A word to Introverts

I grew up in what I jokingly refer to as the “perfect storm” of introversion.  As an introvert, I was an only child and a latch-key kid (meaning I was alone both when I left for school in the morning and when I got home).  I can spend seemingly unreasonable amounts of time by myself and not only be perfectly content, but be happier for it.

I’m not a psychologist or an expert in Myers-introvertBriggs, but I do find personality types interesting.   Having noticed some internet banter about introversion and extraversion lately, I think it might be good to remind both myself and the rest of my people (introverts) of some helpful tips.

1. Don’t use your introversion as an excuse for antisocial behavior.  I know you’re offended by the term antisocial, let alone the suggestion that you might be (I prefer the term “socially selective”).  But here’s the clincher: that’s how the extraverted world sees us sometimes.  Even if were not intending to be or if we think that we’re truly not; the reality is that we can come off that way.  I realize that some of us have genuinely struggled in this area, but it is really up to us to prove that being an introvert is not an antisocial dysfunction.

introvert-vs-extrovert2.  Structure your alone time very, very intentionally.  This way you can be available for social settings and other relationships when you need to be.  Constant emotional burnout causing us to spend our days either hiding or miserable is not a way to live your life.  The problem only adds to the negative misconceptions about “our kind”.  Find a rhythm that works for your life and personality type and schedule it in advance.  A daily rhythm is best, but even once or twice a week can be helpful. This way, we’re being fair to ourselves and our relationships by proactively filling our emotional tanks rather than merely being reactive to the circumstances around us.

3. Develop socially by watching, interacting with and imitating extraverts.  I realize that the thought of imitating them makes you feel like a piece of yourself is dying inside.  We’ve all sat in a social setting, wondering why a rational human would do or say some of the things they do and say.  But the reality is that they are better at this than we are.  Because of their unfathomable drive to interact with all things breathing; they picked up basic social skills at early ages.  We on the other hand…. we read a lot and share deep thoughts (which is also valuable!).  Again it sounds crazy, but try doing what they do.  Take it in baby steps and don’t be afraid to fail; I promise you’ll be alright  You don’t have to copy the things that truly horrify you and over time you will learn some valuable social skills.  This can also best be done in the context of a trusted relationship with an extravert.  Let them know you’re working on some things and let them coach you through it!

4. Learn to identify and respond to your introverted warning system.  Basically I’m talking about whatever emotional reaction is triggered in you when you feel the 225391156320539289YFAV2yuhcdepletion caused by long periods of social interaction.  You might become easily angered.  Maybe you get rude.  Maybe you go find a corner and hide like a scared animal.   I use to get really, really, really emotionally drained causing me to become cranky and rude without knowing or intending it.  Whatever it is, the first step to managing it is identifying it.

5. Build up your extraverted stamina.  I’m not talking about your ability to put up with them, but your ability to be like them when you need to.  If we always run or hide from social environments we are on track to never increase our social/emotional stamina, guaranteeing that we’ll continue to keep things awkward.  Believe it or not, we actually can thrive in social settings and even come to enjoy longer engagements.  Just show up, stick around and keep breathing. Similar to daily exercise, this practice will grow you over time!

6.  Accept that relational histories can be difficult to change.  As we’re all aware, we’re often viewed in community as the quiet ones and over time, we build a relational history of how we interact with certain individuals or groups.  Yet a growing, healthy introvert will inevitably recognize their need for broader relationships and relational growth; causing them eventually seek out different social behaviors.  This can however create a crisis at times for both the introverted individual and the broader community.  The extraverts who usually want us to talk and relate more (they’re addicts for this kind of stuff) can sometimes be unprepared when we suddenly become socially proactive.  They might be genuinely surprised or even unresponsive when you start relating to them in a less introverted fashion.  What we need to do is be patient; neither giving up our efforts or condemning their response.

Remember, both extraverts and introverts have things to be learned from one another.  Extraverts have lessons that they need to learn from us as well; so making ourselves available socially is just as important for them.  Much like every facet of community life, we ultimately need to accept each others’ strengths and weaknesses to live in genuine relationships.




iStock_000007646510XSmallI recently finished reading the book of Proverbs and was struck by four basic, yet challenging elements of a wise life.  These are some (not all) characteristics of wisdom that I desire to have both as an individual and as a leader.

