“Introvert” Is Not a Problem to Be Fixed

November 27, 2013

Being an introvert is not a weakness to be overcome; it is a strength to be nurtured.

It’s true that, for the last several decades at least, American culture has placed a high premium on being an extrovert, on having the ability to be outgoing and gregarious, to talk as much as (and sometimes before) you think, to fill a room. For example, we tend to hire extroverts more often, pay them more, and promote them faster. They are more often admired and held up as examples.

And if anything, the bias toward extroversion has become even greater in the church than in the culture at large.

Unfortunately, this can leave introverts feeling as if being admired or successful or even just being a faithful Christian requires becoming a different person—one who is energized by being with others rather than by being alone. This is what our dominant culture teaches us.

But maybe you’ve noticed that our dominant culture isn’t always a reliable guide for what’s best for us, our community, or our churches. And perhaps our elevation of extroverts at the expense of introverts is doing more harm than good.

God created the human race with an incredible amount of diversity, and any time we try to make everyone the same or minimize and marginalize those who are different, we do so to our detriment. We miss out on the unique gifts the marginalized have to offer.

One of the ways we may differ from one another is where we happen to fall on the introvert-extrovert spectrum. Extrovertism is one kind of strength, but when we value it so highly that we try to transform introverts into extroverts or treat introverts as inferior for being less gregarious, then we’re denying the wisdom of God in giving (by some research estimates) more than half the human race introspective personalities.

I was fortunate to grow up in a family full of introverts, where being “quiet” never made me feel out of place, where carrying a stack of books on family vacation was endearing, not cause for alarm. My grades were good enough that teachers and others would talk about how bright my future was. And growing up, I was always fortunate to have a couple of good friends (often female, though there were exceptions) who seemed to understand me and value me and never expected me to have a personality other than the one God gave me.

But I have also felt the external pressure—sometimes subtle, sometimes not so subtle—to be less of what I am (an introvert) and more of what the culture values (an extrovert). I have been urged to speak up more often, to let my voice be heard more forcefully, to be more energetic. And I have sometimes felt the subtle disappointment of others who feel that my introverted personality is somehow keeping me from reaching my full potential.

Internally, I have often wondered whether I would ever amount to much since I don’t have that forceful, look-at-me personality.

To be clear, I’m not complaining; I’ve generally been treated well. I’ve been given opportunities that I never could have imagined, primarily because I’ve worked with some pretty extraordinary people. I’ve had key people who believed in me. But I’m speaking out on behalf of friends, family, and others I don’t even know who are just now learning to make their way as introverts in a culture where introversion is often seen as a problem to be fixed.

I’m very encouraged that there is a quiet (surprise!) but growing movement today to recognize the value of introverts, to affirm that we can make significant contributions without trying to become something we are not, and to say that introverts have much to offer that is unique and valuable. There is growing recognition that introverts can actually be quite good at leading others—in some circumstances, even more effectively than extroverts.

Helpful books have been written recently, and I don’t want to fail to mention them. They include Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain and Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture by Adam McHugh. I strongly recommend the first, and even though I’m still working on the second, I’ve read enough to know that I can recommend it too.

So, I’ll be exploring this topic of introverts in an extroverted world here, along with the other things I tend to write about. Maybe I have something new to contribute to the conversation. Or maybe I can just bring the conversation to a new audience. Perhaps more than anything, my goal is for my friends and family, including my children, to know that being an introvert doesn’t make you somehow less than others. And I want all of us to live in a culture that can recognize what introverts uniquely have to offer.

Kevin Scott

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Kevin Scott is a pastor, speaker, and author of ReCreatable: How God Heals the Brokenness of Life (Kregel, January 2014). He writes essays about sustainable Christian living, discipleship, and community.

6 responses to “Introvert” Is Not a Problem to Be Fixed

  1. A pastor friend sometimes describes himself as a “paid extrovert,” meaning that he must play the extrovert in order to fulfill his role as a pastor. I often feel the same. I’m looking forward to your further thoughts. Introverts, Unite! Well, maybe not.

    • Larry, one thing that interests me about that is how different it is from the ideal of some previous generations of a “pastor-scholar.” The author of Introverts in the Church talks about how some churches looking for pastors subtly or not-so-subtly communicate, “Introverts need not apply.”

  2. Kevin, good insights. This is a subject that needs to be talked about more. I’m sure many introverts are made to feel threatened and inferior, including in the church. One of the things introverts are often accused of is not being passionate.

    One of the aspects you mentioned in your post and Lawrence Wilson alluded to in the in previous comment is the “role” of the introvert in leadership, whether it be as a pastor or other position in ministry or the marketplace. Maybe a followup post?

    • Kenneth, I definitely want to explore the leadership aspect, because I feel that’s one of the areas where introverts are most often underestimated. And great thought about introverts being accused of not being passionate. I think you’re absolutely right.

  3. Thanks for your comments, Kevin. I have found people to understand who I am and realize that I am not going to become someone else, and they seem to be fine with it. I read “Quiet” a few months ago and was impressed. “Introverts in the Church” is on my soon to be read list now. It is possible to minister as ourselves; we don’t have to become someone else to be involved in the Kingdom.