Looking to Christ
In this post we'll look at chapters 4-6 which examine how introversion greatly affects a person's engagement with the church. Don't get me wrong from last week, while I do think our literary friend overstates the case when describing introversion by using the language of sickness and suffering, his book has helped me to see how being introverted is a massive burden given the realities of church as community. 'Being communal' is certainly not a natural state for introverts! As an extrovert who has nothing but positive thoughts about regular 'engagement' with large numbers of people I'm grateful for that aspect of how God has made me. (I'm also conscious that I will be held accountable for whether I've made the most of my capacities for serving God at church - 1 Cor 4:2-5). But as I read chapter four, I'm finding myself in a foreign context, and I don't think it's just because it's an introvert's world. I'm not sure that McHugh's concept of 'introverted spirituality' matches up with the gospel. When he writes that "introverts who flourish spiritually have descended deep into our own souls and deep into the heart of God" (p69) it doesn't quite level with biblical descriptions of the Christian walk such as Ephesians 2:10, Colossians 4:2-6, and Titus 2:11-14. Much of chapter four is about mysticism and how it is a valid form of engaging with God. But God hasn't spoken 'in manifold ways' (p70) in the sense that McHugh is suggesting. Hebrews 1:1 tells us that those many and varied ways were through the prophets, and now through his Son, that is, in and by God's Word. And receiving that Word mainly involves a couple of key senses, it certainly isn't about "sensing God on a different level that transcends words and rational thought." (p71) While this chapter does address a real need for introverts to have times of solitude to re-energise, I don't think this practise needs to be spiritualised. Just as extroverts might throw a party to cheer themselves up at times, I suspect that time alone is equally a self-care mechanism and not an alternate form of 'spirituality.'
There were some helpful insights in this section. In chapter five we certainly do see the burden that McHugh bears as he seeks to minister as an 'introverted academic type', forcing himself to spend time with people (and from the impression this chapter gives, not yet winning that battle). The picture of an extrovert's relational straight line versus the introvert's relational spiral has equipped me to better help introverted friends by understanding that dynamic and making allowances. McHugh also has good things to say in this chapter about listening, which us extroverts definitely need to heed. And the example he gives at the end of chapter five about Roy is an excellent picture of how to serve while making accommodations for introversion. It's a great model of give and take, some things are done for the sake of others, and some in order for Roy to serve most effectively. And it's also an example of the time it takes for some introverts to grow into their place of serving at church.
Chapter six certainly highlights the heavier burden that introverted leaders bear when people keep assuming that pastors must be extroverted. And it offers helpful encouragement for how introverts can be themselves. This chapter also points us toward a God dependence which is essential for God's servants, indeed the key to survival. But this is the exception to his generally more introspective outlook. My main issue with these three chapters, which came up again and again, lastly with the (questionable) use of Mother Teresa's leadership example, is that ultimately, the solution to our struggles to serve in a world while navigating the obstacles posed by our personalities are found not by looking within, but by looking to Christ (Hebrews 12:1-2). And this is especially so as we seek to lead his people.
About this month's contributor, Alison Napier
Alison has been working in full-time ministry for a decade now, serving firstly with City Bible Forum, and then at St Andrew’s Cathedral. She has just started in a new role at the University of New South Wales serving with overseas students as part of the chaplaincy team, while also working as a consultant with Two Ways Ministries. Her favorite thing to do in ministry is to read the Bible with women who've never read it before, it's just so exciting to see them discover the wonderful things it says. Her current new interest is learning the joy of cycling to work - the combination of commuting and exercise appeals to her love of multi-tasking.