1. To be a person who learns from others mistakes, experiences and advice.  This theme is found literally throughout the entire book of Proverbs.  It seems simple, but I find it to be both rare and desirable.  The skill of heeding the warnings or insight of another and applying it requires incredible foresight and self knowledge.  What is impressive about this skill is that it creates a cache of knowledge to be used in circumstances not yet experienced.  

2. To receive rebuke from others. Proverbs 9:8 & 15:31.  It is one thing to receive well the advice of others.  It is another thing entirely to receive their rebuke and requires a genuine emotional security.  To be comfortable with even a trusted friend telling us how wrong we might be is an uncommon characteristic; one which I can plainly admit to having struggled with.  

3.  To foresee consequences before they play out.  Proverbs 16:15 & 22:3.  There is plenty to say both in proverbs and in life about true foresight.  This isn’t specifically a prophetic gift as much as it is a discerning mind.  This woman or man can effectively see farther down the road than the average person, accurately predicting the outcomes of choices and circumstances.    

4.  To learn from, or even be rebuked by circumstances.  Proverbs 24:32 & 26:11.  In the first of these proverbs, the author is ultimately talking about an actual lesson he’s learned.  However, he has gone out of his way to point out how he learned it: through the observation of choice and circumstance.  In many ways, you could say that this person has gained the ability to learn from consequences.  While this seems profoundly simple, it unfortunately remains an under developed and under utilized skill.  In Proverbs 26:11 we find an oft quoted saying that points out the negative example.  Very simply, this person has not learned from consequences and proves themselves a fool by returning to the same set of circumstances and/or choices.  

Action and Interpretation

The majority of Christians lay claim to the Holy Bible, Old and New Testaments, as the only perfect rule for faith, doctrine and conduct.  We read and re-read the text for reasons both intellectual and emotional; doctrinal and devotional. The art, philosophy, struggle and journey of biblical interpretation remains as one of the major hallmarks of the Christian faith; and it is often our hermeneutical differences that mark the distinguishing factors between various Christian churches, families, traditions and denominations.

I’ve long used a basic hermeneutical tool for small group preparation which I’d learned from a Youth Specialties conference years ago.  I’ve trained both adult volunteers and students to use the three simple steps of Observation (What does it say?), Interpretation (What does it mean?) and Application (What do we do with it?).

I still think this is a good conversational methodology and fully appreciate the intent of each step; even the application step.  However, my observation has often been that when the pastor/leader drives the application conversation, it not only seems contrived, but often goes without any real action.  The intentions of our conversations do not necessarily produce the desired fruit of obedience.  This has stirred in me a pragmatic theological question: Can we truly understand the Word without responding to its truth with some sort of obedience?

The book of James makes a pretty interesting claim about the relationship between reading the word and doing what it says.

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

James 1:22-25

When we don’t respond to the Word of God with action, we are like someone who has looked into a mirror and forgotten their image.  This person walks away without an understanding of what they’ve seen.  Thus if we neglect the hermeneutical step of action, we too may be in danger of walking away from the Word having not truly understood what we’ve seen.

Action Hermeneutics

To internalize truth without living it out does not make us Christians, it makes us theorists. Action then becomes a indispensable step in the process, both helping us to understand and driving us right back to the text where we can observe and interpret from the vantage point of experience.   Obedience to the Word is in this sense a spiritual discipline with a supernatural quality.  As we repeat this process throughout our lives, the Spirit leads us deeper and deeper into the Word.  While the greater culture may continue to place an unfortunately high value on the ability of individuals to regurgitate information; genuine discipleship must respect those who are practicing and experiencing truth in real life.     

In verse 25, James repeats both ideas and language that he most likely got from Jesus.  Not only does Jesus close the sermon on the mount with the charge to put his words into practice, but in John 13:17 he tells his disciples, “Now that you know these things you will be blessed if you do them.” Something tells me that this  is not the usual “American-dream” that we usually associate with the word blessing.  Something tells me that the blessing here entails a deeper understanding of the Word and a security in Christ that cannot be shaken.  It only makes me curious as to how the church would look if we could incorporate this more explicitly in our process of biblical interpretation.

