Book Review: Introverts in the Church

Introverts in the Church cover

Introverts in the Church: Finding our Place in an Extroverted Culture by Adam McHugh (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2009).

Adam McHugh provides a very reflective and open-minded resource in his Introverts in the Church: Finding our Place in an Extroverted Culture (Intervarsity Press, 2009). As I began to digest it, I soon thought of two books published in the past few years—one, Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking (Penguin, 2012) and second, more tangentially related, Angela Duckworth’s Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance (Scribner, 2016). As it turns out upon my investigation, Adam McHugh has been a contributor to the Quiet Revolution blog (www.quietrev.com), an online resource led by author Susan Cain. While McHugh has also published more recently with IVP (The Listening Life: Embracing Attentiveness in a World of Distraction, 2015), his title that has been out for nearly a decade now contains some personal account of his own struggle during the time of his preparation for pastoral ministry, struggle which nearly prompted him to take the step of resignation from the ordination process following seminary study, and potentially shutting the door on a future in ministry. He relays the connection he experienced early on with the persevering, studious characteristics needed in the academic aspect of graduate school; and yet, while enjoying close relationship with others, he struggled to maintain the pace of public interpersonal interaction that is often called for in the work of ministry.

Adam’s admission of his own construction of a one-dimensional image of leadership—the most effective leader being a high-paced, always outward-oriented extrovert—is something I personally resonate with as an introvert, and I believe all leaders and leaders-in-training should reckon with and seek to correct. Much of the content of the book’s nine chapters calls upon the insights of writers and educational resources not claiming Christianity that yet have much to say about the psychological and physiological realities of the way introverts are wired. McHugh also does a good job of pointing out important distinctions, such as between introversion and shyness, and does not “pigeonhole” categories of people, encouraging us to enjoy the beautiful complexity with which each human being is created.  He does not devote a particular chapter to Biblical expositions or descriptions but, throughout all the chapters, blends reflection on Scripture with personal anecdotes and examples that help the reader identify with various personality types. There are many points in the book where I realized that a stream of further inquiry could be taken about either life in a church context or the context of broader society—for example, in discussing the “extroverted church” in an early chapter, a mention of the extroverted preaching style of one of the figures of the first Great Awakening historical period in early America could prompt the studious reader to explore more of the surrounding history. McHugh also touches upon the direction many churches today are taking toward the revival of interest in ancient Christianity that involves more contemplative habits and styles of worship. Much has been written about lectio divina, or a “spiritual reading” of Scripture that originated with monasticism (another historical era in church history worth exploring) but has experienced a refresh of interest in today’s church. This idea describes the reciprocal relationships between reading portions of God’s word and praying or meditating on a part of it to God in response to the reading. This practice can allow those of a more contemplative nature to take time to “marinate” on God’s word. Ultimately, all Christians should commit focus to verbally “praying God’s word back to Him.” However, the practice of lectio divina can provide a structure that deliberate, contemplative types of people can benefit from.

Also helpful in the book is a list of questions that Adam calls a small proposal of an “introverted rule of life” (taking off the monastic rule of life of St. Benedict)—a way of structuring all areas of life that is sensitive to the unique way introverts are created and that seeks increasing awareness of God’s presence in the various habits, relationships, and time structures of life. As an introvert, these questions are valuable to me!  Consider them for yourself or for the life of an introvert near and dear to you:

  1. What are the times of day when I feel most energized?
  2. When do I feel the most tired?
  3. How much sleep do I need each night?
  4. What are the physical habits that drain me? The ones that energize me?
  5. When do I need the most solitude?
  6. How do I find soul rest?
  7. What are the spiritual disciplines where I feel most restored by God?
  8. What are the relationships in which I feel the most refreshed? The most drained?

When I consider Question #6, I think of terminology often used these days, “soul care” and “self-care.” These terms can get confusing, and while many people use them interchangeably, as Christians I believe we should draw a distinction between them.

While the “extroverted church” is brought up early in the book, it is not until near the end of the book that McHugh writes more about “introverts in church” and the often difficult experiences that those of introverted nature have in modern churches. A brief excerpt:

For centuries a ‘sanctuary’ was not only a holy place for worship but also a safe harbor for refugees. When introverts go to church, we crave sanctuary in every sense of the word, as we flee from the disorienting distractions of twenty-first century life. We desire to escape from superficial relationships, trivial communications and the constant noise that pervade our world, and find rest in the probing depths of God’s love (191).

This way of beginning and ending the book provides a helpful frame. There are also several discussion questions included for each chapter, allowing this to be a good and practical resource for church leaders to read and discuss together.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Jessica Hudson

Jessica Hudson is a librarian and a collaborative musician by training. She currently lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, where she assists in the running of a theological library and helps theological students of all types explore the resources available to them. Areas of interest include worship liturgies and the role of music within them, early American church history, and the interplay of psychology and theology in the fascinating beauty with which God has created people in His image. In 2017, she had published brief pieces of writing in the Journal of Religious and Theological Information and the Georgia Library Quarterly.

More Posts

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.