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Introverts in the Church:
An Interview and Review

by Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts

Copyright © 2009 by Mark D. Roberts

Note: You may download this resource at no cost, for personal use or for use in a Christian ministry, as long as you are not publishing it for sale. All I ask is that you give credit where credit is due. For all other uses, please contact me at Thank you.

Introverts in the Church: Interview, Part 1

Part 1 of series: Introverts in the Church: An Interview and Review
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Today I want to post the first of a two-part interview with Adam McHugh, the author of Introverts in the Church. If you haven’t heard of this book, you might be startled by the title. You might even think it’s a joke. Then again, reading this title might resonate with something deep inside of you, something you feel but haven’t expressed in words, or not very often, at any rate. If you’re an introvert, and there are many of you who read my blog, the fact that somebody has written a book called Introverts in the Church may just touch your soul in an unexpected and welcome way.

Let me reassure you, Introverts in the Church is no joke. In fact, it’s a thoughtful, faithful discussion of a topic that desperately needs more attention in the church today. I’ll say more about this book when I review it in a couple of days. But, first, I want to interview the author, Adam McHugh.

A word about Adam. According to his website, aptly named Introverted Church, Adam is:

an ordained Presbyterian minister, a spiritual director, and an introvert. He has served at Presbyterian churches, as a hospice and hospital chaplain, and as campus staff with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.

Adam grew up in Seattle, Washington, and graduated from Claremont McKenna College and Princeton Theological Seminary. He and his wife life in Southern California, where Adam focuses on writing, teaching, and speaking. I got to know Adam over ten years ago when he interned at Irvine Presbyterian Church, where I was the Senior Pastor. I’ll say a little more about my relationship with Adam later. Now, let’s begin the interview.

Mark: Hello, Adam. Thanks so much for taking time to do this interview. Let me begin with a fairly obvious first question: What inspired you to write the book?

Adam: It started out as deeply personal.  I knew two things: first, that I was called to be a leader in the church, and second, that I was an introvert.  I often found these things to be in deep tension with each other, and so I set out to discover how to lead as an introvert, or even if I could lead as an introvert.  But I realized, as I started talking with others, that my struggles as an introverted pastor were representative of struggles that many introverts have in Christian community, whether leaders or not.  Those conversations became the springboard for my research and eventually, the book. 

Mark: Okay. That makes sense. It’s hard to imagine a book like this being written by an extrovert. Anyway, one of the claims you make in the book is that while many Christian traditions have a bias towards extroversion, evangelicalism in particular may be a difficult culture for introverts. Why is that?

Adam: If you think about what it’s like to enter your average, mainstream evangelical worship service, it feels like walking into a non-alcoholic cocktail party. There is a mingling, chatty informality to evangelicalism that can be daunting for people uncomfortable with small talk and who may prefer a quieter, more contemplative sort of environment.  When you walk into churches of other traditions – like Catholic, Quaker, or high-liturgy Protestant churches – there is more of a quiet reverence in their sanctuaries and their worship features more silences and fewer words. Evangelicalism is a highly talkative, social, upfront, active tradition, and those of us who tend to listen before we speak and like to observe before we engage may feel marginalized, or even spiritually inadequate in such an atmosphere.   

Mark: If you’re right, and I think you are, for the most part anyway, this would suggest that many introverts wouldn’t even settle in an evangelical church. Are you suggesting that introverts should consider participating in traditions other than evangelicalism?

Adam: My point in writing the book is not to encourage people to change churches, but rather to help them find their place in whatever tradition they are a part of.  I make suggestions for how introverts can discover and relish their rhythms of engagement and retreat, and how we can participate in community in ways that feel authentic to who we are.  I also hope that my book will shed light on some of the extroverted tendencies of many church cultures, and that it will help churches become more hospitable to people with introverted temperaments.

Mark: I can just hear some people’s response to what you’ve just said: “But we’re welcoming to all people. We don’t prefer extroverts.” I think it’s sometimes very hard for extroverts to understand introverts. A little later I want to ask you something about how churches can become more hospitable to introverts. But, before we move on, I want to ask a question I probably should have asked earlier: Can you clarify what it means to be an introvert?

