At its best, the charismatic evangelical Church is a vibrant, biblical, Jesus-centred and gospel-focused place of joyful community. You’ll hear comments about it such as, ‘It’s so lively and friendly’ and ‘God is powerfully present!’
But hang around longer, and you may also hear, ‘It’s full of noise and hubbub!’ or ‘Sometimes I worry that it’s a formulaic performance’. Occasionally, charismatic churches seem to be dominated by the loudest voices, and can appear to reflect a shallow spirituality in search of immediate reward.
I believe that this confusion reflects the fact that modern Western charismatic culture is highly and almost uniformly extrovert in nature. We are failing to engage with the vital introvert dimension to life and faith, leaving us imbalanced. We need to engage with the quieter, reflective aspects of discipleship if we are to ‘be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God’ (Ephesians 3:19; see also 4:13).
This extrovert dominance is bizarre. A charismatic is simply a Christian who lives in expectation of daily encounters with God, by his Spirit, and seeks to respond to the presence of God faithfully and courageously. Charismatics are Jesus people, seeking to model their lives on
INTROVERT: A NEGATIVE WORD?
‘Introvert’ is often used as a negative word. We hear it and think of self-obsession, introspection and disengagement. But this is not what it means.
INTROVERTS RECHARGE IN SOLITUDE
Carl Jung understood introversion to be an orientation that focused primarily on the inner life. This has been picked up by the Myers-Briggs personality type indicator and popularised recently by books such as Susan Cain’s Quiet (Penguin). In basic terms, some people get their energy from ‘the inner world’, while others receive it from ‘the outer world’. But this is not to do with social skills or interpersonal ability. It is to do with what charges your batteries and what drains you.
An extrovert might have spent a day working productively alone, but what he or she now needs more than anything is to get together with some other people. Moreover, they might well have spent the day, which was given to working alone, with the radio on, the mobile phone close, or with social media running in the background. Conversely, introverts can work well in a team, but at the end of the day they need to take a long bath, read a good book or quietly watch the news. Introverts recharge in solitude.
So why is the charismatic Church a richer place for the presence and nurture of its introverts? Let me offer you six observations about the common characteristics of the introvert, and some accompanying explanations. Note that these are broad observations and, because every person is unique, will not be true of every introvert.
1. INTROVERTS LISTEN WELL
If you throw out a new idea, an extrovert will debate it with you, working it over in conversation. Do the same to an introvert and by preference they will receive it carefully, chew it over, and then offer thoughts and responses later on. This is why introverts sometimes appear intransigent in an argument. They have not had the chance to engage with new points of view and are not comfortable doing so without the security of space to do so well. All they can do in the meantime is defend an already thought-through position. Later they will have engaged with your point of view but, having listened, they now need to reflect.
Introverts won’t always get listening right, however. Socially skilled introverts can give the impression of listening simply to create space for their own reflection. Moreover, introverts who don’t know their limits can fear becoming exhausted by others.
Nevertheless, the gift of listening is an essential one for the health of the Church and the growth of disciples. It is often said that ‘what most people need is a jolly good listening to’.
Charismatic culture is often good at telling people things, but if we are genuinely responding to God’s initiative in Christ and by his Spirit, a vital part of our growth in Christ comes when another accompanies our exploration, praying deeply and reading the scriptures with us, and reflecting faithfully with us on the areas in which we struggle.
GOOD LEADERS FOSTER PEOPLE WHO CAN BE THE NATHAN TO THEIR DAVID OR THE NAOMI TO THEIR RUTH
We need to learn to listen to the Lord as well as listening to each other. This is a call to all Christians, of course, but if there are those who are inclined in this direction, we need to cherish and encourage their roles in the Church.
2. INTROVERTS MIGHT NOT SAY MUCH, BUT WHAT THEY SAY MATTERS
Introverts offer their thoughts in a different way from extroverts, and also tend to approach conversation differently. Introverts are comfortable in the inner world, and when they have a thought or idea they will engage in the internal conversation that marks an introvert’s life. The idea will be tested from a variety of angles. Things that others have said, read or that are being taught in public are all taken in and the idea develops into something that has been distilled and considered by the introvert. So when they speak about it, they are already invested in it. They cannot easily do what an extrovert does naturally: throw out a newly formed thought for others to help shape.
