Her TED Talk has been viewed more than 9.3 million times and she was the subject of a Time magazine cover story. Her book was on the New York Times bestseller list and voted the best book of the year by Fast Company magazine. The granddaughter of a Brooklyn rabbi, she was one of the most talked about speakers at the recent Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit.
Who is this woman? Her name is Susan Cain and she has become the most famous introvert in America. Talk about an oxymoron! Her book, QUIET, The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, has become a field guide for the almost one-third of the population who are introverts and a resource for the rest of us who have been wired as extroverts.
In a culture of personality where the role models are often whoever is the best salesperson, her research and that of others has shown that introverted leaders often deliver better outcomes than do their extroverted counterparts. It has also identified the critical role that solitude plays in exercising our creative side. According to Cain, “We have known for centuries about the transcendent power of solitude. It's only recently that we've strangely begun to forget it. If you look at most of the world's great religions, you'll find seekers who are going off by themselves alone to the wilderness where they then have profound epiphanies and revelations that they then bring back to the rest of the community.”
So what about the expectations of an extroverted majority congregation for a pastor who is friendly, outgoing and “always on?" How does an introverted pastor preach week in and week out and more importantly, lead in a culture of personality?
Ron Edmondson gets it. On a introversion scale of 1 to 10, by his own admission, he is a 7 or 8 - sometimes a 9! As the senior pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Lexington, KY, he understands this dilemma. In a recent blog post, he wrote “the interaction we have with people is a key role we play in growing and leading the church. I've written in numerous posts that just because I’m introverted doesn't mean I don’t love people. There may be some pastors who don’t really love people — and I personally don’t see how they can be very successful if that’s the case — but introversion is a personality trait. It’s not an indicator of how deeply a person loves people.” He offered four thoughts on how an introverted pastor can not only survive but thrive in an extroverted world.
You have to be intentional. You have to work at it. I’m not saying it will be easy, but is anything worthwhile ever easy? I realize that Sunday is coming. I plan my week around it. I have lots of introverted time during my week. For example, I am very careful what I plan for Saturday night, because I know I need to be at my best for Sunday. It is rare for me to schedule a large social gathering on Saturday nights, for example. In fact, I've found that Cheryl and my Saturday date days are the perfect preparation for an extroverted Sunday. (Obviously that’s easier for us now as empty-nesters, but I was equally protective of my Saturday nights when we had children at home.)
Your family will have to cooperate. This is the hardest one, because it obviously involves other people. The key for us is that my family knows me as I know them. They understand that Sunday takes so much out of me mentally and physically. They realize I need time to recover from a very extroverted Sunday. The ride to the restaurant for Sunday lunch is usually pretty quiet. Over the years, when the boys were home, and now that it’s just Cheryl and me, my family has learned that if I have my introverted recovery time I’m more engaging with them the rest of the day. It is a way they partner with me in ministry. (I sense a need to clarify. My family understands my introversion — I don’t think they ever feel slighted because of it. That takes intentionality too.)
Realize it’s for a purpose. When I taught a very large Sunday school class (over 100 people), every week I’d leave the room as I was praying at the close of my lesson. It seemed the humble thing to do, and I was sincere in that, but honestly, it was the“safest” approach for this introvert. When I came into ministry and was in my first church, I continued this practice. I would “escape” during my prayer to the back of the sanctuary. A dear older deacon pulled me aside one day. He gently, in a very helpful way, said, “Ron, if as you’re praying you’ll walk to the vestibule and be there to shake people’s hands as they leave, they’ll be more likely to return the next week.” I've been doing that ever since — and how right he was. One of the most frequent comments I receive from visitors is how they enjoyed meeting the pastor. I can’t imagine it any other way now. It fuels me and them. I remain thankful for the wisdom of that deacon.
Rely on Holy Spirit help. The pastor that inspired me most in my spiritual walk when I was a twenty-something year old trying to figure out my life direction emailed me recently. He had read one of my introversion posts and wanted to echo the sentiments in it. He said he has always marveled at how many introverted pastors he has seen God call to lead in the church — even very large churches. He wrote, “I've been an introverted pastor of large churches for 39 years now. Before every service I’m saying the same thing, ‘God, I can’t do this—now what are you going to do about that?!’” His humble surrender to God’s hand has shaped some powerful ministries under his leadership. I loved being able to email back to one of my mentors that I've had a similar prayer every Sunday — for a few less years.