What I Love About Discipleship Culture

Studying culture has been a big deal since I bit into the post-modernity conversation way back when.  Ha, post-modernity.  Anyway, I loved sociology in college and even considering getting a Master’s in it; though my current master’s degree is non-existent.  Either way, when the study and observation of culture became important for church leadership, I was instantly intrigued.

2The process of understanding culture and its relevance to ministry is still important; with or without post-modernity (sigh).  This is especially true for youth and young adult ministry leaders.  Every day we live in the trenches of cultural differences; whether its the cultural difference between us and our students, the church and our students, or all three.  Youth ministries is where I learned to see myself as a missionary to a foreign culture and where I was given the foundational training I needed to do cross-cultural ministry.

As is often pointed out by both myself and others; we live in a time when the church remains culturally divided according to generational lines.  We often struggle between these cultures and as youth or young adult pastors, we strive to somehow get them connected.  I recently wrote a piece about this which you can access here.  This is a struggle which every church in the western church must face and/or is facing in some way.

If our churches have even entered the dialogue on this topic, then usually some solutions have been suggested.  Initially, the thought is to force young people into situations where they must simply outright accept the culture of older generations.  This has its cons, but also has some surprising pros.  Another solution is for the church to become more culturally relevant to the younger generations.  This too has its pros and cons.  A third option has also been expressed by taking the younger generation and planting a church that specifically addresses their needs and reflects their culture.  Generally speaking, each of these suggestions have both merit and shortcomings of their own.

Still, the somewhat depressing thought remains that these are our best options.  Either force boomer culture on millennials, force millennial culture on boomers or isolate generations altogether.  And while I’d rather fumble my way through these options than do nothing at all, it seems that many people are only becoming frustrated with the unintended results of these strategies.

However there may yet be a fourth option.  Rather than asking various generations to jump off their respective cultural cliffs, only to catch each other in the air; why can’t we build a bridge between the two? If we can build a third culture that is both shared and positive, the various generations in our congregations can begin to interact over a common middle ground which is understood and accepted by all (This actually serves the needs of multiple cultural groups, not just two seemingly opposite generations).

DiscipleshipTitle-300x224Mike Breen and the people at 3dm have done a tremendous amount of work around building discipleship cultures.  As I have been exposed to their work and ideas I have come to the realization that a shared, discipleship culture is potentially the answer to our generational-culture divide.  Mutually adopting a discipleship culture means sharing language, values, expectations and norms in a way that draws people together into a new vision of community.  This may be one of the few strategies that has genuine potential to give Christ-followers of various generations a way to relate to each other.  Furthermore, we may find ourselves connected around the lifestyle of following Jesus; which is probably the best part yet.

My Disciple Pepper

IMG_1592So after months of looking, my family and I finally adopted a dog.  We just happened to find her at a shelter while staying in Tahoe a couple of weekends ago.  Pepper is about 8 months old and just like any puppy, is in need of training.  So I’ve been getting up early and walking her, teaching her to sit and walk on a leash in addition to other things.  The other morning, as I was walking her in the cool of early morning, I had a thought.  Discipling people is a little bit like training a dog.

Recently I wrote a short piece on how discipleship requires effort on our part (which you can access here).  This relates to that, but in a different way.  My point there was that as disciples we must work.  My point here is that as disciple makers we must also work.

As I was walking her that morning, I came to the realization that the work of training my dog is essentially boiled down to two things: knowing what to do and then doing it over and over again.  I’ve had the experience of training a dog before and so I know the basics of what to do with her.  The challenge however, is the consistent repetition of commands, correction, rewards and affection.

Generally speaking we assume that people are more sophisticated than dogs. With that said we admit that making people into disciples of Jesus is obviously more complex than teaching your dog to shake.  Still, there remains a couple of striking similarities.  Making disciples of people is also about knowing what to do and then doing it over and over again.  Jesus provides us with both the information and example of what to do in this endeavor.   Now, we just need to live these things out consistently with those God has placed before us!