3. INTROVERTS LOOK FOR WISDOM, NOT JUST ANSWERS
The Bible is eloquent when it comes to the subject of wisdom. Indeed, a whole midsection of the Bible is made up of what we call ‘the wisdom literature’. Wisdom is presented as beauty personified, and a treasure of inestimable worth. Attaining wisdom opens up the paths of life and well-being. Wisdom is presented as the ways and inclinations of God among us. Wisdom unlocks truth and enables godly living.
Everyone is invited to explore and inhabit wisdom, but wisdom does not thrive in the limelight of performance and the noise of popularism. It grows with integrity, prayer and reflection as questions are honestly embraced, the Lord is deeply sought and people are profoundly loved. Wisdom is perhaps the greatest of all the spiritual gifts. Introverts have some natural advantages, given their inclination towards contemplation. They can offer gifts of inestimable worth in this regard when trusted by a charismatic community.
4. INTROVERTS FOCUS ON GOD WHEN WE ARE IN DANGER OF FOCUSING ON EACH OTHER
Spiritually healthy introverts have the potential to keep their focus on God when others are distracted by the busy social scene characteristic of many charismatic churches.
It can be harder for an introvert to go along with an idea without having a reason for it. When others get carried away with one idea or another, you will often find an introvert asking ‘why’ and drawing away to seek understanding. A wise, prayerful introvert may be able to offer godly counsel in the face of a potential new church initiative. Good leaders foster people like this: people who can be the Nathan to their David or the Naomi to their Ruth.
5. INTROVERTS ENCOURAGE STILLNESS
This is potentially a great advantage that builds on our last observation, but which relies on the quality of relationship that the Church has with the introverts within it. Jonathan Rauch wrote an article in The Atlantic magazine (March 2003), in which he observes: ‘If we introverts ran the world, it would no doubt be a calmer, saner, more peaceful sort of place. As Coolidge is supposed to have said, “Don’t you know that four fifths of all our troubles in this life would disappear if we would just sit down and keep still?”’
Trusted introverts are not only able to be still; they are also able to open the door for others to be still. Peace, stillness, calmness and trust are important ingredients in any healthy community, and are essential when these qualities are rooted in Jesus. The louder the culture, the more absent they may seem. We must ask: how can we pray, grieve, contemplate or discern if there is no stillness? How can we wait and meet God if we never stop?
6. INTROVERTS ARE PERCEPTIVE
Finally, introverts have a tendency to notice things because they are relatively free from the driving need to interact with others. The more we need from someone else, the more care we take over ourselves, and that limits the amount we take in.
Introverts can be surprisingly perceptive. If you don’t believe me, why not befriend one and ask them occasionally what they have noticed about a particular person or gathering?
In a charismatic church, this gift of perceptive observation is essential; noticing what God is doing, how others are, who is not joining in or is displaying other signs of need. It is hard to respond to the Spirit, just as it is hard to love people, if we don’t attend to those who notice.
So introverts matter, and all churches need them and the gifts they bring. God has made us gloriously diverse and reached out to each of us in Jesus. If we are serious about being his people, working together for the coming of his kingdom, we need all the gifts that he has entrusted to his people. Only as we respond to his invitation with integrity of character and embrace the different perspectives that others bring as they do the same can we truly be the people he calls us to be, with the mission he gives us to fulfil, in the world he sends us to love.
MARK TANNER is warden of Cranmer Hall, Durham. His book The Introvert Charismatic: The Gift of Introversion in a Noisy Church (Monarch) is out now
Six top tips to help introverts thrive in charismatic churches
1. The battle for the day will be won or lost before you leave the house in the morning. Prayer, Bible reading and simply ‘being’ with God will equip you to face whatever the day brings.
2. Find other faithful Christians who will understand and affirm you as the introvert you are. Trust them when they challenge you. If someone just wants to make you more extroverted, love them and don’t feel guilty about ignoring them.
3. Practise and celebrate the disciplines that nourish you in church, and practise grace when something doesn’t enrich you but clearly matters to others.
4. Discipline yourself to offer things even though you might not want to. You are part of the body and you belong. You have things to offer that others don’t, and the church family needs to hear your voice.
5. Step out small! We all admire the big action or the grand gesture, but it is often the small things that matter. If all you have to give is small, give it faithfully. It, and you, will grow.
6. Cling on to Jesus, persevere in prayer, practise sacrificial love, wait on the Spirit and don’t try to make the world in your image. Extroverts are wonderful gifts to be cherished and affirmed, and so are you.