteous example of what a Christian is, so that they can see how you actually live. If you pretend to be an amazing all-on-the-go pastor then that’s what they’ll think they need to be like if they’re to model after you. That’s not to say you shouldn’t make an effort for them, but the Marc I’ve seen is admirable and worth discipling off ‘as is’. No need to be what you’re not.

    It may also be that they will see it’s possible for the home to be a place of quiet and rest and meeting God, just as being out can be a place of activity and business.

  2. Randall

    Hey Marc, that’s a good post.

    I think its the both sides of us, and I tend to respond as the need arises. If they need to know my quiet recuperating self then there I am. However more often than not, they are uncomfortable with that part of me.

    For me the big piece is that the quiet is just how I recuperate, restore myself, more than it being two sides of me. What is REALLY and I mean really hard to live and figure out, is that our spouses are people too, and so are our kids, and they need us to be present. But what if they need us at a time when we need to be quiet and regain our True North?

    I hate that about this work and recuperation by solitude.

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