Introversion is not synonymous with shyness, passivity, arrogance, timidity, or insecurity.  An introvert is someone who first, finds energy in solitude. We lose energy through social interaction, no matter how much we may enjoy it, and we recharge in private, or with a close friend. Second, introverts process internally.  For us, thinking precedes speaking, and when we are presented with new information, we reflect internally on it before we discuss it.  And third, we tend to prefer depth over breadth.  We would rather have a few close friends than a large circle of acquaintances, and we may enjoy exploring certain topics in great depth rather than spreading ourselves thin over many interests.

Mark: This is a crucial description, I think. Of course you say much more about introversion in your book. And, I should add, that your claims are carefully researched and backed up with psychological data. I think it is common for people to think of introverts as people who are shy, passive, timid, or insecure. They may be perceived as arrogant. Of course all of these adjectives are negative, not neutral. But you’re saying–and, indeed, the psychological literature is saying–that introversion isn’t a personality or character defect. Rather, an introvert is someone who is energized by being alone (or perhaps with one other person). This person doesn’t dislike social situations, but finds them emotionally, physically, and even spiritually draining. By contrast, extroverts get energy from social interactions, and find themselves drained by time alone.

Well, that’s enough for now. I’ll continue this conversation with Adam McHugh tomorrow.

Introverts in the Church: Interview, Part 2

Part 2 of series: Introverts in the Church: An Interview and Review
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Yesterday I began an interview with Adam McHugh, author of Introverts in the Church. Today I’ll pick up that conversation where I left off.

Mark: Adam, I paused the interview yesterday after asking you what it means to be an introvert. Your definition pointed to three main characteristics: 1) An introvert finds energy in solitude and loses energy through social interaction; 2) An introvert processes internally, thinking before speaking; 3) An introvert prefers depth over breadth. The first item in your list seems morally neutral. But the second two items could suggest that you see introverts as morally superior to extroverts. Introverts think before they speak (generally a good practice) and are deep (rather than shallow). Is this what you mean? Are you in some way dissing extroverts?

Adam: Well, I'm certainly not being derogatory of extroverts. I'm married to an extrovert, so obviously I have much appreciation for the qualities of extroverts. Another way of putting the depth versus breadth issue is to say introverts tend to have fewer interests than extroverts. But that actually makes extroverts sound superior, so I'm open to another way of putting it. I'm borrowing the language of Marti Olsen Laney in her book The Introvert Advantage. Introverts usually enjoy a few close relationships and often like to probe deeply into a few topics, which can produce depth but also can be very limiting. As far as the thinking before speaking issue, it IS a good thing in situations of conflict, but can also be a handicap in situations that require quick thinking and decision-making. That's why I'm much better in online interviews than I am in radio interviews!

Mark: Amen to that! I’ve done a fair amount of radio interviews, including a three-hour debate with Christopher Hitchens. I often feel like I’m a step behind those who are verbally quick. Anyway, getting back to our conversation, let me ask you this: What are some of the gifts that introverts have to offer their communities?

Adam: Once introverts stop trying to act like extroverts, they realize they have tremendous gifts to give others.  We are natural listeners, and because we process internally, we offer a non-judgmental presence that helps others open up to us.  Because we probe deep into our inner depths, we are capable of a powerful compassion for other people.  We have an insight that comes from our tendency to observe in social situations; we often see things that people who throw themselves into the center of the action don’t see.  We can model self-awareness and introspection to others.  We have a calming presence that helps other people slow down and find peace around us. 

Mark: In your book, you also explain that introverts, who are naturally inclined to study, can be very strong teachers and preachers. I think this is true. Of course there are extroverts who excel in both areas, too. Speaking of preachers, do you think introverts can be effective evangelists? We often think of evangelism as reaching out to strangers, talking freely about faith, etc. etc. This seems inconsistent with an introverted personality. So, do you think introverts can do evangelism?

