We’ve all experienced it. Many of us dread it.
It’s the point in the church service when the executive pastor or worship leader says from the stage, “Before we _____________, why don’t you stand up and greet three people who are sitting around you.”
I’m sure that every week, somebody somewhere makes a meaningful new connection because of this 60-second church ritual. If I really thought about it, I probably have, too. But usually, I find that by the time I have a chance to hear my conversation partner’s name and utter mine, they’ve already averted their gaze to the next person.
Ironically, these moments don’t leave me feeling more connected in a church community, but more like just another face in the crowd. Rapid, hit-and-run social exchanges aren’t my forte. I’d much rather sit and chat with one new person for an extended period than meet twenty new people but never get to know any of them.
Back in July, I wrote a blog post called Being an Introvert in Youth Ministry. I wanted to share some of my struggles with having a personality type that seemingly goes against the predominant culture of today’s student ministries. I say seemingly because I know there’s a large portion of youth workers who consider themselves more introverted than extroverted (almost 60 percent according to the sampling who voted in this poll).
I’d love to continue the conversation by giving you three more action-oriented ideas that have helped me navigate the world of youth ministry as an introvert.
1. Seek frequent solitude. The demands of youth ministry can pressure us to ensure we are constantly interacting with other people. If we’re not having a conversation with a student, parent, volunteer, or potential volunteer, we’re not ministering. Ministry is all about people, after all. But introverts thrive in environments of low stimulation, where they can un-distractedly focus on the task at hand. It’s been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that this is how their brains work. So if God created us this way, we can feel guiltless when we pull away to think more deeply about how we can best minister to the people in our care.
There is nothing wrong with being alone. In fact, solitude is often where our best ideas and most profound contributions to our organizations emerge— whether we are introverted or extroverted. Studies have suggested that people are more creative and productive when they have the freedom to regularly work by themselves (check out this article). Moses spent 40 days in solitude on Mount Sinai. The result? God gave him the Law, which he then passed on to the Israelites. Luke chapter 5 tells us that Jesus, even when the crowds were their largest and most demanding, would “withdraw to desolate places and pray.” Even Jesus had to get alone during the height of his ministry!
When and how can you carve out times of solitude in your work schedule? I’m not talking about your “social recharge” time (which I discussed in Part 1), but rather your daily work routine. Where is your temporary Mount Sinai, where you can hear from God and bring back something valuable to your people? I confess that I struggle with seeking intentional solitude, but when I do find it, I realize just how much I needed it.
2. Don’t use your introversion as an excuse. One of the biggest weaknesses in my leadership is in the area of initiating conversations. I often wait for people to come to me instead of going to them first. And if I were an extrovert, I doubt this would be such an issue for me.
But this doesn’t mean I can shirk my responsibility to initiate conversations with people. I can’t use my introversion as an excuse to stay hidden, just like an extrovert can’t use his or her need for frequent social interaction to avoid getting any tasks done. Youth ministry requires initiating new relationships and starting meaningful conversations, so I can’t hide behind my introversion and expect to be effective at what I do.
As I mentioned in Part 1, being an introvert makes you privy to particular strengths that extroverts do not have. On the flip side, it also makes you prone to particular weaknesses. Figure out which of those weaknesses are detrimental to the effectiveness of your personal ministry and then start working toward improvement in those areas.
3. Read about introversion. Two of the best books I’ve ever read are Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture by Adam S. McHugh and Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. The first looks at introversion from a ministry perspective, the second a secular perspective. Both books left me feeling empowered and encouraged about being an introvert. I would call them must-reads for introverts, and I’d also recommend them for extroverts who want to greatly expand their knowledge and understanding of their introverted friends, co-workers, and loved ones.
There are plenty of other books and articles out there about this topic. So read, read, read and get to the bottom of what makes you, you.
Taylor Bird is the Director of Middle School Ministry at Southwest Church in Indian Wells, CA. He has been serving in youth ministry for four years.