I have a strong word of encouragement to the introverted pastor.
Be extroverted on Sunday.
You can do it.
Every time I post about introversion I hear from pastors and church members who talk about how introversion negatively impacts the ministry of the church.
I get it. I really do. In fact, I am it. On a scale of 1 to 10 of introversion — if there were such a scale — I’m probably a 7 or 8. And, I can be a 9 some days. So, I understand.
But, the interaction we have with people is a key role we play in growing and leading the church. I’ve written in numerous posts that just because I’m introverted doesn’t mean I don’t love people. There may be some pastors who don’t really love people — and I personally don’t see how they can be very successful if that’s the case — but introversion is a personality trait. It’s not an indicator of how deeply a person loves people.
I love people. Really. Especially people who are excited about what God is doing in their life. That motivates me. My introversion, however, if I’m not careful, can keep me from interacting even with people I love.
If you asked most people in the churches where I have served as pastor, other than those who know me really well, they are surprised I am an introvert based on my Sunday interactions with people. I’m very extroverted on Sundays.
So how do I do it?
Here are a few thoughts.
You have to be intentional. You have to work at it. I’m not saying it will be easy, but is anything worthwhile ever easy? I realize that Sunday is coming. I plan my week around it. I have lots of introverted during my week. For example, I am very careful what I plan for Saturday night, because I know I need to be at my best for Sunday. It is rare for me to schedule a large social gathering on Saturday nights, for example. In fact, I’ve found that Cheryl and my Saturday date days are the perfect preparation for an extroverted Sunday. (Obviously that’s easier for us now as empty-nesters, but I was equally protective of my Saturday night when we had children at home.)
Your family will have to cooperate. This is the hardest one, because it obviously involves other people. The key for us is that my family knows me as I know them. They understand that Sunday takes so much out of me mentally and physically. They realize I need time to recover from a very extroverted Sunday. The ride to the restaurant for Sunday lunch is usually pretty quiet. Over the years, when the boys were home and now that it’s just Cheryl and me, my family has learned that if I have my introverted recovery time I’m more engaging with them the rest of the day. It is a way they partner with me in ministry. (I sense a need to clarify. My family understands my introversion — but I don’t think they ever feel slighted because of it. That takes intentionality too.)
Realize it’s for a purpose. When I taught a very large Sunday school class (over 100 people), every week I’d leave the room as I was praying at the close of my lesson. It seemed the humble thing to do, and I was sincere in that, but honestly, it was the “safest” approach for this introvert. When I came into ministry and was in my first church, I continued this practice. I would “escape” during my prayer to the back of the sanctuary. A dear older deacon pulled me aside one day. He gently, in a very helpful way, said, “Ron, if as you’re praying you’ll walk to the vestibule and be there to shake people’s hands as they leave, they’ll be more likely to return the next week.” I’ve been doing that ever since — and how right he was. One of the most frequent comments I receive from visitors is how they enjoyed meeting the pastor. I can’t imagine it any other way now. It fuels me and them. I remain thankful for the wisdom of that deacon.
Rely on Holy Spirit help. The pastor that inspired me most in my spiritual walk when I was a 20-something year old trying to figure out my life direction emailed me recently. He had read one of my introversion posts and wanted to echo the sentiments in it. He said he has always marveled at how many introverted pastors he has seen God call to lead in the church — even very large churches. He wrote, “I’ve been an introverted pastor of large churches for 39 years now. Before every service I’m saying the same thing, ‘God, I can’t do this—now what are you going to do about that?!'” His humble surrender to God’s hand has shaped some powerful ministries under his leadership. I loved being able to email back to one of my mentors that I’ve had a similar prayer every Sunday — for a few less years.
Just as Moses, Gideon, and others led through what they felt would handicap them in following God’s call, introverted pastor, you can do this. With God’s help, an understanding family, and some hard, purposeful, intentional work — if God has called you to it, He will equip you. Surrender to His strength and will.
And, the reward is worth it!
I sent out a couple of tweets recently that received some attention. They had the hashtag #ThingsGodMightSay and were intentionally designed to encourage people.
In my work, I always know a lot of struggling people. I see social media as an outlet for ministry.
So, I decided to expand on the theme.
