Can an introvert (or shy extrovert) start a church?

This is me, peering out to see where I fit in. Is it safe to come out yet?

This is me, peering out to see where I fit in. Is it safe to come out yet?

I have spent most of my life in traditional church settings, but I have never really felt at home there. I wanted church to feel like camp, but it never did. So I went to regular church. For most of my years, I didn’t know there were other options. In seminary part I, when friends and I dreamed of coffee house or bar churches, it seemed like a pipe dream. Now it is happening. People I know, respect and love are starting their own churches. Church bars, congregations centered around meditation and service that flow from word and sacrament, congregations that speak to the people on the margins. It is everywhere. In my head, I will pastor a congregation like this. I will start something new, I will find the people on the margins of the church and of life and we will work together to build life in Christ and walk in God’s path. I have a million ministry starts in my head. I love each of them and want one of them (or all of them) to happen.

There is just one problem.

I am really, really shy. While I process thoughts and feelings like an extrovert (outside of myself), am comfortable talking to a few hundred people in a pulpit or performing on stage, and I even get energy like an extrovert sometimes (by going out and being around people), I am equally drained by people and am completely uncomfortable, sometimes downright afraid, of introducing myself to people I don’t know. It takes every ounce of my energy to start a conversation with someone I haven’t been introduced to or don’t have an express, and narrow, reason for approaching (approaching people because I like people, because I am curious, or because I want to build a ministry are not easy reasons for me).

When I understand my role and my context, I am fine. I can walk up to people and have a conversation. But when my role is unclear (or isn’t the role of a leader), or I’m learning my context (it is new to me and I to it), I am painfully shy.

At the moment, I am in a rather traditional congregation. I enjoy it. I like the people, I enjoy worship, I respect the leaders and the congregation’s place in the community. And I still have to force myself to not hide in my office after worship and, instead, go into the hallway and meet new people. I like it here, but I don’t know if this is the kind of ministry I feel called to. I could do it, and I could probably do it well. But it would be like wearing a really nice suit that doesn’t fit me quite right. I’m not sure if it is what I am meant to do. I feel called to church planting (Mission Development in the language of my church), but I imagine “ability to talk to strangers regardless of context” is pretty integral to mission development. There are places and times I can talk to people apropos of nothing, but it’s certainly not my norm.

Can I be an introvert and a church planter? Is that possible? Or do I have to either sacrifice the call I feel or my emotional/physical comfort? Or can I find a more traditional parish where I can do new weird things and where I will feel like I am in a comfy pair of jeans and not a nice but ill-fitting suit? Is there a middle path?

What say you, friends?

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About Elizabeth Rawlings

Lutheran. Feminist. Child of God. Thinking about how to be a leader in a church that is trying to rediscover itself and what it means to live simply so that others may simply live in tandem with what exactly is the fast God asks of us. Chronic alliterator. Generally silly person. View all posts by Elizabeth Rawlings

7 responses to “Can an introvert (or shy extrovert) start a church?

  • Sandy Jones

    Yes it is possible. Reading your description of how you deal with people – I felt like I was reading about me (all except for the part of hiding in the office). And I am a Mission Developer – working in the margins of society with a Spanish language mission. The way I began was by finding out a need in the community and then working to find resources to address the need. That gave me the reason to talk to people – so I was not approaching them just to say hi. Once I connected with the first person, she introduced me to her friends and neighbors and they introduced me to theirs…. and so on, and so on. Mission development by just knocking on strange doors to introduce yourself, I think, is a method that doesn’t work so well any more – and I think our church is beginning to realize that. So I want to say yes – if you have the desire – then I would have to say it didn’t get there all by itself. The HS is at work. Listen to her and breathe.

  • Christoph

    As a fellow introvert, I identify and commiserate with your dilemma. In fact, this exact fear that you name here kept me from applying to seminary for a good 6-7 years. What I had to learn was that old saying, “God doesn’t call the equipped, God equips the called.” In other words, if church planting is your true calling, then God will equip you with the required extroversion energy when needed. That’s been my experience. Hell yeah it’s exhausting at times, but anything worth doing always is, right?

  • annamporter

    I am reminded of Moses! God does provide. Perhaps, like Moses, God will provide you with an Aaron-mouthpiece–a partnership if you will with someone who is comfortable as the mouthpiece but needs your gifts to complete the team. I also agree Sandy…rather than a “build it and they will come” strategy it should be more about being, as my David terms it, a “solutionist,” someone who uncovers a need and then provides a solution. Christianity is about meeting people at their place of need and then showing them how Christ can fill that need (either spiritually or physically through his earthly “hands and feet”). If you can perhaps partner of with resources the fill the physical & mental needs you might find your niche for the spiritual.

    By all means don’t give up!! You have a powerful gift and the holy spirit is indeed gently pushing/nudging you with a holy wind. And where the holy spirit inspires God equips!

    You are such a blessing to me!

  • Sally Wilke

    Wow! First time I’ve ever seen a description that fits me so well. Getting energy from others is rare, but I just want to read and re-read this every time I’m confused by myself or someone attempts to label me. Jam a shy introvert and helped start a church. Best wishes and peace to you.

    Sent from my iPad

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