In the twelfth chapter of 1 Corinthians, Paul compared the church to a body. Within the body are many different parts. Some of them are visible and some are not. But all of them are essential to the proper functioning of the body. And Paul very clearly affirms that the Holy Spirit equips different people within the body with different gifts, or functions. We are not all the same. Nor should we want to be what someone else is. The body works best when I, and each other person, are faithful to the role that the Holy Spirit equips us for.
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Paul’s discussion in this chapter center’s around what we call spiritual gifts. These are specific abilities that are given to individuals for building up the church. There is an overwhelming number of books and studies available that teach about spiritual gifts. Typing ‘spiritual gift’ into the Google search bar returns 146 million results. And I have written a few pages myself that touch on spiritual gifts.
But I have come to believe that these spiritual gifts that Paul, and others, talk about are not the only way that God equips us for service within his kingdom. I am different in temperament than most of you who might be reading this article. My nature is no better or worse than yours, just different. And I believe God has made us the way we are. And that it is not just special gifts given by the Spirit that God uses to build up his church. But that he is also using the temperaments we are born with to build up his church. But I am afraid that all too often we ignore that aspect of who we are.
Introversion and Extroversion
There are many aspects of personality that distinguish one person from another. The one I am most familiar with has to do with extroversion. There are a great many definitions of what it means to be an introvert or extrovert. Every expert on the subject seems to have their own variation of a definition. But I do not find much practical difference in these definitions. So, for the purposes of this article, I will be quoting from an article in SimplyPsychology called “Introvert and Extrovert Personality Traits“, published on November 9, 2020, by Olivia Guy-Evans.
Most people recognize that introversion/extroversion is not an either/or condition. Rather it is a scale that varies from one extreme to another. Most people actually find themselves somewhere in the middle between these two extremes. According to Guy-Evans, “People who are highly extroverted tend to be more sociable, are outgoing, enjoy being the center of attention, and are energized by social interaction. Those low on extroversion prefer spending time alone, are reserved, dislike attention, and are drained by too much social interaction.”
Apparently, according to Guy-Evans and others, the majority of people, at least in the U.S. tend toward extroversion. Some would give extroverts a 3 to 1 edge and others a 2 to 1 advantage. But whichever is correct, there are a lot of introverts in our society, and in our churches. You may or may not be an introvert yourself. But you are pretty much guaranteed to know one. I identify as an introvert. And not just someone with introvert tendencies. But a full-fledged, card-carrying, hard-core introvert who loves to be alone and who is uncomfortable in large groups. The signs Guy-Evans gives for an introvert could have been written specifically with me in mind.
Life as an Introvert
For many years, actually most of my adult life, I thought there was something wrong with me, that I was somehow broken. The ability to strike up a conversation and keep it going was a mystery to me. I knew people could do it. And I envied them. This was especially true when it came to evangelism. Some folks can walk up to a stranger and easily share their faith with them. The thought of walking up to a stranger and saying anything to them can be overwhelming to me. It is not that I don’t want to do that. It’s that I seem unable to. And what is true of me, in that regard, is true of all of us who fall on the extreme side of introversion.
But I have come to recognize, in the last few years, that there is nothing wrong with me. At least concerning my introversion. I am the way God made me. And I have come to appreciate, and enjoy, being an introvert. I had often wondered why people did not think the way that I did. I enjoy contemplating deeply about many subjects. And especially about theology. And it troubled me that most of the believers I knew did not have that passion. However, I have recently discovered that is one of the differences between introverts and extroverts. We focus more on the internal life, the life of the mind. While extroverts focus more on the external. By no means is that characterization an absolute. Nor is one better than the other. But it is one of the significant differences between us.
Introverts in the Church
A local church gathering can be difficult for those high on the introversion side of the scale. We are not comfortable in large groups and generally not very social. You will likely find us sitting on the sidelines and somewhat withdrawn. You might think that we are anti-social. but the truth is that we are just wired this way. We do not choose to be withdrawn. It takes a great deal of effort to enter into the large group social activities of the church. And the effort is very draining. We will never be the life of the party, preferring to actually avoid the party.
It is tempting to avoid gathering with the church. And many introverts do make that choice. Unfortunately, it is not generally a friendly environment for us. I recognize the importance of being an active part of the church, even as an introvert. And have chosen to attend worship services and small group gatherings. But I have a tendency to avoid other large gatherings. They are very extrovert friendly, but not so much for people like me.
We Are One Body With Different Members
This article is not meant as a complaint about how introverts are treated in the church. But I do hope that it can help others to understand who and what we are. We are in many ways very different from those who are extroverts. But God has made both of us, introvert and extrovert, and has brought us together with the church, the body of Christ. Both of us have a role to play within the body.
The challenge is to recognize what each of us brings to the body. And to encourage each of us to use our unique personalities, and gifts, in building up the body. Don’t expect us to all be the same. We are not. But we are all members of one body. We are all loved by God. And individually equipped to serve within a healthy body.
The views expressed here are solely mine and do not necessarily reflect those of any other person, group, or organization. While I believe they reflect the teachings of the Bible, I am a fallible human and subject to misunderstanding. Please feel free to leave any comments or questions about this post in the comments section below. I am always interested in your feedback.
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