Here are 20 #ThingsGodMightSay:
I thought about you today. A lot. #ThingsGodMightSay
I forgave you. Shouldn’t you forgive him? #ThingsGodMightSay
Don’t worry. I’ve got this. #ThingsGodMightSay
What do you think about the butterfly? Yea, I’m pretty proud of that one too! #ThingsGodMightSay
That love one another thing — I meant it. #ThingsGodMightSay
Did you miss the part about me being a jealous God? #ThingsGodMightSay
When you get time, can we talk? #ThingsGodMightSay
I wrote this book. Have you read it lately? #ThingsGodMightSay
No, it wasn’t a mistake. You just can’t see the whole picture right now. Just wait… #ThingsGodMightSay
I can tell — you’re worried again. You forgot about my promises to you, didn’t you? #ThingsGodMightSay
Have you thought about my son lately? Isn’t He wonderful? #ThingsGodMightSay
Restoring broken people. It’s kind of one of my specialties. #ThingsGodMightSay
Today’s a great day to follow me. #ThingsGodMightSay
I’ve loved you since the minute I thought of you — which was way before your time. #ThingsGodMightSay
Quit trying to be like everyone else. I’m pretty proud of who I designed you to be. #ThingsGodMightSay
Have you ever watched a child giggle? Yea, that gets me every time too. #ThingsGodMightSay
I love what you’re doing with Instagram, but you haven’t seen anything yet. #ThingsGodMightSay
Waiting doesn’t offend me. I’ve got plenty of time. #ThingsGodMightSay
You can trust me. Seriously. #ThingsGodMightSay
No matter how hard you try, or how good you are, this is NOT going to work without me! #ThingsGodMightSay
Feel free to tweet your favorite.
Let me be clear that I’m not assuming I have anything to say for God. He can and has spoken for Himself. Every time I preach I try to amplify His Word and help people apply truth to their life. That’s my goal here. It’s just an attempt to provide a fun, easy to read way to get concepts and encouragements of God into our minds. For ultimate truth, stick with what’s already been written — The Bible.
What would you share of #ThingsGodMightSay?
Every leader needs to balance the tension of “leading for me and leading for the organization.”
I balance it everyday.
Here’s what I mean.
I’m sometimes going to lead for me. My preferences. My tastes. My individual style is going to be reflected in the church. That’s part of leadership.
I’m certain leadership of the people looked different under Moses than under Joshua. (Joshua apparently didn’t have a stick. )
If my leadership is effective at all it will have an impact on the church. At the same time, I have to be very careful as I lead, and with the structures we implement, and the vision I cast, that I’m not being egocentric. We have a bigger vision at stake. Hopefully the church lasts much longer than me.
I know the church is going to resemble me. It is going to reflect my leadership.
But the church doesn’t need to look like me. It should look like Jesus.
Do you see the difference?
This is a tension for every organization. Christian or not. Non-profit or for profit.
Consider Apple. Apple resembles Steve Jobs. It should. He built the company. He’s a mastermind behind it all. But it didn’t need to look like Steve Jobs. It needed to look like Apple. Imagine what would happen now if it had only been built around Steve Jobs. Apple looks like Apple. That’s a good thing if you like Apple products.
I see too many planters and pastors shaping the culture to look like them. It’s dangerous. It’s not sustainable. And, frankly, I don’t think it’s Biblical. When they leave the church will likely struggle with an identity crisis.
Here are some ways I attempt to balance this tension:
- If the decision has long-term implications I include multiple voices.
- I try not to always have an answer to every problem.
- I surround myself with really smart people. And, give them authority to question my judgment.
- I step back often to observe a bigger picture.
- I’m trying to shape paradigms of good leadership more than specifics of structure.
- I try not to micromanage.
- I empower people to make decisions without my stamp of approval.
People want to follow a vision that is bigger than today. They want progress. And, granted, to accomplish that, people want and need a leader. I believe God even allowed things to be set up that way. The tension is to not use that felt need of people as an opportunity to build my own kingdom.
Here’s a very practical example of how that is currently playing out in our church. Our church governing structure needs some tweaking. The current system, with a monthly business meeting on a Wednesday night, where major decisions eventually have to be made, attended overwhelmingly by seniors — who by the way are among the most faithful members of our church — is not sustainable long-term. The younger generation of people are not buying into that system. They don’t care about the business of church as much as the mission of church. In 10 years, unless we make changes, the room will be much smaller and it will be difficult to get anything done effectively with our current structure. That’s not being cruel. It’s being realistic.
