In 6th grade, my classmates voted me the Quietest Boy. I got a certificate and everything. Each student in my class received an award, from Class Clown to Most Fashionable to Biggest Flirt, as voted on by their peers. I was Quietest Boy. I was surprised, because I didn’t think of myself as unusually quiet.
In jr. high and high school, I was that awkward student who went to youth group and kept to myself and my small circle of friends. Relationally-driven crowds of fellow teenagers made me uncomfortable. I loved Jesus. I loved the church service. I just didn’t love the whole social scene. It wasn’t my scene. And I know my faith suffered because of it.
As I would eventually find out, there was a name for my disposition. There was a diagnosis for my condition. I was an introvert. And the reason I struggled through youth group was that it had been cultivated in an extroverted culture— or so it seemed. The energetic, small talk-heavy, high-octane world of youth ministry clashed with my reserved, reflective, one-word-at-a-time disposition.
Because God has a sense of humor, I now work in youth ministry. And almost every day I need to remind myself that my personality doesn’t conflict with my profession.
If you are an introvert in youth ministry, and I know there are many of you, here are a few ideas that have helped me reconcile my introversion with my calling to serve students in a church.
- Understand that your introversion is not a weakness. We don’t choose our personality type— it’s how God has crafted us. And God hasn’t created introverts to fail at life. Many introverts are better critical thinkers and problem solvers, for example, because they prefer to consider first and talk later. Some of the best preachers I know are introverts; so don’t assume that introversion disqualifies you from having a strong up-front presence. Discover how your introversion gives you unique strengths that your youth ministry setting requires.
- Invest in students who remind you of yourself. When I was a teenager, I wish an adult in the church would have come alongside me and said, “It’s OK that you aren’t loud and crazy.” I guarantee you that there are at least a handful of quieter students in your youth group who have amazing leadership skills that are just waiting to be tapped into. If you are an introvert, find students who remind you of yourself as a teenager and really invest some time into them. This will show them that they are valued and welcome, and you might also uncover in them some unique gifts that will strengthen your ministry. In addition, you can encourage these students to take risks that they otherwise might shy away from, leading to occasions to grow in their faith.
- Maximize your “recharge time.” My temptation is to spend all of my social recharge time playing video games or watching reruns of Arrested Development. However, I’ve realized lately that my time alone is a prime opportunity for growth and learning. Read books. Listen to podcasts. Spend some extended time studying God’s Word and praying. Think about how you can leverage your recharge time to become a better youth worker.
Are you an introvert in youth ministry? What are some ways you’ve learned to harness your personality type in your work with students?
Taylor Bird is the Director of Middle School Ministry at Southwest Church in Indian Wells, CA. He has been serving in youth ministry for just over four years.