Is it a sin to be an introvert?

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Is it a sin to be an introvert?

The short answer to that question is, of course, no. But it’s amazing how often I’ve gotten the distinct impression from various pastors and leaders throughout my life that my predilection toward introversion was sinful. “Go knock on that stranger’s door and invite them to our revival/concert/community event” says the energetic youth pastor; “Talk to someone you’ve never talked to before” says the pastor; “Turn to your neighbor and say (fill in the blank with rather personal information);” says the well-meaning Sunday school teacher; or better yet, “Give your neighbor a hug or a handshake” says whichever pastor is leading ‘greeting time’ each Sunday morning. There’s nothing wrong with any of these activities, but they are activities geared almost exclusively toward extroverts, and with no alternatives available to them, many introverts end up feeling that if they don’t follow the leading of their pastoral staff in these social niceties, they must not be doing what God wants them to do. I’ve heard many sermons on the golden rule in which whoever was doing the preaching indicated that “doing unto others as you would have them do unto you” meant talking to people you didn’t know — assuming that everyone wants to be accosted with small-talk by people they’ve never met in an already uncomfortable new social situation.

The Bible tells us to love one another, to have patience and kindness toward each other, to share with those in need, but it doesn’t tell us to go out of our way to be friendly in the sorts of outgoing ways that have come to be expected of most people in American culture. “Friendliness” is not a fruit of the Spirit — at least not as many of us define “friendly.” Believe it or not, there are ways to demonstrate love and kindness toward others without constantly seeking out people you don’t know and making small talk with them. There are ways to evangelize without knocking on the door of someone you’ve never met or handing out gospel tracts on the street. It is possible to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” by sitting quietly and respecting someone’s right to privacy.

That’s not to say that an introvert might not, from time to time, need to step out of his or her comfort zone and participate in extroverted activities at the prompting of the Holy Spirit; to ignore such a prompting would, indeed, be a sin. But there are many ways to follow the Bible’s teachings about loving our neighbors that work with different personality types. For me, an introvert, loving others means caring deeply for a very small group of close friends, evangelizing through acts of kindness and through my work and art, and remaining open toward new people by greeting them with a smile or a brief word, but not necessarily with lots of other talk.

It also means that, in order to participate in the social interaction that is expected of me and that may, occasionally be prompted by the Holy Spirit, I have to get lots of alone time in order to “re-charge” so that I will be able to love people in the more overt ways that they often need. Sometimes that means that I need to sit alone and not talk to people. This can be difficult to do at church. One Sunday, when I was feeling particularly overwhelmed by people and needed some recharging time, I had to resort to sitting in the ladies’ room for several minutes. That’s when I learned that the automatic lighting will turn off after a few minutes of inactivity. Even the lighting system was unsympathetic toward my introverted needs!

The point of all of this is not for me to complain about not “getting my needs met” or to justify my discomfort with greeting time (It’s a blessing that my participation in music ministry means I get to play my guitar while everyone else shakes hands; I used to go get a drink of water during greeting time just because I felt so awkward the whole time).  Instead, I hope to shed light on the fact that preferences for extraversion or introversion are culturally-bound, not spiritually grounded. American culture views extraversion as normative, so it is no wonder that American churches do the same. But since the church exists, in part, to transform culture, it might be a good idea to reexamine the tendency to hold up a cultural norm (extraversion) as a spiritual value.


Big Disclaimer: This blog entry merely describes a tendency I’ve witnessed across the board, not the specific actions of any church or individual.

(More articles at www.ThinkingThroughChristianity.com)
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