One question kept coming up in interview after interview when promoting my book Walk with Me. What was the question? “I’m an introvert. Can I be a disciplemaker?”
The first time I heard this question I thought to myself, “Is introversion a kind of disease? If so then I’ve had it for a long time!” I’m an introvert living in an extroverted world. In fact, probably 50% of the population are introverts. I think introverts feel they must be extroverts to disciple others.
Susan Cain in her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking documents how we live in an extroverted culture. Here’s her assessment:
But nowadays we tend to think that becoming more extroverted not only makes us successful, but also makes us better people. We see salesmanship as a way of sharing one’s gifts with the world.
So what’s the difference between an introvert and extrovert? The classic description of the terms relates to our preferences for attention and energy. The key word here is “preference.” I prefer to process life one way over another. There’s not a right or wrong to these preferences.1
Extroverts prefer to process outwardly. They love people and activities. Extroverts are the friends that tell you everything about their day whether you asked about it or not. They love talking because talking helps them process and talking gives them energy. The quickest way to deflate an extrovert is to put him or her in a room by themselves to read or think. Extroverts prefer lots of relationships because that’s where the action is.
Introverts prefer to process life inwardly. They pay attention to the inner world of ideas and experiences. He or she is energized by having time to think, reflecting on events, people, memories, or feelings. Introverts like people but need time to withdraw to gather energy. You douse an introvert’s enthusiasm by a day filled with people. Introverts prefer the quiet of personal reflection because that’s where the action is.
I think what people are really asking with the question “Can an introverted person be a disciplemaker?” is “Can a shy person be a disciplemaker?” Shyness is different from introversion.
The classic description of shyness is the anxious, uncomfortable, and awkward way I feel when meeting new people. Shy people often have a fear about what others think of them. Because of this fear they shun social settings and are hesitant about initiating relationships.
Here’s a simple way to tell the difference between someone who is shy and someone who’s an introvert or extrovert. What happens when I’m invited to a social function that requires meeting new people? Introverts reluctantly go and come home exhausted but enjoyed 1-2 deep conversations. Extroverts return home on a “high” having met and made a room full of new friends. Shy people stay home.
I believe shyness can be overcome while introversion should be embraced. I can say this because of my life experience.
I was known as the “ghost” of the floor in my freshman college dorm. People knew I lived there but they couldn’t see me. When others returned from class, they walked into their neighbors’ rooms and started conversations. When I returned from class, I came back to my room to be alone. I felt awkward and fearful about meeting new people.
Over time I discovered where my shyness came from. As a young child, I had some speech difficulties. On the opening day of first grade, my mother asked the teacher “Can you teach Billy how to talk?” Imagine my embarrassment as I overhead this conversation. My particular speech impediment showed up in pronouncing a certain combination of letters. One of the hardest words I had to pronounce was my last name.
What’s the first thing you do when meeting someone new? You tell them your name. Since I had difficulty pronouncing my last name I always felt embarrassed meeting new people. To avoid embarrassment, I stopped meeting people.
The anxiety of the shy person leads them to withdraw from people. Shyness is an anxiety about relating to people; it’s not a preference about how I process life. Introverts love people they just prefer processing life inwardly rather than outwardly.
When this introverted and shy person (me!) was “born again” something happened. I wasn’t converted to being an extrovert but I found myself moving towards people and finding an interest, even a love, for others. This was a deep life change that often occurs when one becomes a “new creation” (2 Cor 5:17).
Making friends in the campus fellowship seemed to be the natural thing to do. My thoughtful side had a place and was esteemed. While my shyness did not immediately disappear, I discovered over time how the Holy Spirit was changing my apprehension about meeting people to enjoying meeting others. The Holy Spirit wasn’t making this introvert into an extrovert but He was propelling me to love, relate, and enjoy others.
The hope for shy people contributing to the Great Commission is the presence of the Holy Spirit to change lives. I can live enslaved to my fear of meeting people or I can choose to step out in faith and connect with people. The resources of God are available to overcome my shyness and love people (2 Cor 5:14-15). It doesn’t happen overnight, but God can change a shy person. We all must embrace the biblical reality that life is for others (Hebrews 10:24-25) and relationships define us as Christ-followers (John 13:34-35).
But . . . God doesn’t want to change introverts into extroverts. Our introversion or extroversion is part of our God-designed personality. The ideal Christian is not the fun-loving, gregarious, love Jesus out loud extrovert. God made introverts with their preference to think, reflect, and go deep. It’s ok to prefer the quiet at times.
Let me summarize. There’s a difference between introversion and shyness. Introversion reflects personality preferences while shyness is an apprehension about and withdrawal from relationships. Here are some general introverted preferences.
- I’m drawn to the inner world and prefer to process life internally rather than externally.
- I’m energized by reflecting on thoughts, memories, and feelings.
- I’m often guarded about my emotions except with those closest to me.
- I tend to be private and contained rather than open and expansive.
God has uniquely designed us with introverted or extroverted tendencies. However, we’re more than simply an introvert or extrovert. These categories are only descriptors of personality preferences; they do not describe all that we are as people.
In my next Alongsider Briefing, I will describe how introverts can maximize their contribution in the Great Commission. The body of Christ is incomplete without the unique contribution of introverts. So, until next time, enjoy the introvert or extrovert in your life.
- Isabel Briggs Myers, Introduction to Type, pg. 8.