Quick word association exercise: what’s the first thing you think of when you hear the word “extrovert”? How about when you hear the word “introvert”?
I confess, I am an introvert. One of the most common statements I hear is “Oh, you can’t be an introvert, you’re so friendly.” Or “Oh, you can’t be an introvert, you seem so at ease talking to people.” There are lots of labels and assumptions attached to both extroversion and introversion. Extroverts are often labeled as being sociable, the center of attention, outgoing, and friendly. Introverts are often labeled as being shy, stand-offish, and quiet. In very broad terms, extroverts are fine being visible and are energized by community, while introverts prefer to fly under the radar, and need space and time to recharge themselves.
Before you start labeling yourself, or going down the list of people in your circle and labeling them, remember that introversion and extroversion are continuums, and it is unlikely that anyone is purely one or the other. Regardless of where they fall on the continuum, introverts and extroverts are equally loved by God, and equally important to the functioning of the body of Christ.
Given the characteristics of introversion, it can be challenging for an introvert to be comfortable in a larger social gathering; yet God has called us to fellowship with each other. Hebrews 10:24-25 (NASB 1995): “and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” The “assembling together” does not refer to Sunday church services, but to other times when members of the body of Christ should get together. Starting in Acts, some of the biggest events in the early church occurred in community.
Acts 2:1: “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place.”
Acts 2:46: “Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart,”
The gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out while the believers were in community; the now- baptized-in-the-Holy-Spirit believers then remained in community. The outcome of these two events is recorded in v. 47: “praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
The online Oxford Languages defines community as being: “1. a group of people living in the same place or having a particular characteristic in common 2. a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.”
An introvert’s view of community may be closer to the second definition. Commonalities seem more within our comfort zone than being immersed in people all the time, even though there are people attached to those commonalities. The body of Christ clearly has common interests, attitudes, and goals:
Ephesians 4:1-6: “Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.”
In this section of scripture, unity is described as being achieved in the attitudes we carry towards each other, how we think of ourselves, and in God, His purposes, and plans as the foundation of community. Christian community cannot function in the absence of the glue - the Holy Spirit. Christian community must be built around Christ and not Christ around the community:
Ephesians 4:15-16: “but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.”
Christ is the head; we are the “whole body”; we are fitted and held together, with each part contributing through its “proper working.” Some parts of the body are clearly visible. When you see people, you take into account the color of their hair, their eyes, their height, whether they are smiling or look sad, etc. No one looks at someone and thinks: “wow, so-and-so has a beautiful organ in the middle of her chest that is working so hard, pumping blood and oxygenating this beautiful face and body.” Yet without that organ pumping, you would not be looking at the person. Extroverts may be the “face” of Christianity, as they should be, because that’s where their talents lie. Introverts may be the hidden heart of Christianity, because that’s where their talents lie. We grow ourselves up in love, through supporting and loving each other in spite of our differences and because of our commonalities.
I often sit in the back of the church on Sundays because I like to pray over the congregation, interceding, asking the Holy Spirit to prepare people’s hearts to hear the Word. When Pastor gives his altar call, I’m in the back praying over people to have hearts softened to the Holy Spirit and receive what He is yearning to give them. Kind of like a spiritual sandwich! Yet if I need to, I can be up front praying.
In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul eloquently writes about the gifts of the Holy Spirit. He ends the chapter with, “But earnestly desire the greater gifts. And I show you a still more excellent way.” The following chapter is the great chapter about love, the “more excellent way”, which is essential to our proper functioning in the Holy Spirit. What are these “greater gifts” mentioned in verse 31? If all the gifts are given by the Holy Spirit (who is perfect), how is one greater than another? I understand this as having two primary meanings: 1. Greater according to what fits into each individual’s unique talents and personalities (i.e. don’t covet another’s gifts!) and 2. Greater according to what is needed at that particular time for a specific situation.
The second meaning indicates that any member of the body of Christ is to fill a needed role at any time, through sensitivity to the Spirit, humility to be obedient, and a willingness to venture outside comfort zones. As an introvert, I “can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13), including those things that typically are associated with extroverts. My preference may be in the back of the church or washing dishes during a gathering, and I may not actively seek out any other spots, but I can be somewhere else and do something else through the grace given by Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. When stretched outside my comfort zone, it is also alright, once the need has been met, to withdraw from community and recharge quietly, on my own.
As an introvert in community, I am still learning how to take my desire for connection to other Christians regularly to the Lord. He knows how I function, and what I need as an individual and as a member of the Body of Christ. He did after all make me! He has provided me with friends and family with whom I feel connected; He has provided me with opportunities from the back row to draw others into community and watch them flourish. He has given me enough community to feed my heart, and enough space to re-energize. When I try to take this journey on my own, I fail miserably, because I look to others and start to go down the path of “I wish I could be like them.” No! God has made each of us uniquely, with a place, purpose, and plan: there is a space in the body of Christ that is just the right size for each of us.
Community is a necessary part of the whole Christian walk, and God can work powerfully in community. For introverts, the physical gathering together may be quite challenging, with shared beliefs, interests, and goals being the “sweet spot.” God, in His infinite wisdom and grace, has made us into a family in which we all balance each other out, working perfectly together to grow up into our Head, Jesus Christ. When empowered by the Holy Spirit, we can “be all things to all people,” following in the Apostle Paul’s steps, and stretch outside our comfort zones.
Scripture quotations taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995, 2020 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved. www.lockman.org