By Ron Edmondson
I confess. I am an introvert. I am also the pastor of a large church.
For many people, this doesn’t add up. Big church pastors are supposed to be extroverts, with larger than life personalities in order to draw a crowd. Not me.
This worried me when I first started as a pastor. I’d been in business for years and felt God calling me to vocational ministry. But I didn’t think that would work for an introvert.
So at first, I tried to hide my introversion, out of fear that people would reject me as a leader if they knew my secret. No longer. Today, I’m glad to be an introvert, because it makes me a better pastor.
Strengths of introverts
This may be difficult for overly extroverted people to understand or appreciate, but there are some benefits to being an introvert.
For one, we tend to spend a lot of time thinking. It often makes us good strategizers. If you need help thinking a project through, call on an introvert. We’d be glad to help.
Plus, we usually think before we speak. Introverts choose our words very carefully. Everyone sticks their foot in their mouth occasionally—but we are likely to do it less often. That has proven to be quite helpful as a pastor.
Misconceptions about introverts
Still, there are lots of misconceptions about introverts. Here are a few false assumptions people have made about me:
I’m shy. That may be your word, but it’s not mine. I prefer purposeful—I will speak when there’s a reason for me to do so.
I need more courage. When I choose not to speak, it’s not that I am scared. I’m just comfortable being quiet.
I’ve got nothing to say. Actually, I have lots to say. I blog almost every day and often update Twitter and Facebook. But I often choose to communicate in writing rather than speaking.
I’m arrogant or I don’t like you. Honestly, I love everyone. Or at least that’s my personal goal and a biblical command. Listening is a way I can show you love and respect.
I need you to talk for me. Actually, I’d rather you not – unless you’re my wife. If I have an opinion I think needs sharing, I can speak for myself.
I need to change, mature, grow as a person or leader. There is nothing wrong with me. I am just quieter than some. I’m not perfect. In fact, I still sin. There are lots of things wrong with me, but introversion is not one of them.
Challenges of leading as an introvert
There are some downsides to being an introverted pastor.
I can often fail to network when in a crowd. I will go to a conference, expecting to meet new people, but instead of engaging I stand in the corner waiting to be spoken to first.
I am also not good at making small talk. That’s a problem, because small talk is the first step toward building healthy relationships or in making new people at church feel welcome.
Because of my limitations, I’ve learned a few tips on how to do effective ministry as an introvert.
Prepare mentally. I try to prepare myself mentally for Sundays. I remind myself that I have a job to do, that people expect me to engage with them, that it is not going to be easy but I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. I do this as a mental exercise before any event where I need to be outgoing.
Act purposeful. I remind myself there is a reason to be extroverted in some occasions. Often people are waiting on me to engage them. To be a Kingdom builder, I have to converse with others even when it’s uncomfortable. I’m willing to act outside of my comfort zone to show people that I love them.
Discipline myself. At some point, I just do it. I simply have to make myself do what I may not want to do. Work the room. Make the initial approach for a new relationship. Talk. Engage. Connect. Do it.
Practice. It gets easier with time. It really does.
Reward myself with down time. After an extremely extroverted occasion, I crash. Sunday afternoon I’ve found, is a great time to nap. If the weather is nice, I will run for miles after church to unwind.
It’s important to remember people are different. We are unique. God designed us that way, and He didn’t make a mistake. He never does.
Learning to appreciate introversion, rather than resist it, and adapting accordingly, has been a part of maturing as a person and leader.