How I survived church as an introvert.
I was a raging introvert growing up. Many mornings I would literally get up, find my favourite seat, and, according to my mum, have a sulk. I didn’t really understand why I needed to have a “morning sook”, but upon reflection I think it was my way of having some quiet for the day. It prepared me for the things that I needed to do, and the people I would HAVE to talk to.
Church gatherings were then not always the simplest for me. I remember as a teenager in particular, choosing to sit by myself rather than with friends because I didn’t really want to engage in conversation with others. I preferred my own thoughts from time to time. There might have been a hint of “attention-seeking” in the way I went about it (which teenager doesn’t have at least a hint of that??), but ultimately I had difficulty being with people when I didn’t feel like being with people.
I learnt over time that my introversion meant that small talk could be draining. I would rather have one or two friends that I could have a conversation with, that would be to my liking. I didn’t like meeting new people because I didn’t know whether I would feel comfortable around them or not.
I remember another occasion when one of my friends who was a bit older than me wanted to introduce me to the new guy who was my age. I didn’t want to. He looked at me as though I was doing something wrong. That I was being selfish. To be honest that moment pushed me further away from wanting to meet and chat with new people. My thought was that, “I’m really not cut out for this.” And that others would do a better job than I could.
Fast-forward a number of years later, and I find myself loving the church. I love working in the church and see it in my future. But I’m still an introvert. So how is that supposed to work?
I found that if I was busy enough at gatherings, I didn’t have to talk to people! I was on the carpark team, the band, the set up team, anything that would mean that I didn’t have to meet new people, or entertain small talk.
Most people I meet won’t believe that I’m an introvert at heart. And to be honest I’m probably more of an ambivert now. So how did this change happen? Here are some things I think are key.
1. Recognise the importance of relationships.
I had to learn to understand the communal nature of my Christian faith. The Bible doesn’t teach an individual, personal-only faith, but rather about the community of faith. Importantly, I also learnt to see that God created me for connection and relationship. This is something that I need!
2. Recognise the place of my introversion.
My introversion leads to certain characteristics that are great! I tend to reflect more. I tend to read more. As a teacher of the Word these are great characteristics. However, if I’m not careful my introversion can lead me to isolate from people, and be happy with a life just by myself. I have to be careful that I don’t lean into the aspects of my introversion that doesn’t serve my flourishing as a human. Ultimately I want to live out the call God has given me, both in the areas that I feel “natural” in, and the other aspects that are a lot more work.
Another fact I learnt about personality types in general is that any extreme form of personality is dangerous. While introversion is not bad, extreme introversion can be very unhealthy. The same goes for extroversion. I saw that I could go quite extreme in my introversion and I learnt to recognise when it was hurting rather than helping me, and the people in my life.
3. Factor in “introvert” time into my schedule.
I have my introverted needs. I need to have time by myself. I need time to reflect to clear my head. I can schedule these times into my week. I learnt that I can prepare for “people-intensive” times by knowing I have scheduled time for my introverted needs. Church gatherings are not great times to be introverted! I see the church gathering as a great opportunity to show love and care, and to build relationships that are necessary and meaningful.
Estimates state that there are possibly about a 50:50 split between introverts and extroverts, or 1/3 introverts to 2/3 extroverts. So we might be slightly in the minority, and yes, church gatherings aren’t always set up for us. But they still fulfil a very necessary part of a healthy life. I hope that the steps I took are helpful for you in navigating this aspect of your life.