Sabbatical 2014 – Week 2
A Sabbatical allows me to do something that I have not done in 39 years, and that is getting to worship with a different church every week. I have ministered in a local church since 1975 without interruption – Central Christian Church, Pocatello, Idaho (Christian College), Rosemead Church of Christ, Rosemead, California (Seminary), First United Methodist Church, Hurst, Texas (Seminary), First Christian Church, Melissa, Texas (Seminary), Lubbockview Christian Church, Lubbock, Texas, First Christian Church, Plainview, Texas, Memorial Drive Christian Church, Houston, Texas, First Christian Church, Amarillo, Texas and Northway Christian Church, Dallas, Texas.
Because one of my big learning goals for this Sabbatical is to come to terms with the ministry of evangelism, not just as another program of the church, but as a part of the spiritual DNA of a church member, I am choosing to worship with churches that have a reputation for having some part of this puzzle figured out. That’s what sent me to Holy Comforter ~ Saint Cyprian Roman Catholic Church in Washington DC a week ago, and this is what found me in the pews of Christ Church in Plano last Sunday morning. I am writing reports of my visits each week, describing what I saw and experienced, and distilling out the lessons that I am learning for any applications that we might make here at Northway. As I’ve repeatedly said, our institutional vitality and our spiritual well-being depends on us figuring this out as a church. What I am seeing, experiencing and thinking will all become part of my report back to the church at the end of June when my Sabbatical is over. But each week as I make this journey I am using my blog to bring you along with me, and so this week I want to introduce you to something that I suspect is at the heart of our reluctance to be evangelistic. This insight dawned on me this past Sunday morning as I sat in a church as a visitor.
I’ve read about a man who got up and walked out of a church one Sunday morning before the first hymn had been sung. When an usher finally chased him down in the parking lot to ask what was wrong, that man reported that ten different people had come up to him before the service began wanting to know who he was and how they could make him feel welcome in their church, and he said, “All I want is to worship God without any fuss and a little bit of peace and quiet, but all these people keep bothering me!.” The pastor of that church had been urging its members to be more welcoming and friendly to guests, but here was a visitor for whom the welcome had become too intrusive. I understand.
I am an introvert. Because of what I do and how I do it, this may not be apparent to you. I am usually on stage, in the limelight of the pulpit, speaking publically and engaging with others outwardly all the time as a minister. That’s what you see. What you don’t see is how I have to work consciously and continuously at all of this. My natural inclinations are to have a stealth presence wherever I am and whatever I’m doing. I neither need nor want attention to be drawn to me. I am perfectly content to slip in somewhere unnoticed, to sit quietly, observing and listening to what’s going on around me, and then to go home where I can process what’s happened with a cat in my lap and Classical 101.1 FM on the radio. I have the temperament of a writer, I work well alone, I am an introvert.
I’m a pastor and an introvert.
I get energy from being alone.
Being with people for long periods of time drains me,
although I have strong people skills.
I love to read.
I go on silent retreats.
After church Sunday I want to go home.
Did I say that I am an introvert?
Now, if you think it odd that I as an introvert should be a minister, let me quickly say two things: first of all, it wasn’t my idea. This is what I have been called by God to do. Remember, originally I thought that I was going to be a monk when I grew up. I dare say that this wasn’t the dream of every kid growing up in the suburbs of Los Angeles in the 1950’s and 60’s. Just like Moses (Exodus 4:10-17), I initially objected to the call to ministry that I was sensing on my life, and I finally told the Lord that the only way this was going to work was if He made it happen. That’s the first thing you need to know about why I am a minister, it was all God’s idea. The second is that the statistics show that there are more of us introverts in ministry than you probably realize. Think about it, many of the things that you want in a pastor are characteristics of introverts. Because crowds make introverts nervous, they can focus well on the person who is right in front of them. Because introverts need to process information and experiences inwardly, they tend to be thoughtful. Because introverts don’t require a lot of external motivation and stimulation, they can persevere, they have the resources that are necessary for the long haul. And because introverts need plenty of peace and quiet, they bring a contemplative dimension of depth to lives rooted and grounded in the experience of God. Introversion has its merits.
And here’s my insight, just as people can be introverts, so can organizations and institutions. So, I wonder, could our general hesitance to be evangelistic as a church be rooted in a corporate temperament of introversion?
Ask yourself: “What do I like most about being a Disciple?”
Your first answer is probably weekly communion. And the way you like to take communion is without a lot of commotion and distractions. You’ve made it abundantly clear to us that as a church you don’t want a lot of noise, singing or movement during the Lord’s Supper. You want to be able to sit quietly with Jesus Christ during communion. That’s communion for introverts.
The second thing you probably like most about being a Disciple is that nobody is going to tell you what to think or how to behave. It’s not that either belief or behavior is unimportant to you that makes you not want to have anybody interfering with it, but rather because it does matter to you so much! A traditional Baptist notion that resonates well with most Disciples is something called “soul competency.” “Soul Competency” says that we all have to do our own believing. Nobody else can do our believing for us, we will all have to answer for ourselves (Romans 14:4; I Corinthians 3:10-15; 2 Corinthians 5:10) and therefore, we exercise extreme caution in telling others about what they must think, or how they must feel, or what they must do. This is a conscious and conscientious approach that we take as Disciples, but we’d best admit it, it is a heartfelt conviction that encourages a kind of spiritual introversion.
Finally, I suspect that you like being a Disciple because our focus is not on a church but on the Christ. There was a recent advertisement campaign for a church here in Dallas that promoted itself as “a church you can believe in.” I had a visceral negative reaction to it. You see, I don’t believe in a church, I believe in Christ. Believing in a church is idolatrous, and a lousy substitute for God at that. Every church I know needs a Savior, and our traditional Disciple perspective that nothing should get in the way of knowing Jesus Christ who is the Savior, and making Him known, has resulted in our spiritual reluctant to make “our” church the content of our own proclamation, the focus of our message. But I wonder, has our hesitation to talk too much about the church lest it get confused with the Christ had the unintended consequence of us not talking about anything at all, not even Christ? There is a principled introversion that is born of the fear of sending mixed messages, of giving people the impression that we, a church, is what they need when it is really the Christ that they need. And while we as Disciples have generally avoided making this mistake, I have to wonder if we haven’t driven the car into the ditch on the other side of the road, using this principled introversion about the promotion of the church as our excuse for not talking about the Christ either.
As an introvert myself, I certainly appreciate the virtues that this temperament can instill and nurture in a person, and I have an instinctive aversion to the excesses of extroversion that I see so easily and often degenerating into manipulation and narcissism. And I can appreciate the qualities of an introverted church as well. But just as I as an introvert have had to consciously, conscientiously and consistently work to balance my introversion with the virtues that extroversion cultivates in me and makes my public life possible, so an introverted church like I suspect that Northway is, has to learn how to balance the spiritual introversion that we value and prefer with those qualities of extroversion that keep us vitally engaged with the world around us, and faithful to the mission of witness and service to which our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ calls us. DBS+
For further reading and reflection on introversion and the church –
Susan Cain, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, Crown, 2012.
Adam McHugh, Introverts in the Church: Finding our Place in an Extroverted Culture, IVP, 2009.