Adam: Yes!  As long as we discover ways of evangelism that fit who we are.  I devote a chapter to “introverted evangelism,” and I argue that many of our models of sharing the gospel are ill-fitted for introverts.  Evangelism styles that require fast-talking, debate, and starting up conversations with strangers will likely be discouraging for introverts.  Instead I encourage introverts to ask “Who is already in my life and how is God at work in their lives?”  Introverts will do best in ongoing, deepening friendships, slowly and prayerfully nudging others towards God, using our strengths of listening, compassion, and creativity to point them to Jesus.

Mark: Great. So, thinking about the church in general, how can churches be more hospitable to introverts?

Adam: Broadly speaking, churches can acknowledge the diversity of people in the community, and that God has created people with different temperaments and tendencies.  Pastors can affirm that the diversity in the body of Christ is a beautiful and necessary thing, and that conformity only creates legalism and inauthenticity.  Practically, churches can select both extroverts and introverts as leaders, so that people can see different styles of leadership.  They can take simple, but helpful steps like incorporating silences into worship and offering contemplative kinds of structures like evensongs or lectio divina groups.  They can bring in local scholars to lead in-depth biblical and theological studies.  They can place chairs on the fringes of big social events so that people who are tired by interaction can rest and observe, but still be in the room. 

Mark: I’ll bet it would make a huge difference if, once in a while, a pastor would simply mention something about introverts, “how many there are in our congregation,” etc. etc. Of course another possibility would be to hold up and recommend your book, right? Okay, let me change gears and ask about those who are considering ordained ministry. What is your advice for introverted seminarians who are considering the pastoral ministry?

Adam: The first thing I want to tell people is that at least 25% of Protestant pastors are introverts. I would say, “You are not alone, and it is possible to thrive as an introvert in ministry.”  However, burn-out is more common among introverted pastors and self-care is absolutely critical.  You must be thoughtful about your rhythms, and carve out regular niches of solitude, which may require you to learn to say “no.”  Give space for your devotional life and well as nurture your closest relationships and find opportunities for intellectual stimulation.  Follow the model of Jesus in investing deeply in a few people , who will be co-leaders in the ministry of the church, rather than trying to be all things to all people.  Lead out of who God has created you to be, and the gifts God has given you, rather than trying to act like someone else.

Mark: That’s great. I wouldn’t be surprised if the number is higher than 25%. Introverted pastors have learned how to deal well with groups of people, so they usually don’t seem to be introverted. Well, let me finish up with a “big question.” What is your hope for the book, other than you sell a million copies and get to be on Oprah? Seriously, though, what difference would you like to see your book make in people’s lives and in the Christian community?

Adam: The subtitle of the book nicely captures my hopes: “finding our place.”  Many introverts feel displaced in Christian community, and I want for that to change, not only for their sake, but also for the sake of our churches that have been damaged by a hyperactivity and a restless urgency that may actually distance us from the abundant life Jesus offers us.  I want for my introverted brothers and sisters to claim the gifts they have and to lead the Christian life in a way that is authentic and freeing.  I want for churches to encourage introverts (and extroverts) to follow Jesus as they are, not according to some culturally determined mold of faithfulness.

Mark: Excellent. Thanks, Adam, for taking time to do this interview. I’ll have a few more things to say about your book when I put up my review.

Readers, if you’re interested in purchasing Introverts in the Church, you can do so by clicking here.

Introverts in the Church: A Personal Review, Part 1

Part 3 of series: Introverts in the Church: An Interview and Review
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In the last two days I’ve posted an interview with Adam McHugh, author of Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture. Today I want to add a review of this book. This review will be different from most that I write in that it will be more personal and less analytical.

To begin, I should admit that I’ve known Adam for about a decade and consider him a friend. I first got to know him when I was Senior Pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church. Adam, a student at Princeton Theological Seminary, did an internship in our church one summer. During that time I got to know Adam mostly through his presence at our staff meetings, though we had some individual conversations as well. I did not work directly with Adam, except as he was preparing to preach on Sunday in our worship services.

That was, I believe, Adam’s first sermon. He delivered it before he had ever taken a preaching class in seminary. And it was an excellent sermon. Nothing like the typical beginner’s sermon from a seminarian, which is usually way too scholarly and literary, meant to impress more than communicate. Adam’s effort, on the contrary, was both theologically solid and personally compelling. I thought to myself: “That guy is going to be one of the finest preachers in our denomination.”

