If you ever met me, you would think I was an extrovert — I preach, I lead praise, I talk to everyone, I talk too much, and you can hear me laughing from across the street — but I am a full-blooded introvert.
If it were up to me, I’d rather be in my boxers all day eating Godiva while browsing food photo blogs and bothering my dog and cracking up at YouTube videos of Whose Line Is It Anyway and leaving dry ironic comments all over Facebook while reading the latest theory on how Sherlock survived the second season finale.
I intensely guard my personal space and my private life. It takes a herculean effort to step outside my comfort zone and interact with messy, fleshy, real live human beings.
Here’s how you handle Christian introverts like me.
1) In a small group or Bible study or cell meeting, do NOT make us talk.
Introverts are much more methodical and tend to process things. In a group discussion, our silence doesn’t mean we’re not listening. We’re just trying to fit the pieces together in our own head. We aim to be thoughtful and deliberate. Please be sensitive to our secret mind palace. We’ll talk when we dang well feel like it.
2) We just don’t sing like the front row.
It’s great that extroverts can freely express themselves during worship time. But introverts sometimes just read the lyrics, connect inwardly, and keep their hands inside the vehicle. If you see us raising even one hand and singing a few words, we are seriously pushing the gas pedal all the way to the floor.
3) Do not ever rebuke us in public.
Or you and I are done. Forever. You should never do this anyway.
4) Extroverts: be patient in conversation and don’t treat my every word like your personal victory.
Extroverts, it’s okay if you monopolize the conversation. We do like to listen. But please don’t treat us like your personal project with a precious pearl inside. And don’t try to squeeze out my life story as if you’re trying to save us. Earn trust by being a friend first. Unlike extroverts, we’re not good at being best friends on the first day.
5) Fellow introverts: find us quickly.
See me standing awkwardly on the side of the sanctuary watching everyone else have fun? Hurry up and find me so we can make amusing sarcastic comments about life and possibly grow a lifelong spiritual bond that these extroverts can’t understand.
6) We can do anything an extrovert can do.
I’ve seen an entire spectrum of personalities take the “front stage” of church. Not every introvert is meant for “behind the scenes.” Just coach us with extra grace.
7) We get super-tired around a lot of people.
My limit is about four hours, and then I actually get a headache from just hanging around human beings. My Sabbath rest is leave-me-alone-time with my non-judgmental dog. Give us that time without trying to counsel us about it.
8) Don’t be offended if we don’t reply right away.
Sometimes when we see a Facebook invite to that next big church event, we just let it sit there and think about it periodically throughout the week and then come back to it before committing. We do the same thing with text messages, emails, phone calls, and you showing up at the door.
9) Don’t be offended if you see me being extra talkative or friendly with someone else.
Sometimes introverts just interact with people in different ways. It doesn’t mean we don’t like you: it just means we choose to reveal that specific part of us to another pastor, another church buddy, or that cool introvert I just met five minutes ago. You should be cheering us for even opening up at all.
10) Please do NOT bring a lot of attention to us.
Not in the church bulletin, not the church site, not for my birthdays, not for that nice thing I did for the homeless — just please, no spotlight.
11) Sometimes we’re just moody. It’s not depression or a “spiritual attack” or “unconfessed sin.”
One word: space. Lots of it.
12) We don’t always know what to say, but we still care about you.
We use less words and we don’t always use them well, but if we chose to spend this time with you, that means we care.
13) When life gets hard, you don’t have to say anything. Just be there.
Sometimes we just get totally flustered and want to give up: but that’s not the time for lectures or theology or super-awesome advice. Bring a movie or something; bake a cake; bring cookies. Be there for the meltdown and we’ll eventually ask for the wisdom. We very much treasure your scalpel-like gentleness with us.
14) When we get hyper, we are weird and corny and loud and awkward — so be ready for that and embrace it.
On the third day of a church retreat or when it’s five in the morning at a lock-in, the inner-beast might be unleashed. But it’s not very cool and calculated and witty like an extrovert. It’s all kinds of nerdy and neurotic with a shaky voice and twitchy flailing, as if we’re learning to use our bodies for the first time: and in a sense, we are.
When that happens, please don’t humiliate us. Roll with it, laugh with us, and endure our horrible dance moves and bad impressions.
If you do, we are loyal to you for life.