Can an introvert be a leader?
In my years in ministry, it has seemed to me that very few people like me find their way to leadership positions. The day-to-day interactions with people that are an absolute prerequisite for the job are an obvious detractor. Still, I have managed to meet a few who, like myself, choose to overcome our natural introverted ways in order to use the gifts God has given us to lead others. Yes, it is possible for an introvert to lead, contrary to what some extroverts may seem to think.
Take a look at the depiction again because I feel that it really hits the nail on the head. Notice that it points out that we introverts find interactions “exhuasting.” It does not say that we avoid it all together. Now, every individual is unique and has their own “tolerance” levels of said “exhaustion,” but I find that my “eneregy bucket” can last just long enough for me to finish a week-long retreat. After that, I am in desperate need of recharging time lest major burnout set in.
Because I am an introvert, I am not naturally inclined to seek people out for social interaction (i.e. meeting for coffee, watching sports together, online gaming, etc.) I prefer reading a book, writing/composing music, etc. That does not mean I hate engaging with other people, it just means it is not my first thought when I wake up. In case the extroverts missed that, let me rephrase it for the sake of emphasis and clarity. I do, in fact, enjoy social interaction, but I am not hardwired to seek it out upon throwing off the covers in the morning. Unfortunately, the ministry world seems to think that this is a major negative for leaders like me. “Clearly,” they say with a sad look of pity on their faces, “he is not a people person.”
The unfortunate thing is, this is a sad and completely eronious stereotype. I am a people person. Though I enjoy solitude, I also enjoy company. I am simply wired differently. Where am I going with this? Well, by only seeking out the perceived extrovert leader who is a “people person” the church is often missing out on the exact person they need to minister to a VERY large segment of the population… the introverts.
Can the church relate to introverts?
If you read through this depiction and take it seriously, I challenge you to evaluate the programming your church offers. Who do you feel it targets? Introverts or extroverts? I would argue that at their very core, the vast majority of church programming options are designed for the extrovert. There is an expectation for the introvert to adapt to the extrovert’s way of interacting with the world in order to “fit in.”
Don’t believe me? Look at the training procedures for most youth ministries (or listen to the behind-the-scenes conversations of the leaders). In their handbooks you will find them discussing the “kid who sits in the corner” as someone who is rebellious, socially awkward, or simply doesn’t want to participate. Those kids who come infrequently (or not as frequent as his/her leader wants) or avoids the longer retreats/events either has skewed priorities or parents who do not push the church’s programming enough. Little consideration is given for the student’s actual needs. What if that large group game is not what that student needs? What if, instead of forcing him/her to participate, you find away to respect his/her “hamster ball”?
How can the church relate to the introverts? Hire introverts as leaders. Though I felt pressured to act like an extrovert (in fairness, it was often self-imposed), I still always kept my radar up for the introverted students. I certainly didn’t always lead in the best way and I made my share of mistakes, but I felt I did a fair job of seeking those students out. Introverts know how to recognize other introverts. It’s a by-product of living in an extrovert’s world.
My prayer is that ministry leaders who are natural extroverts will keep the needs of the introvert in mind. Sadly, since much of the programming out there is not geared for them, many ministries have few introverts present. I encourage the leadership of churches to do the bold thing and willingly hire introverts (without expecting them to change into something they are not going to be).