In recommending that we need changes, I have suggested a team that is cross representative of the church, made up of laypeople in the church. I’ve offered resources and other church models for them to consider. But, then I’ve tried to get out of the way, as much as possible. I’ve even suggested, should anyone think this is personal to me, that they make changes effective the day I leave office as pastor. (I’m not anticipating they will do this but I’m that serious about not shaping a church to look like me.)
The bottom line in this illustration is that I’m in a church that’s 105 years old. That is over twice my age. I hope this local church body survives long after I’m gone (unless of course Jesus returns.)
That will be easier if I’m not the identity of this church – Jesus is.
I read an article recently that suggested the majority of senior leaders think extroversion is necessary to be an effective senior leader. Obviously — and hopeful I am correct — I disagree. In fact, I see benefits in being an introverted senior leader.
I also know people who can’t believe I can pastor a large church and be introverted. I’ve written before about the false assumptions of introverts. Introverts can be just as caring, loving and “shepherding” as extroverts. It’s a personality trait, not a heart monitor. But, again, I see benefits in being a lead pastor and an introvert.
Here are 7 ways introversion works well for me as a senior leader:
I think first and speak later. I don’t stick my foot in my mouth very many times. I’m not saying extroverts do, but I am saying that as an introverts I tend to choose my words very carefully. One characteristic of the personality is we don’t speak quickly. We choose our words more intentionally. Understand, I do say things I regret, but it doesn’t happen often.
I’m less likely to struggle with the loneliness of leadership. This is a real leadership emotion, and I certainly have it some, but I’m very comfortable being alone in a room to my thoughts. Long runs by myself are energizing to me. I know many extroverted leaders who can get very lonely — and some days for them are very difficult, especially when they are in the midst of harder leadership decisions.
I create intentional moments. My introversion forces me to be very intentional about my time interacting with others. I say continually to introverted leaders — introversion should never be a crutch or an excuse for not engaging with people. Leadership is a relational process for all of us. But, my relational time is very focused. I tend to make the most of my time. A calendar is one of my essential leadership tools. Sunday mornings I’m the most extroverted person in our church building. It’s strategic, intentional, and I enjoy it — because I truly love people — even though it is draining.
It’s easy to concentrate on the big picture. You’ll seldom find me chit-chatting. It’s not that I don’t have casual conversations — I certainly do when I’m connecting with people — but communication for me is usually very purposeful. As a result, I tend to be able to be very big picture oriented. Very strategic in my thinking. I step back and observe everything often. I’m a deep thinker. Those are traits especially strong with most introverts. That has proven to be very profitable for my leadership and the teams I lead.
Processed randomness. People often wonder if I know how to have fun. “Pastor you seem so serious” or “What do you do for fun?” I hear comments like that frequently. Those are usually people who only see me when I’m working and don’t know me very well. And, I do work hard, but I can sometimes be seen as the class clown too — by those who get to know me. Some of that comes through online. But when those times occur, they are usually intentional times. My work is caught up, I have done all the things I have to get done, and I’m ready to “come out and play”. That quality can be in extroverts or introverts, but for me as an introvert, they are more intentional moments than spontaneous.
I network intentionally. I recognize the value of every conversation I have. So, I have lots of conversations. Every Sunday is a gold mine of networking opportunities. Plus, I meet dozens of people every week in the community where I serve. I enjoy meeting people knowing that people are my purpose — and I love people — I really do. More than that, I love how God wants to develop and grow people, and I see my role in that as a teacher. People are the reason for everything I do.
I tend to listen well. People on my team usually have a very good chance of having their voice heard, because in any meeting setting, I don’t feel the need to be the one always talking. My introversion allows me to be quiet, sit back, listen, and reflect and offer input when and where most needed.
Sure there are struggles with being an introvert at times, but I have found it to be a blessing in my leadership. It is who I am — it is NOT a curse. Much of that has to do with how I manage my introversion in an often very extroverted world.
How does introversion make you an effective leader?
I’ve planted two churches. In each plant, God overwhelmed us continually with what He did among us. I feel humbled and blessed to be a part of such healthy environments God uses to reach people with the Good News of Jesus Christ.
