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What Version Are You?: Extroverts, Introverts and Youth Ministry

“Our lives are shaped as profoundly by personality as by gender or race. And the single most important aspect of personality—the “north and south of temperament,” as one scientist puts it—is where we fall on the introvert-extrovert spectrum.” says Susan Cain, who has extensively researched the personalities through psychological science, experience and even brain experiments.1 She goes on to say that were we fall on this spectrum… “influences our choice of friends and mates, and how we make conversation, resolve differences, and show love. It affects the careers we choose and whether or not we succeed at them. It governs how likely we are to exercise, commit adultery, function well without sleep, learn from our mistakes, place big bets in the stock market, delay gratification, be a good leader, and ask ‘what if.’”

Can knowing more about personality make us better ministers? Let’s see.

You most likely already have some idea of this topic but let me get some descriptions and definitions out so we are on the same page. Extroverts are often described by how they take naturally to leadership roles, being in the spotlight and their love to socialize. Introverts are the opposite—uncomfortable in those situations or in activities like meeting large groups of people or public speaking (this doesn’t mean that introverts don’t make great speakers but more often than not they have to work at it)2. But the definition I am going with in this article is that extroverts get energized in groups and get drained when they are alone, while introverts are the opposite: they get recharged while by themselves while being in a crowd of people drains them. 

Using the definition above, which group would you be in?

Appearance does not necessarily reflect what a person is. One can appear aloof but inwardly is excitable and action-ready. Introversion doesn’t always equal shyness, introverts may prefer being alone but that wouldn’t mean they fear social interactions like shy people do. In fact, many introverts can act as extroverts although it costs them energy, authenticity or even physical health.3

There are many examples of these personality types in the Bible. One famous pair would be Jacob and Esau. According to the Bible: “When the boys grew up, Esau was a skillful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, dwelling in tents.” (Gen. 25.27)

Here are some implications for ministry.

First there’s you. 

Usually we get labeled as one or the other only to highlight negative behavior, so we tend not to even be comfortable with the labels but as you will see there are blessings to knowing who we are and how we function.

Take the introvert for one. Youth ministry through the years has been described as active, large, dynamic, relational, etc.—adjectives that would suit an extrovert more. For this reason, youth ministry can be quite a struggle for the introvert but if you are one don’t give up, I know great youth ministry leaders who happen to be introverts. Usually these are the areas that the introvert youth leader struggles with:Public speaking, especially to large groups (which for the key leaders could be every week); cultivating deep meaningful relationships, something that introverts thrive on, can be surprisingly hard to find for one who ministers to young people. Also, when we rush from one event to the next, talking to the entire youth group and being involved in a small group, it is hard to find time alone, something that an introvert needs even more than an extrovert.4

The extrovert on the other hand while they are people of action can be highly emotional and could base decisions on emotions alone, sometimes failing to see things from other people’s perspectives. They start-up projects easily but could struggle with completing them. They are easily overjoyed but easily discouraged as well.

But whether you are an introvert or extrovert, God has made you this way. We all struggle in different ways but as we work through our difficulties we can excel and help others see the glory of God in our lives no matter what our personality type is. Yes, there are areas where we will need through push through but we also have our strengths as well. For the introvert, this could be the ability to listen well, having joy in paper work and preparation, thriving on cooperation and teamwork. For the extrovert, natural leadership abilities, confidence and being comfortable in a crowd are advantages that you can use for the glory of Christ.

As stewards, rather than being discouraged at what we are not, we are encouraged to use well what God has given us. I pray you find the sweet spot in your ministry where your personality aligns with what you do, you enjoy it and become very useful to the building up of God’s kingdom.

Then there are your young people. Consider the experience of Adam Mchugh, on being a pastor and an introvert:

“The evangelical culture ties together faithfulness with extroversion,” McHugh explains. “The emphasis is on community, on participating in more and more programs and events, on meeting more and more people. It’s a constant tension for many introverts that they’re not living that out. And in a religious world, there’s more at stake when you feel that tension. It doesn’t feel like ‘I’m not doing as well as I’d like.’ It feels like ‘God isn’t pleased with me.’ ”5

If this is the experience of a pastor how much more young people?

Take a moment to go over the activities your youth group has been doing for the past month. Or think about what you typically do in your youth program. How many of them would fit an extrovert’s temperament more (games requiring speech, competition, activities requiring speaking or ministering to the group, socializing, leading others)? And how many would be on the quieter side (reading and writing, games requiring cooperation, activities involving listening)? Now if you have been doing mainly activities geared toward one type of personality, try implementing the other type for once. Doing this will not only get some teen more comfortable but can also open your group to variety and new ways of learning and relating to God and one another. Remember youth are still figuring out who they are, and I’ve been surprised a number of times when someone I thought to be timid turned out to become a very good leader even as a youth. But those things happened as they grew comfortable with being in the youth group.

Consider also the individuals in your group—Are the introverts getting times of solitude even within the ministry? Are extroverts able to express themselves and be who they are without disapproval and discouragement?

Personalities can help youth in how they grow spiritually as well. This goes back to you as a leader, we may give preference to certain types of disciplines to the neglect of others simply because those are what we are comfortable with. Hopefully, now that you will allow for variety (and maybe discomfort for you) to get young people the tools they need for the journey.6

A third group to consider are your co-workers.

Can you tell who in your leadership team is an introvert and an extrovert? Conflicts arise, but a little understanding of who we are could go a long way to building better relationships and team dynamics as a group. If you don’t know what personality your fellow leaders are, find out. And when you do know, consider ways that you can go out of your way to affirm them as leaders (especially those of differing personality as yours).

We could go on, but at this point, I hope I have given you something to think about and apply to your ministry. May this article help you build on the relationships with those around you.

May it lead you to worship as well. What an amazing God who made both the introvert and the extrovert! As you ponder his work, may you see the goodness of his design and use it to shine forth His glory.

Notes:

1. The thought for this article came from reading Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, which I recommend particularly for the introvert.
2. Some people identify with characteristics in between the two personalities. There are the ambiverts, those who have characteristics of both groups although most of us have a dominant personality.
3. Again this comes from Susan Cain’s book Quiet.
4. I have drawn some inspiration from Eric Mckiddie’s article, “The blessings and curses of being an introverted youth pastor” and some of the points here are his.
5. Mchugh’s interview is also found in the book, Quiet.
6. Session 7 of the GYMN Level 2 manual lists down the following as disciplines you may want to consider: Fellowship, Accountability, Reading the Bible, Individual Prayer and Group Prayer, Fasting, Journaling, Silence and solitude, Different Types of Worship—Corporate (whole church), small group, personal, through God’s creation.

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