There’s no question that I’m an introvert. Take me to a party, and within two hours I’ll either be doing dishes or making friends with the household cat. I love people, but I can only take so much socialization before I begin to feel exhausted and claustrophobic.
To be honest, I like functioning this way. I like that I’m sensitive and that I know when to step away from the noise of life to process and recharge. I contribute differently than an extrovert, but have just as much to offer.
Or so I like to think. In my field of work, introversion can seem like a disability. Ministry is often a parade of meeting new people, making small talk, and learning to welcome interruptions to your alone time. These are the necessary beginnings of the deeper work of pastoral care, but that doesn’t make me dread them any less. On good days, I strike a balance between the social and contemplative aspects of the job. On bad days, I look for excuses to hide.
I’m often envious of my extroverted colleagues. They’re always buzzing around town, joking with locals and picking up new French phrases. They easily connect with strangers and don’t seem uncomfortable building new relationships. Meanwhile, I can barely convince myself to go buy bread, because there might be talking involved.
When I think of what ministry should be like, I don’t think of my strengths. I believe in serving the community and reaching out to new groups. I believe in praying over people, sharing testimony, and being hospitable to strangers. But if I’m honest with myself, all those things are scary, uncomfortable, and tiring for me.
Some days, I wonder why God sent me here. Surely some extrovert would do a better job. After all, she wouldn’t get tired as fast as me, and she’d spend more of her time engaged with the community. She’d talk more, serve more, and be more cheerful. She’d be closer to the American ideal of ministry than I could ever be.
But, thankfully, she wouldn’t be more like Jesus.
Jesus set the perfect example of ministry, and it wasn’t based on introversion or extroversion. He did as well with crowds as with one-on-one encounters. He often sought solitude, but also welcomed interruptions to it. He was led not by personal preference, but by the Spirit of truth and compassion.
I love the story where Jesus feeds the five thousand. It starts off with him taking a boat to a quiet place, seeking to pray and recharge after long days of ministry. When he gets to shore, he sees that the crowds have followed him there. It’s an introvert’s worst nightmare; I know I’d be plotting my escape strategy. But Matthew says, “He had compassion on them and healed their sick.” Even when the disciples urge him to send the people away, he tells them to stay and provides a miraculous meal for them.
As Matthew continues to document his ministry, the pattern remains: Jesus withdraws, people find him, and he has compassion on them. As an introvert, this is both encouraging and challenging to me, and I suspect it would be the same for my extroverted friends (for opposite reasons). I’m encouraged that withdrawing isn’t a bad thing. If Jesus thought solitude was worth pursuing, there must be deep value in it. On the flip side, I’m challenged by the notion that I must be willing to be interrupted, even in my need for quiet.
No one ever promised me that ministry would be easy. I’m not surprised by the fact that my comfort zone needs to be expanded, and I’m learning to be more bold and open with people. But I’m also learning that there’s a place for my introversion. It’s my natural circuit breaker, telling me when I need to sit quietly with God and reconnect with his heart.
Apart from Him, any ministry I do is futile. But with Him, even my weaknesses become strengths.
Photo: State Library Victoria Collections, Creative Commons