I have learned a few things in the process. Some of these were new insights and some of were things I had confirmed, but all are things I would suggest other church planters consider.
Here are 5 lessons I learned in church planting:
Don’t shy away from leaders, even though they are churched — you’ll need them – When we started, if a person showed up who regularly attended another local church, we shied away from them. We weren’t rude to them, but we really didn’t pursue them as we did other visitors, simply out of respect of other churches. What I have learned, however, is that many times this was standing in the way of something God was doing in the person’s life. At the same time, we were suffering from a leadership void not having enough people ready to lead in a church setting. There’s a huge difference in recruiting and accepting people churched people into a church plant.
Don’t be afraid to talk about money — you’ll need it - I know this is a problem for many church planters, because a perception is that people church plants reach are repelled by money talks. Granted, some people wrongly feel that all churches talk about is money and so they push back anytime money is mentioned. We can know and tell people that Jesus talked much about money (some say more than any other subject), but in an attempt to be attractive to unchurched people, church plants often avoid any money talk whatsoever. What I learned, however, is that it takes money to minister to people. Additionally, part of the spiritual growth process of a person is how they view and handle money and one of my roles is to help them mature in this area. I can’t do that unless we talk about it. And, the pushback when we do, if handled with truth and grace, is far less than I expected it to be.
Surround yourself with some encouragers — some days they’ll keep you going - The work of church planting by itself is tough and places a strain on the planter and his or her family, but church planting also has plenty of naysayers. The church world can be very competitive and church planters are not always the most popular pastors among the established church world. And, because things are new and in the discovery phase of building a church, not everyone will agree with every decision. (That’s in every church setting.) I’ve learned I needed enough people around me who believe in me and the vision of the plant so that on the days when I was down they could encourage me to pick my head up and keep moving forward towards what God had called us to do.
Know what to control and what to let go of — you’ll be stretched if you don’t - There are some things to hold on to very tightly, such as vision or senior leadership positions, but I learned to let go of things such as how the vision gets implemented or what color we use for rugs in the preschool area. (I never would have stressed about that last one — but you get the idea.) The more I allowed others to do and take leadership of, the greater success we had in reaching our overall vision.
Embrace hurting people — as much as it hurts - We extended so much grace to people — and we were burned a few times. I have been personally hurt by people to whom I invested so much love and support, who quickly fell back into their old way of life. I know God rewards this sacrifice, but it still stings. The fact is however, that some of the best leaders we developed over the years were hurting, broken people when they arrived. God still does miracles with people when we extend His grace and truth. (And, those have to be extended on an equal basis.)
I am not sure these are unique experiences to church plants — in fact, they are true now that I’m serving in church revitalization, but certainly church planting was where these paradigms were shaped in me. It was a learning process every day — as all leadership positions are, but my hope is that others will learn from our experience.
Which of these do you most need reminding of today?
I was in a community program recently talking about regionalism.
Websters defines regionalism as:
1 a: consciousness of and loyalty to a distinct region with a homogeneous population
b: development of a political or social system based on one or more such areas
2: emphasis on regional locale and characteristics
This particular gathering was a regional leadership development program sponsored by regional economic development groups. We were representative of several adjoining counties trying to decide how we could work together better to promote the greater interests of everyone in the region.
We could promote each others activities for tourism. We could share information that helps each of us better compete globally. If one company is a better fit for another county than for ours, we could suggest the other county. We could realize that what is good for one county is good for the entire region.
Simple stuff but huge realities were shared.
People in economic development are thinking regionalism and it was fun to put my business and former political hat back on again.
But I couldn’t help but think, if people in economic development are thinking regionalism…
Would it even work?
Could churches do a better job in their regions if they came together for a common good?
I recognize some of the fears and hesitancy towards regionalism. The mixing and perhaps confusion of messages. The conflict of styles and traditions. The threat of a loss of individuality or control. The uniqueness of cultures.
I’m not suggesting it would be easy. Nothing really good ever is easy.
But, is regionalism something the church should consider?
That’s all I’m asking.
Maybe we could start by asking questions such as…
What are our shared values?
What are common goals?
What are initiatives we can do together?
How can your church help my church?
How can my church help your church?
Worth considering for the church?
Or am I bringing too much of my business background into the church again?