Monday, April 19, 2010

Spiritualizing Extroversion

I've been reflecting on Adam McHugh's book, Introverts in the Church, and the ways that we (Introverts & Extroverts alike) spiritualize and idealize our personalities. We make our own personality traits, and the spiritual gifts often associated with them, the norm or preferred method of expressing our faith.

For example, I've often found myself in church contexts that spiritualize extroversion. What I mean is that the gifts and skills normally associated with extroverts are held up as the paradigm of spiritual maturity. These gifts and skills are evangelism, mobilization, and networking. Along with the gift of preaching, these three gifts/skills are the primary lens through which evangelicals view spiritual maturity and the qualities they look for in "good" leaders.

If you can walk up to a total stranger and strike up a spiritual conversation with them, then you have engaged in evangelism and are spiritually mature. If you can mobilize a large number of people to a certain task, then you are a leader. If you have a large circle of friends and know how to network well, then you have a large sphere of influence and a good candidate for church leadership.

This paradigm needs to be challenged because it is far too narrow. Extroverts, like introverts, are limited, and their personalities and gifts are not the only (or even the best) qualifications for spiritual leadership. Confrontational evangelism can often do more harm than good. Sometimes people don't need to be mobilized, they just need to be heard. Being able to network is a good quality to have, but it can sometimes leave people feeling more like commodities than humans.

My point is not that extroverts are bad. Far from it! (I married one, after all.) Nor is my point that evangelism, mobilization, and networking are unnecessary. They are very important, and I'm convinced that I find myself in these contexts because I need to learn to do these things better. But they are not crucial for church leadership nor indicative of spiritual maturity. We have spiritualized extroversion and made the personality traits and natural gifts/skills of extroverts the paradigm for Christian leadership. There's nothing about 1 Timothy 3 that points to extroverts over introverts as ideal candidates for church leadership. We need to move beyond personality and gifting and see character as the true qualification for spiritual maturity.

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