Why introverts make great pastors

by Jeff Gissing | @jeffgissing

Our culture struggles to recognize the value of introverted people. Church, especially, can be a difficult place for introverted people to feel valued. I know. I’m an introvert in ministry. To some people the idea that someone who derives strength from solitude could be a minister beggars belief. Introverts are fine, they think, we just don’t want one as our pastor. There are two reasons that this is wrongheaded. First, it confuses introverted with being socially awkward. Second, it ignores the fact that much of great pastoral value is done or created in isolation (think, prayer and study). I think it’s time to embrace a deeper vision for pastoral ministry–one that places a higher value on prayer, study, and thoughtful leadership.

In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul reminds us that the body of Christ (the Church) is complex organism, a complicated family, that exists and carries out its mission under the headship of Jesus. Paul points out that Christians are given a variety of spiritual gifts, each for the building up of the body. Introversion is, in many ways, a gift although it doesn’t show up in our traditional “spiritual gifts inventories” and isn’t listed as such in Scripture.

Being introverted means being oriented toward the the inner life. It doesn’t mean socially awkward any more than being an extravert means being an annoying lip-flapper. It simply means that social interactions are depleting and that in order to experience rejuvenation, an introvert will enjoy quiet time in isolation.

There are at least three reasons that you should consider calling an introverted minister:

  1. Introverted people often naturally enjoy the disciplines necessary for effective pastoring. Prayer and reflection come naturally to many introverts as well as study. The notion that pastoring exclusively involves “quasi-therapeutic” relationships with parishioners is something of modern invention and it is ultimately detrimental to the health of a congregation. Study and preaching is as pastoral an act as counseling. Parishioners need pastors who will proclaim the Gospel faithfully from Scripture and model engagement with the Scripture just as much (and perhaps more) than they need a “listening ear.” They also need pastors who pray and who envision prayer as one of their central callings–just as the Apostles did in Acts (“the ministry of the Word and prayer”).
  2. Introverted people are able to offer insight into difficult situations. Since introverts draw strengths from quiet thought, they have greater opportunity to mull over a problem and engage it from different angles, which very often produces effective ways to address it. It’s worth noting that there is often no relationship between the quality of an idea and the willingness of its proponent to dominate the conversation.
  3. Introverts are often effective leaders who deliver consistently excellent results. Since introverts tend to think before they speak, they leave room for others to contribute ideas. Effective answers and quality strategies are often the result of an assortment of ideas from a variety of people. Spiritual leadership, especially in the presbyterian context, requires a plurality of elders who together guide and shepherd the congregation. There is no solo CEO pastor in Scripture. Instead there is a group of elders, qualified both by their manner of life and their spiritual maturity, who share in the work of pastoring the congregation. 
If you want to read more on the topic, I recommend Adam McHugh’s excellent book, Introverts in the Church.

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