“Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture” by Adam S. McHugh

Anna Smith
Monday, January 1st 2018
Jan/Feb 2018

If you hate church fellowship hour, evangelizing strangers, and youth group lock-ins, you might be a terrible Christian. Or maybe you’re just an introvert. Adam S. McHugh, a pastor and introvert, has written Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture to help churches figure out the difference.

Many books have been written about how American culture prizes extroverts and needs to learn to value introverts, defined as people who (generally) are energized by solitude, process internally, and prefer depth over breadth (35–43). McHugh realizes that this process needs to happen just as much, if not more, in the church, where broader cultural preferences have been adopted and transformed into measures of righteousness. In many churches, ideal Christians are friendly, outgoing, energetic, and engaging.

Introverted Christians are left with two dark options: either accept their role as inferior Christians, or utterly exhaust themselves in an attempt to be something they aren’t. Depression and dark nights of the soul can follow, as introverts struggle to be faithful but cannot meet the church’s expectations, which are easily mistaken for God’s expectations.

As an introvert who has endured this struggle himself, McHugh wants to encourage and support others. He points out that making extroversion the hallmark of Christian maturity isn’t biblical. God is pleased to work through all the personality types he has created, so it’s important for introverts to understand their personality and work with it, not against it. McHugh outlines common introverted tendencies and shows how they benefit believers and the church.

For example, introverts can be more attuned to the workings of their hearts. Evangelicals can be suspicious of the heart, which of course is deceitfully wicked and no one can know it (Jer. 17:9). But introverts are naturally internal processors, so they spend a lot of time digging around in there, examining their motivations and desires. They find lots of gunk, but they also find evidence that God is at work, and they learn to tell the difference. This knowledge of their inner workings is beneficial in their own lives and in understanding the motivations of others, who might not have spent so much time doing internal excavation.

Introverts also have the potential to be more comfortable with contemplative and quiet forms of spirituality. The Reformation put a great emphasis on the word of God, which is certainly appropriate. But Christians often confuse the importance of God’s word with the importance of their own. McHugh writes, “Our verbal effusiveness can devolve into breezy clichés, hollow sound bites, and repetitive song lyrics” (25). This breeziness can be devastating when it’s applied to difficult situations that demand sensitivity and carefully chosen words. Introverts are equipped to help the evangelical church relearn the importance of silence and the fact that human words will only take you so far.

I’m a shy introvert who has been driven to Xanax by Sunday morning coffee hour, so it was remarkably refreshing to read whole sections encouraging me to see my introversion as a gift instead of a burden. I didn’t realize how many extroverted expectations I was placing on myself, and realistically, I’m never going to be good at some of those things (such as unstructured chit-chat). I’m also able to better appreciate my strengths, such as my love for studying the Bible, a passion my introversion complements well.

McHugh wants to remove burdensome expectations from introverts, but he isn’t distributing get-out-of-evangelism-free cards. All Christians are called to do things that make them uncomfortable. But we don’t need to make ourselves more uncomfortable by assuming the task can be done only in an extroverted way, such as believing evangelism is best done by accosting strangers on airplanes. (Why is it always airplanes?)

Instead, McHugh reframes evangelism in a way that introverts can appreciate, focusing more on listening in the context of relationships than engaging in quick-witted debates with strangers. He helps introverts tackle other common areas of struggle by suggesting concrete goals for fellowship time, strategies for engaging in conflict, and spiritual practices that align with introverted sensibilities.

He recognizes that not every introvert will identify with every issue he raises. Sometimes it’s hard to disentangle the threads of introversion, quietness, scholarliness, shyness, and social anxiety. One could be a bona fide introvert and love church fellowship hour or evangelizing strangers. One could be an extrovert and hate those activities. But by interviewing many introverts, McHugh identifies frequent patterns that should connect with most introverts on some level.

Since McHugh is a pastor, he spends a lot of time focusing on introverts in leadership. If Christians are expected to be extroverts, then that goes double for pastors and quintuple for youth pastors. McHugh gives practical tips for introverts in leadership to embrace their good qualities, shift the expectations of their congregations, and manage their limited social energy well.

This is a book well worth reading for introverts or extroverts, especially pastors. Introverted pastors will learn about themselves, and extroverted pastors will learn how to better minister to their introverted sheep. Churches should be places where all personality types are welcomed, appreciated, and challenged. This book helps us get there.

Anna Smith (MA, biblical studies, Westminster Seminary California) teaches high school English, edits for The Gospel Coalition, and blogs at She lives in South Florida with her husband, Andy.

Monday, January 1st 2018

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

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