An introvert’s guide to evangelism
I know of a Christian who struggles in social settings.
This seems counterintuitive. Evangelism is a basic tenet of his faith, and he feels exhausted just thinking about it! Maybe it’s because the word evangelism draws up for him caricatures of open-air street preaching. Or maybe because he would rather get to know and enjoy his neighbors before trying to proselytize them from a distance, as it often feels like. Whatever it is, that particular trigger of emotional exhaustion doesn’t travel alone. It is sometimes coupled with shame. Shame of not being naturally adept at something so essential to Christianity. And it certainly is essential…Jesus told His followers to speak about Him. And what Christian wouldn’t want to speak about Jesus? But it’s the speaking part that’s troubling!
It’s difficult for him to talk to strangers in a superficial environment, without a particular gift for social interaction.
Now, evangelism is one of the most thrilling, life-giving experiences a Christian can have. But evangelism, as the church has come to know it, feels much like peddling products door-to-door, or making cold calls to sell insurance. Now, you may think, “This guy is just ashamed of the gospel!” But I want you to think about that for a moment. Are you ashamed of having insurance just because you would never sell it door-to-door? Are you opposed to businesses everywhere just because you hate making or receiving cold-calls? Of course not. You can promote your insurance company while at the same time disdaining the way some insurance salesman treat you at the front door when they try to make a sale. (This is all hypothetically speaking, of course…I’ve never been approached by a door-to-door insurance salesman). There might be a few people who are wired to make “cold calls” in evangelism and great at doing it. But others ask, “Wait, people still do that?” Exactly. This is his perception of “evangelism” as it is often caricatured. And it’s an awkward feeling he will never escape. You see, he’s the pastor of an evangelical church. And evangelicals can sometimes hold a parochial definition of how evangelizing is supposed to go down. By the way, that guy is me.
But it’s not just me. Probably half of my congregation are introverts.
There are some very common misunderstandings about introverts that have made evangelism seem very untouchable. One is that introverts are shy and anti-social. You can see how this might affect our view of an introverted evangelist: “It’s a misnomer.”
But introversion and extraversion have less to do with a person’s identity, and more to do with how they choose to recharge. Susan Cain, famous for her 3 minute TED talk on the power of introversion, offers a simple definition in her book, Quiet:
Today’s psychologists tend to agree…introverts and extroverts differ in the level of outside stimulation that they need to function well. Introverts feel “just right” with less stimulation, as when they sip wine with a close friend, solve a crossword puzzle, or read a book. Extroverts enjoy the extra bang that comes from activities like meeting new people, skiing slippery slopes, and cranking up the stereo (Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, 11)
An introvert might be very adept to social interaction, but also need a proportionate amount of time to “recharge” in solitude. Whereas, an extrovert can read books, yet need to recharge by being around people. Think of how this affects evangelism. Maybe extroverts are generally more comfortable with “evangelistic” activities (like passing out tracks at the Farmer’s Market), because they are energized through interaction with groups of people.
Either way, no character trait should keep us from heralding the gospel.
I cannot say, “I’m not going to talk about Jesus with them because it’s out of my comfort zone as an introvert.” However, evangelism does seem monopolized by the extroverted ideal. And that’s not ok. While it may work well for the outgoing type, those who are more introspective need their own working model. We’ve all been trained over the decades to see effective evangelism through certain caricatures, i.e., street preacher, the altar-call giver, the stadium evangelist, and the person who talks a lot but never asks questions. There is nothing wrong with any of these caricatures, per se, but they aren’t all that there is to evangelism.
Again, this doesn’t mean those with introverted tendencies hate talking about Jesus. I would hate for you to misconstrued this post as a cop-out. Christians love Jesus. Introverts just don’t always like evangelizing on the same terms that are normally appreciated by our extroverted brothers and sisters. Nor is it always as effective, since we have differing gifts. God doesn’t assimilate our personalities into some universal ideal; the doctrine of Union with Christ teaches us that the image of God in us is being restored by His indwelling presence. That means we are being restored to the original luster of who God intended us to be. I would think that this includes our personality quirks. The question is not whether introverts should evangelize, but in what way? If an extrovert, who may love the thrill involved in, say, street-preaching, can evangelize in that way and be true to who God made them, how should introverts be evangelizing in a way that is faithful to Christ, and utilizes their gifts as well? That’s a question worth pursuing.
