What strengths does a missional introvert have? Are there advantages to needing to draw energy from being alone for a follower of Jesus? And what are some practical ways that a missional introvert can deploy his or her strengths for the benefit of Jesus, his mission, and his gospel?
This has not always been the case, however. For a variety of reasons, extroverts tended to take center stage in the past. This was especially so in the church. The bombastic leader with the gift of gab and extreme charisma was the gold standard that everyone looked toward. Full-time pastor-types tried to be that person, even if they were introverted, and most Christians who aren’t clergy seemed to find the extroverted type most interesting and appealing.
The challenges of being an introvert and trying to follow Jesus well in the real world weren’t always addressed well. Introverts were told, explicitly or implicitly, that in order to be truly used by God, they needed to be more like those widely-lauded extrovert pastors.
Today, thankfully, things have changed, even with in the church. Quiet and reflective voices are starting to be heard and respected. Being loud and in front is still valued, but so is being thoughtful and in the background.
In fact, I think that it’s time that we let the missional introverts get a little shine. With that in mind, here’s a top-ten list of the greatest strengths (in my opinion) of a missional introvert:
Strengths of a Missional Introvert
- Alone time to recharge — This is more-or-less the definition of an introvert and can be seen by many as a negative. However, as we’ll see below, what one does with this alone time can be productive. Here, however, I want to focus on the execute-retreat cycle that many people have found to be beneficial. The basic gist is this: you give your all to something, expending lots of energy, then you retreat in order to recuperate and recharge. Then, once you are ready, you go back at whatever it is with renewed gusto. This cycle would be quite natural a missional introvert, who would need have some alone time after all the socially demanding parts of sharing the good news of Jesus and his kingdom. In other words, there will be little need to convince an introvert to engage in some self-care during a socially-draining stretch; s/he will pursue it somewhat naturally.
- Don’t enjoy being the center of attention — Full disclosure, I’m an introvert and I love attention. So this isn’t always the case for every introvert. But most introverts are happy to let someone else take all the social limelight. Thus, the basic ideas of putting Jesus first and focusing on the interests of others, may (and I stress may) be a bit easier for the missional introvert. And this is important, of course, because there’s a really appealing temptation to put oneself at the center when trying to be missional. The look-at-me syndrome can strike and strike hard. But many introverts are naturally disinclined toward social attention of any sort.
- Limited interests which are explored deeply — Many times introverts only have a few things that they really pour their energies into. It is typical or a missional introvert to be invested at work, in a personal relationship or two, and on mission with Jesus. And that’s it. This narrowing of interests helps the missional introvert divert less and less energy into things that don’t matter and more and more into the things that do. And it’s that depth of attention that is a real benefit for an introvert. It’s not just that s/he is focused on a narrow list of things, its that s/he is focused deeply.
- Tend to be deliberative and intentional — It is normal as an introvert to be called thoughtful, reflective, and introspective. But an introvert’s thinking is often directed outward as well. In the case of a missional introvert, s/he can very carefully work through various options when seeking to follow Jesus well in the real world. S/he often has a great capacity for weighing pros and cons against one another when making decisions. And, often an introvert can exert a great amount of mental energy thinking about how to help encourage her or his friends and fellow missional practitioners. Thus, many introverts are quite intentional, attempting to think three or four steps ahead at all points.
- Personal reflection is important — Related to #4 is inward-directed thinking, aka personal reflection. This really is the hallmark of an introvert. I mean, what does s/he do with all that alone time? Well, many introverts spend that time evaluating themselves, their actions, and their motives. A missional introvert can go over attempts to share and be the good new with a fine-tooth comb, painstakingly breaking down each detail. This can be a good thing, helping the introvert make different and/or better choices in the future, so long as it is not overboard and unhealthy.
- Communicate best one-on-one — It’s not true that introverts hate people! That can’t be said enough. Introverts are simply emotionally and physically drained by too much social contact, especially if that social contact is with a large group. Thus, missional introverts, like all introverts, communicate best one-on-one. This is a great thing for someone seeking to share and be the good news. It allows s/he to focus in on a single conversation and relationship, giving it ample attention and pouring into it lots of love and care. Doing so can help someone feel loved, heard, and respected!
- Tend to think before speaking — Again, not all introverts are experts in thinking before speaking, but many are pretty good at it. Why? Well, mainly because one of the biggest fears for an introvert is to look stupid in a public setting. And one of the most common ways to look stupid is by putting one’s foot in one’s mouth. Thus, due to this fear and a general tendency toward being reflective, a missional introvert may do a slightly better job than others at not saying rude, offensive, and hurtful things. This isn’t always the case, of course, but many introverts make concerted efforts to communicate well when engaged in socializing.
- Form a few deep attachments — Introverts don’t tend to spend their social capital in many places, instead investing in a few relationships (usually no more than three). This is not dislike Jesus who while he was followed around be quite a few (100+), there was a smaller group he was close to (the Twelve), and an even more exclusive group he was closest to (Peter, James, and John). Thus, the missional introvert can be a great benefit to any group of people seeking to follow Jesus in the real world together. S/he can pour all their energies into the well-being of a few members of the group, bringing to them insight, accountability, and encouragement.
- Tend to listen well — Due to the fear of looking silly we talked about earlier, lots of introverts have learned the art of listening. And the same is true for a missional introvert. S/he would do his/her best always to listen more than s/he talked, especially as s/he engaged in sharing and being the good news. In order to understand how best to expose someone to Jesus, we have to listen to the cues that they give us. Introverts tend to do this well.
- Very observant — Lastly, introverts tend to be exceptionally observant. This can really come in handy for the missional introvert. S/he can see a need for the good news that others might miss. On a prayer walk, a missional introvert might notice a detail about the neighborhood that everyone else missed. And when engaged in strategic planning, a missional introvert can often see how all the various parts work together in ways that others miss.
So being an introvert doesn’t have to be a bad thing if someone is seeking to become more missional. In fact, being introverted can be greatly helpful for those who are seeking to follow Jesus in the real world. However, it must be stated clearly here at the end, this blog is not intended to say that introverts are the best at being missional or that they are inherently better than extroverts. Not at all! Both extroverts and introverts are needed for the mission of Jesus to move forward effectively!
What do you think? Did I miss any strengths that a missional introvert might have? If so, let me know in the comments below!