I suppose I should say, given Adam’s quite public display of introversion these days, that his relationships with my staff and congregation were quite strong. If you had asked me after his internship had concluded, “Is Adam an introvert?” I would probably have answered, “I don’t know.” At that time, I did not know whether Adam derived energy from interacting with people or whether that drained him. He did it well. That much I knew for sure.

Since Adam’s internship at Irvine Pres, he and I have remained in fairly consistent communication. I think Adam would say that I’ve been an encourager and adviser. Given the fact that my advice sometimes led him into fairly unpleasant ministry situations, I’m not sure how Adam would rate my effectiveness as a counselor.

I have had the privilege of knowing Adam well over the years. I have walked with him through several difficult seasons of his life. Thus I have witnessed Adam’s true mettle. I have watched and prayed as his character and faith have been tested. I have seen how he has remained faithful to the Lord even as the Lord has remained faithful to him. I have witnessed Adam’s personal, relational, and theological growth. Thus I have the deepest respect for Adam as a person of deep faith and solid integrity.

This means, of course, that I have been inclined to appreciate anything Adam writes, including Introverts in the Church. In fact, I wrote a “blurb” for this book after reading an advance copy. Here’s what I wrote several months ago:

What a timely and badly needed book! Introverts in the Church will encourage thousands of Christians who have felt as if they don’t quite fit. It will help them find their rightful place in Christian community, so that their gifts might be well used in the work of the kingdom. This book will also help churches be a place where all people can flourish as disciples of Jesus. Adam McHugh has given us a precious gift through his openness, theological soundness and godly wisdom.

I still believe what I wrote, now more than ever, since I recently finished my second reading of the book.

If you are worrying that I am biased in favor of Adam because of my relationship with him, I will confess it openly. But I don’t think my evaluation of Introverts in the Church has been unduly shaped by my high regard for its author. I’ve read enough books to know when I think one is good. And, for the record, I’ve also read enough bad books, including ones written by friends, to know when I think one is bad. I think Adam’s is good, very good, actually.

If you don’t believe me, let me cite two pieces of evidence in my favor, or in Adam’s favor, to be more accurate. First, Introverts in the Church made Scot McKnight’s list of the Top Books of 2009. Scot, who is a top scholar and an astute observer of things Christian, reads a lot of books. I respect his judgment and, in fact, have noted several books on his list that I want to read for myself. (Thanks, Scot.)

Second, a recent edition of The Christian Century featured Adam’s book as its cover story and included a substantial excerpt from it in the magazine. This speaks volumes about the quality and applicability of Introverts in the Church. Moreover, as you may know, The Christian Century is a mainline publication, one that spans the theological spectrum from conservative to liberal. The fact that this magazine chose to feature Adam’s book bears witness to its wide reach, even though it is plainly evangelical in its orientation and published by an evangelical press (InterVarsity).

So now you know of my highest regard for Adam McHugh, and my strong recommendation of his book, and the fact that other, more objective critics have also given Introverts in the Church a thumbs up. But I have more to say about the book itself and my personal reaction to it. The second half of this review will be posted on Monday, Lord willing.

Introverts in the Church: A Personal Review, Part 2

Part 4 of series: Introverts in the Church: An Interview and Review
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Last Friday I posted the first of a two-part review of Adam McHugh’s new book, Introverts in the Church. As you may recall, I called this a “personal review” because it reflects, first of all, my personal relationship with Adam McHugh, who has been a friend of mine for many years. But this review is also personal in that, today, I will share more of my own response to this book and less of an intellectual critique.

When I last took a personality test, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, and that was more than 20 years ago, I came out evenly split between extraversion and introversion. My guess is that I would continue to be more-or-less balanced that way today. But I’m very much more aware these days of my introverted side, perhaps because I feel more freedom to be who I am rather than what my culture wants me to be. I fully agree with Adam’s demonstrated conclusion that both secular and Christian cultures prefer extroverts, and even cast aspersion on introverts. Thus, it’s taken me many years to be able to admit, for example, that although I enjoy being with people (most of the time), social interaction is emotionally and physically draining for me (most of the time).

