A Christian Introvert | By Dr. Tom Hicks
Are you an introvert or an extrovert? Maybe a bit of both? Almost everyone I know enjoys discussing personality types, whether based on Meyers-Briggs or Enneagram. It's fun, and one of those ice-breaking topics that everyone can relate to. Because it is a popular subject these days, there are a lot of voices out there telling us how to approach our personality types. But sometimes, it's easy for me to forget to look to the Bible for how to approach my (very) introverted tendencies.
This week I am thrilled to introduce my first ever special guest, Dr. Tom Hicks! He's my local pastor, a spiritual mentor in my and Daniel's lives, and a dear friend. I've lost count of the times he and his wife have opened their home to large groups of young people. When the living room and dining room are full, conversation often circles around to -- you guessed it -- personalities!
A Christian Introvert
There seems to be a good deal of misunderstanding about the relationship between personality type and the Christian life. J.C. Ryle said, “Grace does not alter natural temperaments, when it changes hearts.” There is something in every personality that reflects the image of God and shines brightly from a holy heart, and there is something in every personality that has its own unique temptations to sin because of the brokenness of human nature.
Some Christians want to dismiss all discussion of personality type as “psycho-babble,” and they say we should never consider anything other than the Word of God when evaluating ourselves. But this fails to grasp that God gives us minds that have the capacity to understand the world He created, and that the purpose of the Word of God is to reveal Christ and the gospel, and to serve as the lens, or “spectacles” as Calvin put it, through which we interpret all that we see in the world. Thus, insights we gain from studying human personality are valid as long as we understand them in light of the revelation of Scripture. This is no different from studying degrees of human intelligence, or the physical structures in the brain that impact our behavior.
Science has a place in understanding the human being, but only in subordination to the Word of God.
Those who study personalities agree that the most basic distinction between personality types is the distinction between introversion and extroversion. Scientists have been able to measure differences in the brains of introverts and extroverts, showing that God created these differences at a biological level, which means introversion and extroversion are not a matter of choice or habit, but of basic human nature. In other words, introverts cannot become extroverts, though they can learn extroverted behavior. Similarly, extroverts cannot become introverts, though they can learn introverted behavior.
So, what is the difference between the two? The brains of extroverts need external stimulation for energy, and they are particularly stimulated by interacting with people and experiencing the world outside of them. The brains of introverts, however, produce energy from within, such that when they are alone, their internal worlds come to life with thought, but when too much outside stimuli are added, their brains can become overloaded with information. Thus, introverts are drained of energy when they're around people for longer periods of time. One common misunderstanding is that introverts are shy. But introversion is not the same as “shyness.” Often because introverts can be socially slow or awkward due to the way they process information, they experience shyness, since society does not understand them and they're tempted to feel inferior. But introverts who have learned how to relate well to others are still introverts, even though they're not shy.
The Bible gives us examples of introverts and extroverts. For instance, Jacob is described as a “quiet man” (Gen 25:27), while his brother, Esau, was a “skillful hunter” (Gen 25:27). Scripture tells us that Moses was “slow of speech” (Ex 4:10), which is a characteristic of introverts, who tend to process ideas before they speak. Extroverts, on the other hand, often process out loud. When Peter and John ran to Christ's tomb, John, the introvert, stopped outside the tomb to look in and study what he saw (Jn 20:5). Based on the facts John observed, he drew the conclusion that Christ had been raised (Jn 20:8). But Peter, the extrovert, burst into the tomb and looked around to experience what was there, but he didn't draw any conclusions (Jn 20:6-7).
Consider the following points regarding Christianity and introversion.
1. How Christian extroverts can love and serve Christian introverts
It's important for Christian extroverts to understand what introversion is. The Bible teaches that we are made differently. Some speak easily, while others quietly serve (1 Pet 4:11). Introverts value solitude, while extroverts value time with other people. Extroverts should accept and respect these differences. Introverts are drained when they're in groups, and this is not a sign that they don't like people. Introverts don't always look forward to group trips, staying in the same hotel room with several other people, or traveling in a vehicle with others. Introverts may be more reluctant to share all of their thoughts and feelings in small groups. These things tend to drain introverts. It's how they are made. When an introvert is sitting alone during a church fellowship, it's not necessarily a sign that they need someone to come over and keep them company. More often than not, they're just recharging their batteries. On the other hand, introverts often appreciate it when extroverts approach them and gently ask them substantive questions, and wait patiently for the answer, drawing them out and trying to understand them.
