Hi. My name is Andy and I'm an introverted leader. And this is not a contradiction in terms. Unless our conception of leadership has been entirely co-opted by extroverts.
Do we expect our leaders to have their lips always moving when they pray or think? Do we expect our leaders to be as comfortable at the coffee hour as they are in the pulpit? Do we expect our leaders to be able to strike up conversations and evangelize in airplanes, coffee shops, and supermarkets? What if our leaders spend more time listening than speaking, writing than socializing? What if our leaders were more reflective than reflexive? What if our leaders valued (or could even tolerate) a slower pace?
Adam S. McHugh, in his recent book “Introverts in the Church,” argues that both church and culture have been co-opted by the extroverted. He points to the evangelical megachurch, which often centers around a dynamic, celebrity pastor who encourages others to also be extroverted in their faith. Pastors and churches encourage expressions of faith that are public, evangelism that is verbal, and an ethos that is always in motion. One can hardly imagine any church leader, much less a pastor, who emphasizes expressions of faith that are private, personal evangelism that involves silently working alongside, or an ethos of deep reflection.
The stakes for defining leadership are high. At Duke Divinity School, our mission statement proclaims that we will "form leaders." In my United Methodist annual conference, our mission includes language about "effective leaders." James B. Duke's founding Indenture of Duke University directs all members of the University to "provide real leadership in the educational world." The days are over when simply a passion and a pulse could move you along. Now you have to be a leader too.
And this is a good thing. Not every person who loves the Lord is called and equipped to be an ordained clergy. Not every person who loves theology is called and equipped to be a seminary student. Not every person who loves books is called and equipped to be a librarian. Passions and pulses are still important (even required!) but we also look for gifts and evidence of leadership in order to admit, ordain, or promote.
Leadership is centrally important. But our definitions of it need to be balanced. Conceptions of leadership that are co-opted by introverts would equally be a distortion. Introverted leaders need to develop skills for talking as much as extroverted leaders need to develop skills for listening. Introverted leaders need to be aware of the extroverted activities that drain them of their energy so that they can focus upon what they do best: contemplative spirituality, spiritual direction, compassionate listening, reflective reading, and investing deeply in a few people.
Ultimately, the best leadership is not a solitary activity. Active partnerships between extroverts and introverts provides balance to any organization or ministry. Developing programs, ministries, worship services in partnership will both model and welcome the involvement of introverts and extroverts alike. Imagine programs that involved a place for introverts to process and extroverts to share. Imagine ministries that involved a place for introverts to work alongside and extroverts to welcome. Imagine worship services that involved a place for introverts to pray silently and extroverts praise loudly, and vice-versa.
If our church and institutions are truly about faithful and effective leadership, how can we not receive the gifts and blessings of introverted leadership?