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?