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Tuesday, February 14, 2012 - 9:09am
This week’s episode of the Connected Kingdom Podcast (another of our new, shorter episodes) has me discussing introversion. You’ve got two options: You can read the transcript below or you can listen in by clicking on the audio player.
I am an introvert. Whatever an introvert is, I know it is a description that applies to me. The classic definition of an introvert pretty much describes me to a T. The problem is that it’s not a label I am comfortable with.
We are taught today that there is a kind of binary distinction between people—some are introverts and some are extroverts. If you’ve ever taken a personality test or aptitude test, you have probably been diagnosed as one or the other. Or more likely, you’ve been told that you are somewhere along a single continuum that extends from the greatest introvert to the greatest extrovert. It is a line and all of us fall along it somewhere. When I was in the workforce there were a few occasions that I had to take the Myers-Brigg Type Indicator test and I was always shown to be pretty far along that scale. That’s just who I am. Or is it?
What people mean by this personality distinction is that some people are naturally shy and inward-focused while others are outgoing and other-focused. Some are introspective while others are assertive. Introverts tend to need to get away from people in order to rest and recharge; extroverts tend to need to get together with people in order to do the same. This kind of distinction impacts all of life, it describes each one of us in a really basic, foundational way. It’s an attempt to answer the question, Who am I?
But here is my concern: introvert is not a biblical word and, as far as I can see, not even a biblical concept. This doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily unbiblical or anti-biblical; just that it’s not a term the Bible uses to describe me, to describe the way I am, to describe my identity. It is a-biblical, unknown to the Bible. Yet it clearly describes some kind of a reality, that there are different kinds of personality.
So what is it? Is introversion like gender or race, things that are given to me and over which I have no say, just who I am? Or are they things that I can control or things that I can choose? Will we all be introverts or all be extroverts in heaven? Are these real distinctions or could it be that the are ways we excuse our sin? What I don’t want to do is excuse sin or weakness by using respected or respectable terms that have no biblical basis. There are some ways that psychology offers some truth, but there are also ways in which it will inevitably lead us astray.
So how do I look at introversion through a biblical lens?
I’ve been helped by Ed Welch and CCEF here. Speaking on behalf of biblical counsellors he says “Terms that stay isolated from Scripture end up in the bin of ‘psychological problems.’ Our mission: empty that bin.” The skillful biblical counsellor will want to look for ways people self-diagnose and explore those things—all of those things. That’s true of psychological conditions and true of labels. If I say, “I am schizophrenic” or “I am depressive” or “I am introverted,” the biblical counsellor needs to dig deep and see how and why I make that kind of distinction and how it will play out in my life. What is it that I am really saying about myself? What does it reveal about me?
Welch says that when I define my personality, when I say that I am introverted, I am actually describing and combining two things: character on the one hand and strengths and weaknesses on the other. When I say that I am introverted, I am revealing my character and revealing both strength and weakness, or perhaps either strength or weakness.
My challenge, and it is a challenge I face all the time, is to keep introversion from enabling or excusing sin. Introversion can quickly and easily become a way to validate sin. I can excuse selfishness, self-centeredness, escapism, lack of hospitality, rudeness. I can stay away from people and excuse it as being just the way I am, as being who I am. I can be shy and quiet when the Lord calls me to be strong and bold. Of course extroversion can also be a way to validate sin. The extrovert can run away from solitude, avoid spending time alone, validate himself by the amount of time he spends with others, doubt himself when he is alone. This introvert/extrovert distinction affects each of us in all kinds of ways.
I find it interesting that in my life right now I have two main spheres of public responsibility and influence. Blogging is an ideal setting for an introvert. I can stay in my office and tap away on my computer all day long. A shy and quiet person, I can appear strong and bold from behind a keyboard—the quietest coward can be a hero in the blogosphere. Blogging is an ideal means of communication for the introvert. But then I am also a pastor and in many ways it seems like extroverts have a natural advantage in ministry. The ministry offers a special kind of challenge for the introvert when it demands spending time with people, loving people, serving people; it is a people-oriented calling. And as a pastor this is one of my greatest challenges, not to retreat into myself, not to run away from people. I have had to learn not to avoid opportunities that are difficult for me but which bring opportunities to teach and serve the people I love.
In the end I see introversion as simply a descriptor, something that states the reality that at heart, in my natural state, I am a shy and quiet person. It is intensely difficult for me to be with a lot of people for a long time and it is incredibly draining for me to stand in front of a group of people. It can feel like death to preach a sermon. Being alone or being with just my wife is life to me. In this way introversion describes my natural inclinations and predispositions. I don’t expect this to ever change. But what I demand of myself is to ensure that I do not allow my personality, my introversion, to have a negative impact on my life and ministry. I want to emphasize and enjoy the ways that introversion is healthy for me and effective in ministry, and I want to work hard to deny what seems to good and natural when it will have a negative impact.
If you choose to listen to the podcast you can hear David interact with this a little bit. Also, you’ll hear that David’s challenge for next week will be to speak on the subject of entitlement.
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