Like Adam, I grew up and spent most of my adult life in the context of evangelical Christianity. During my elementary and secondary school years and then during my first seven professional years, I was part of Hollywood Presbyterian Church. One of the hallowed saints from that church’s history was the Rev. Richard Halverson, who spent many years as the chaplain of the U.S. Senate (a position later held by Rev. Dr. Lloyd Ogilvie, who was the Senior Pastor of the Hollywood church during much of my time there). I found it ironic that Introverts in the Church includes, right near the beginning, a quotation from one of Richard Halverson’s books, The Timelessness of Jesus Christ: “The extrovert God of John 3:16 does not beget an introvert people” (Introverts, ch. 1; Timelessness, p. 98). Knowing Dick Halverson, I’m quite sure he did not mean to criticize introverted people with this statement. He used the word “introvert” to describe ourselves when we “make the gospel serve us” or “use it as a protection against the realities of life” or “make us more comfortable,” rather than reaching out to the world with God’s love. But, even though Dick was not intending to censure introverted people, his use of language is quite telling. And it tells against those who are anything other than consistently extroverted.

So, even though I’m not a purebred introvert, but rather more of a mutt, I am nevertheless grateful for Adam’s book. Much of what he commends in the pages of Introverts in the Church I have learned the hard way by personal experience, but it is encouraging, nevertheless, to receive Adam’s affirmation of my lessons and my personality.

Over the years, I have come to grips with the fact that being with people exhausts me. I don’t see this as a bad thing, an aspect of my sinful choices or a part of my fallen nature. Rather, I believe that the introverted part of my nature is just part of me, rather like my receding hairline or righthandedness. Now, if I used the fact that I have introverted tendencies as an excuse for unfriendliness or selfishness, if I turned inward rather than caring for others because I believed myself to be an introvert, then this would move me over into the sinful category of behavior and attitudes. Adam makes very clear in his book that introverts are called to love their neighbors just as much as extroverts, and he has lots of counsel for introverts who might find this intimidating.

Years ago, I wondered if there was something wrong with me because I wasn’t as outgoing as many of my evangelical Christian compadres. Yet if I tried to push myself to be exclusively extroverted, the result backfired. I’d quickly lose the energy needed to be friendly, and would end up isolated in a way that was neither healthy nor loving. But when I realized that being with people took energy rather than giving it to me, and when I allowed that this was simply part of my personality, then I was able to make sure I got the alone time I needed to be refreshed, ready to reach out to people with the love of Christ.

For example, in my role as Senior Director of Laity Lodge, I am often a facilitator of retreats. Thus, I spend most of my time being with people: welcoming them, guiding them, talking with them, listening to them, eating with them, etc. I enjoy this work. But, knowing how so much people interaction uses up my internal energy, I make sure that I get some time alone each day I’m at Laity Lodge. That usually comes during free time in the afternoon. While others are working on art projects or hanging out at the dock–avocations that require a fair amount of human interaction–I am usually taking a hike by myself or with one other person. When I’m alone, I get time to think, to pray, and to recharge my batteries.

I did not need Introverts in the Church to teach me that I need alone time if I’m going to be available to people. Like I said, I learned this the hard way. But I know that there are millions of Christians out there, including thousands of pastors and other church leaders, who are introverts by nature and who are desperately trying to be something else. By denying some of the basics of their personality, these good folk are not doing that which they need to be healthy, happy, active ministers of Jesus Christ. Even Jesus, after all, needed time away from the crowds in order to be refreshed for his ministry. I wonder why we so often forget this.

I am thankful for Introverts in the Church, not only because of its impact on my life, but also because I know it will be a great encouragement to others. Many introverts do feel as if they don’t really belong in the body of Christ. This book will help them find their place. And, I hope it will also help churches to make emotional and spiritual room for introverts. This isn’t just about introverts feeling as if they belong, however. It’s also about the church becoming all that God intends it to be, a place where all of God’s people find a home and partners to serve the Lord in the church and in the world.