Introvert Confessions, Part 1

Posted on: September 10, 2013 Written by
Introvert Confessions, Part 1
Photography by: ariwasabi from iStock          

My name is Beth, and I am an introverted cross-cultural worker.

Wait, how can that be? We all know that cross-cultural workers thrive on meeting new people, are fearless in unfamiliar situations, and are bold and articulate in proclaiming the Gospel. They come alive through activity and social contact, eager to be all things to all people. Their home is always open, they are constantly available, and there is no limit to what they will do for others. Jesus called his disciples to go out into the world with the good news; cross-cultural workers boldly go where no one has gone before (no wait, that part is not in the Great Commission). The bottom line, though, is that a cross-cultural worker must be extroverted, naturally.

Well, a majority of cross-cultural workers probably are, given that about two-thirds of any given population are thought to be extroverted. It may well be easier for an outgoing, unselfconscious extrovert to face many challenges of cross-cultural life, such as coping with constant uprooting and change, making inevitable mistakes while learning a new language and culture, being on display as a foreigner, or merely standing out as a Christian in a secular society. Still, I can testify that God also calls introverts into cross-cultural ministry, and that with proper care and self-understanding, we have a lot to offer to His kingdom.

In order to do that, however, we need to be free to be ourselves, to serve according to our God-given temperaments. We may need to overcome the feeling that somehow we are defective because we do not enjoy the world in the same way as “everyone else.” There are many misconceptions about introversion; it should not be equated with shyness, self-centeredness, or anti-social behavior. It mainly has to do with our energy source: extroverted people look outward to gain energy, and introverted ones look within. Rather than being pumped up through interaction, introverts lose energy when with others, and we need solitude to recharge. Again, this is not a defect; it is merely a fact. As we minister, we need to embrace our introversion, to work within and through it, because the extroverted world needs us.

Do you think you might be introverted too? Start with this simple checklist. Do you:

  • feel drained by social interaction?
  • need rest after outside activities, even those you enjoy?
  • prefer to observe an activity or social setting for a while before joining in?
  • crave private space and time?
  • prefer working alone over working in group projects?
  • tend to listen more than you speak and find it hard to make your voice heard in a group?
  • appear to others as quiet, calm, mysterious, or aloof?
  • feel you express yourself more clearly in writing than orally?
  • hate to draw attention to yourself?
  • prefer a few close relationships to having a wide circle of acquaintances?

 

If so, relax; this is all normal behavior—for an introverted person.

Introversion and extroversion are inborn traits, and every personality operates somewhere along the continuum. We are literally hardwired to tend more toward one or the other, and recent scientific discoveries in tracking brain activity show that introverts process information differently than extroverted people do. If you identify yourself as introverted, be assured that you do not need to grow out of it or somehow overcome it; know that it is not wrong for you to live your life in harmony with the way God made you. You are not self-absorbed or substandard, and you cannot “help it” any more than left-handed people can help their hand-use preference (though as we know, lefties have had their own struggle for acceptance, one which is far from over—have you ever come across a left-handed computer mouse?).

I know from experience that living freely as an introvert is much easier said than done. As a North American coming from a culture that holds to an “extrovert ideal” of a leader who is gregarious, comfortable in crowds, quickly turns strangers into friends, easily navigates diverse social circles, energized by conversation and social interaction, able to draw people to herself by her personal magnetism and charm, my own personality traits fall far short. What mission board would admit to looking for candidates who describe themselves as reserved, thoughtful, quiet, and careful? Often I have sought to conform to extroverted expectations, to “deny myself,” and to accept that as part of the cost of serving Christ overseas. Of course, in order to grow we must stretch beyond our natural capacities at times. However, I believe God wants to liberate His introverted children to thrive as they are, and to make their uniquely valuable contributions to His mission.

Sources:
The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine N. Aron
The Introvert Advantage by Marti Olsen Laney
Introverts in the Church by Adam S. McHugh
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
Also listen to Susan Cain’s TED talk

 

Introvert Confessions, Part 2 will be published next week.

 

@2013 Thrive.

 

Question to consider:  How can you put into practice the idea “that with proper care and self-understanding, we have a lot to offer to His kingdom”?



About the author

I was blessed to grow up in a Christian home and trusted Jesus as my savior at a young age. God called me to cross-cultural work as a high school senior and at the end of my university studies in 1979 my church sent me as a summer cross-cultural worker to France. There I met my husband Stewart and after our marriage in 1981 we did Bible training, joined TEAM, and raised support to follow God's leading back to France as career cross-cultural workers. We worked in church development, evangelism, and church planting in the Paris area, Lyon, and Annecy from 1985 to 2004, and our three children (Claire, 1986, Patrick, 1989, and Laura, 1995) were born in France. In January 2004 we were asked to join a new partnership with a Swedish denomination, EFK/InterAct, to support church planting initiatives in Sweden. We served on staff at New Life Church in Stockholm until the spring of 2013 when we joined a project to plant a new congregation in an historic Baptist church on the island of Kungsholmen in Stockholm. I can't stand it when people believe the wrong thing about God, so teaching the Bible and apologetics have been my lifelong focus. In recent years I have also studied and taught in the area of relationships, and our favorite thing to do in our current assignment is hosting the Alpha Marriage Course. In my free time I am trying to use up my fabric stash in various patchwork projects.

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  • Kandake

    Thanks Beth. While I lean toward being an extrovert myself, my hubby and my daughter are definitely not. Unfortunately, most US churches don’t seem to understand that a missionary may not enjoy public speaking, leading large groups and socializing until the cows come home. I know we personally struggled with this much more in the states than in our host countries. Thanks for encouraging all those extroverts out there to serve according to their God given temperaments.

    • Kandake

      ok, so I meant to say, thanks for encouraging all those introverts out there. We extroverts rarely need that kind of encouragement! Hee hee.

  • Debbie

    Thanks for the article. I am an introvert and have been a missionary for 22 years. Everything you said described me to a “t” and it is something I have struggled with for years especially when I compare myself to others and then wonder why God would call an introvert to missions! It’s good to know there are others like me!

    • Beth Webster

      Hi, Debbie,
      Thanks for your comment. In part two of the article I talk more about why introverted personalities are important in ministry, so I hope that will help answer the “why” questions for you. My “why” questions tend to be more along the lines of “why doesn’t the rest of the world understand the value of my contribution?” or “Why are so many activities or ministry initiatives tailored to the extrovert personality?” Or, “how long will it take for people in leadership to realize that everyone is not the same?” Still waiting for those answers!

  • Cheryl

    Thank you so much for your article! I’ve served overseas for 17 years, in a culture where I constantly garner attention when I’m out. I have to say that it’s draining being an introverted “m”. I think the areas that make it the hardest are the constant attention and difficulty being anonymous outside the home, the need for a tight circle of friends which constantly changes on the field with people coming and going, and the challenge of making deep relationships in a 2nd language.