2. Christian introverts have certain strengths in the service of Christ
When Christ saves an introvert, his natural strengths will be used for the service of Christ's kingdom. Introverts tend to contribute to the intellectual life of the church. Jonathan Edwards, the greatest American philosophical theologian, was an introvert. John Calvin was an introvert. In fact, most of the great writing theologians of church history were introverts. Christian introverts tend to be better at the meditative and reflective parts of the Christian life. The Lord Jesus modeled the importance of finding a quiet place to pray (Mk 1:35). Christians are to be diligent students of the Bible (Acts 17:11; 1 Tim 2:15). Introverts tend to enjoy studying the Bible, meditating on truth and Christ, and praying in private. These disciplines come more naturally to introverts. And believe it or not, sometimes, introverts are good at public speaking. While introverts don't always enjoy group conversations, they sometimes excel at delivering speeches that are well-ordered and clear, since public speaking (a monologue) is actually a solitary act. These are all natural strengths that introverts can and should use in the service of Christ and His people.
3. Christian introverts need to work to grow in certain areas of the Christian life
The fact that a Christian is an introvert should never become an excuse to ignore any of Christ's commands, and some of the things Christ commands do not come easily to introverts. For example, the Lord Jesus teaches us to love and serve one another.
But it's impossible to love others, if you don't know them.
Scripture commands that “love be genuine” (Rom 12:9), and tells us to “bear one another's burdens” (Gal 6:2). So, Christian introverts need to work at making themselves vulnerable, just as Christ was vulnerable. And even though it sometimes drains introverts to have conversations with people and to fellowship in groups, they must sacrifice their preferences and energy for the sake of God's people and the glory of Christ.
Furthermore, while many introverts find it uncomfortable to speak to others about Christ, all Christians are supposed to bear witness of the hope that is within them. Evangelism may never come easily to introverts, but they must work to spread the gospel (1 Pet 2:9; Acts 8:4). This might mean having a neighbor over for a meal and in the course of the meal, sharing the gospel, or a giving a testimony of your conversion. It might mean asking unbelievers about what they believe, listening carefully and interacting with them, and then asking them if you can share what you believe. Introversion is never an excuse to neglect the commandments of Christ. As a Christian, you do not have permission simply to be who you are. You should recognize who you are, but become like Christ.
4. Christian introverts must have their identities rooted in Christ.
Christian introverts will be able to do uncomfortable things because they are clothed in Christ's righteousness (Phil 3:9). Even though they may feel silly or exposed in social situations, they must remember that they have Christ's righteousness. Their righteousness doesn't depend on their social abilities. It doesn't matter what others think of them. What matters is what Christ thinks of them. And clothed in Christ's righteousness, they can boldly speak to others in love. They can allow others to know them, even if it makes them feel vulnerable because Christ was vulnerable, and Christ is their righteousness. Understanding the gospel enables Christian introverts to serve and love others, even when it's contrary to their introversion.
Furthermore, though Christians have biological differences, Christian identity is never ultimately rooted in those differences. For example, a Christian man is different from a Christian woman, and yet, the Apostle Paul says that in terms of our identity and our hope of life eternal, “There is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ and if you are Christ's then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to the promise” (Gal 4:28-29). Similarly, in Christ, there is neither extrovert nor introvert in the sense that we are all one in Christ and share the same hope of eternal life.
We are all washed in His blood, and clothed in His righteousness.
Sometimes, introverts may be tempted to look down on extroverts, or vice versa. But we must not do that. We must forgive one another's natural shortcomings. Introverts should be patient with the perceived imprecise thinking (or shallowness) of some extroverts, and extroverts should be patient with the perceived social awkwardness of some introverts. Sometimes introverts and extroverts may feel superior to the other because of their own distinctive strengths, but they must never do that, understanding that our shared identity is found in Christ alone. Christ is all. He is our Savior and King. He is our identity, not our personality type. This is how we can love each other, forgive each other, and serve each other in grace.
Pastor Tom Hicks serves at First Baptist Church of Clinton, Louisiana. He is married to Joy, and they have four children: Sophie, Karlie, Rebekah and David. He received his MDiv and PhD degrees from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky with a major in Church History, emphasis on Baptists, and a minor in Systematic Theology.