Unfortunately, the pressure from these over-the-top caricatures, and the shame attached to introversion in the church have inundated a large portion of gifted, caring, spirit-filled men and women in our church, and rendered them outsiders. (See Adam McHugh’s, Introverts in the Church) But it ought not be this way.
And it doesn’t have to be. God made you the way you are, and this might mean that some of your most potent strengths lie in being “quiet” (as Susan Cain would say) rather than charismatic.
I know, because I am an introverted Christian. I am an INFJ, to be specific. According to Myers-Briggs, a grouping of people made up of “complex individuals, who are quite private and typically difficult to understand.” This might come as a surprise, because my normal job is preaching and teaching. But that’s no problem for me; I can speak to a large crowd. It’s the casual conversation that I struggle with. It’s as if my entire brain shuts down. As a pastor, this makes me feel like a failure because I always feel the pressure to evangelize in the public square with confrontational charisma like some of my contemporaries do. But I can’t do what they do. Yet, I know that I truly love my neighbors, and want them to come to Christ. I also really want to speak about Jesus–as uncomfortable as speaking is, it’s the speaking, not Jesus that is difficult for me. Yet these lines often get blurred, with many “quiet” people feeling guilty because they think they are ashamed of the gospel of Jesus, when really, they’re having trouble processing verbally what they normally process introspectively. Or…maybe they just have a bit of stage fright. That’s ok. I do too. Every. Single. Time.
But here are three things I know, that push me forward…
I’m still called to evangelize. I cannot use my personality to cop-out of the great responsibility I have of “pleading” with men and women (2 Cor. 5:20). The Great Commission is for extroverts and introverts alike. The bright side is, I don’t have to do it just like my charismatic, evangelistically-endowed friends.
I am aware of my weaknesses. I admit, sometimes I don’t want to talk to people simply because I’m lazy, or, in that moment, cowardly; I blame my lack of testimony on shyness, not introversion, which has nothing to do with it. In moments like that, I must recognize that I am looking for an easy way out of a difficult conversation. And I must step out in faith and obedience even when it isn’t comfortable or convenient. Introversion should never be an excuse (e.g., “I don’t like social settings, so I forego church community,” or, “I’m a quiet person, so I never discuss my faith with anyone”).
I am also aware of my strengths. For example, I might be averse to large crowds or parties, but I love deep, one-on-one conversations. These are strengths not weaknesses! We can use aspects of our introversion as a strength to better share our faith. And how we do that will vary from person to person. That’s the beauty of being made in God’s image. We all uniquely reflect the beauty of our Creator. Some reflections are just more “subtle.”
You are responsible to share your faith, but you don’t have to be a charismatic person to do it well.
You can evangelize quietly as Susan Cain would say. Introversion shouldn’t be shameful (it’s a strength), nor should it be an excuse (it’s an opportunity). But this requires thinking about evangelism through a different lens. We’ve been cultured to think of evangelism through the lens of extraversion, but perhaps we should approach evangelism through our own individual strengths instead.
I suggest introverts start with what they already know about themselves. An outgoing person has the ability to evangelize strangers on the spot, because they derive a certain energy from those types of experiences. But an introvert, who derives energy from “deep, one-on-one, conversations,” has a gift for sending the word of God (evangelism) like a well-focused beam into the life of another person. And because introverts tend to value few, yet deep, long-lasting relationships, that gospel-encounter (when it happens) will have the integrity, the trust, and the relationship to back it up. Just make sure the conversation happens! I believe that our deep intellection on the gospel, coupled with our value to invest in meaningful relationships remains the greatest strength of the introvert when it comes to evangelism. Those are two things we should keep in dialog as we continue to ask questions about more effectively sharing the gospel. The world needs both extroverts and introverts to proclaim Christ’s excellencies. Whoever you are…
Focus on what you CAN do to evangelize, and not what you are weak in.
More on that in a few days.
Posted on June 17, 2014, in gospel, mission, personal, realitysb and tagged evangelism, friendship evangelism, introversion, introverts in the church, union with Christ. Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on An introvert’s guide to evangelism.