Contrary to what some around me might think, I love people. I love to sit and watch people interact. I love to listen to people tell stories and share burdens.
However, I’m also an introvert. I know, it seems strange that an introvert would be in a profession that requires public speaking every week. However, not all introverts struggle with public speaking. For me, introversion means that relational activities, like the ones that are necessary and crucial for pastoral ministry, can be taxing and difficult. Some people conclude long conversations and feel like their batteries have been re-charged. I come out of long conversations and can feel spent.
As I’ve served in various leadership roles, I’ve tried to examine the relationship between my personality, my leadership style, my faithfulness, and my effectiveness. Below are some strategies that I have tried to implement as I have been blessed to be an introvert in leadership.
1. Know yourself.
Know what your natural inclinations and gifts are, but also know where you are weak. Personally, I am more comfortable in my study than I am in the fellowship hall. As an introvert, I could sit in my study all day and read, pray, and work on my computer, and I would be pretty content. I need to remember often that seclusion is not healthy for pastoral ministry, and that my ministry’s aspects cannot be fulfilled from my study. I must be among my flock.
2. Work alongside extroverts when you can.
Pastoral ministry (and leadership in general) requires small talk and mingling, which can be difficult for introverts. However, one way that I try to mitigate some of those relational weaknesses in my personality is to work alongside extroverts when I can. For example, I’ll take an extroverted pastoral intern or deacon along with me to make hospital visits; or, I’ll try to have my extroverted wife by my side at functions that will require lots of small talk. She has a gift for conversation, so I let her bless me (and others!) by taking the lead in mingling whenever I can.
3. Plan your time wisely.
This is related to my first point; part of knowing yourself well is knowing how to best schedule your time. Make sure your schedule includes time for recovery and rest. Because I preach most Sunday nights, I am usually physically and emotionally drained on Mondays. Therefore, I try to plan mostly administrative work on Mondays, and save the more emotionally and spiritually taxing ministry elements for later in the week (e.g., counseling meetings).
4. Be intentional about accountability.
One strategy that has been good (though sometimes challenging) for me is to be accountable to extroverts. I meet weekly with another pastor that is extroverted, and I’ve asked him to keep me accountable. I want him to make sure that I am working on being hospitable, both at church and at home. He lets me know how my actions may be perceived by others. My wife is also helpful in this area. She encourages me to get outside of my comfort zone and better love others by engaging them in conversation.
5. Remind yourself that people, not task lists, are the focus of ministry.
Most people tend to gravitate toward what is easiest. My temptation, as an administratively-inclined introvert, is to focus on what comes naturally to me, like emails, schedules, writing, and reading. I can easily see my to-do list as an indicator of my ministry effectiveness and productivity. Rather, I have to constantly remind myself that the goal of ministry is to love people. When an unexpected visitor drops in and needs to talk, that visitor is an opportunity for me to love and serve, not a scheduling problem to be resolved. When I go on a hospital visit, I remind myself that the goal is not to get in, read a few verses, pray, and get out, even if that’s what my to-do-list-oriented personality wants to do. The goal is to love the sheep by encouraging them with the word and prayer, and to seek to make them feel loved by genuinely listening and communicating with them.
6. Remember the Gospel.
Remember that you are a sinner, whose natural inclination is bent in toward yourself. But also remember that Christ has redeemed you from bondage to sinful self-centeredness. Christ was willing to give up his heavenly station to come down and take on flesh for me. He was willing to be beaten and killed for my sin. He was consumed with love for his bride, even at the cost of great personal sacrifice. And I’ve been given His very own Spirit. It is through prayerful dependence upon the Holy Spirit that I can serve in Christ’s strength, motivated by the love that he’s shown to me.
When I’ve really reflected on the grace and hospitality shown to me, then I can find the strength to be hospitable to others on Sunday morning. When I see that Christ has taken the initiative to reach out to me in love, then I can find the strength to initiate conversations with strangers. When I see that Christ has borne a huge load for me, then I find the strength to bear with others and their heavy burdens.
In sum, introversion is not necessarily sinful. However, introverted personalities can be tempted to sin in particular ways. The wise introverted leader will recognize those temptations, take steps to prevent succumbing to them, and will look to Christ for the strength to love others well, especially our relationally-oriented, extroverted brothers and sisters.
Jon English serves as Pastor of Discipleship for Morningview Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. He has earned a Bachelor’s degree from Auburn University Montgomery, a Masters of Divinity from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and a PhD in Systematic and Historical Theology from SBTS. Jon English is a member of the Evangelical Theological Society, a fellow for the Center for Pastor Theologians, and an adjunct professor for Covenant Baptist Theological Seminary.
Course taught at CBTS: The Decalogue & the Sabbath in Redemptive History