A Gathering Voices Post by Lynne M. Baab
Last week a friend send me a link to a blog about introverts in church. The post was entitled “the top five things introverts dread about church.” As I read it, I realized some issues are timeless. I was writing about these same challenges in the 1990s.
Next month marks the fifteenth anniversary of my first book contract. I was so excited to be able to write a book that would actually be published! (I had written four novels that were languishing in my file cabinet on paper and in my diskette storage book on 5.25 inch diskettes. Remember those big diskettes we used back then?)
That first book of mine was published in 1998 with the title Personality Type in Congregations. It is still selling, and I’m proud that people still tell me they find it helpful. I wish I could tell you that having written a book on personality type means that I can now live a life free from the challenges that come from personality type.
Back then, my husband and I had quite a different approach to church, and fifteen years later we still do. Dave is an extravert who prefers feeling (making decisions based on people values), and I’m an introvert who prefers thinking (making decisions based on logic). His favorite part of church is coffee hour, where he can sip a cup of tea and connect with people who he cares about or meet new people. For me, coffee hour at our own church is a necessary evil. I want to stay connected to people I care about, so I make myself tolerate the background noise and the overstimulation of being surrounded by too many people.
When we are on vacation and we visit a church, or when I preach somewhere where I know very few people, coffee hour for me is a kind of torture. Talking with people I don’t know, in a noisy setting, is one of the hardest things I ever do. Why did God make people so different? What does it take to celebrate our many differences rather than find them frustrating and irritating?
Some of the literature on type and burnout has helped me think how to approach things that are hard for me. Theorists about burnout wondered whether people burned out from overusing their strengths or from having to work in their weak areas too much. Research has showed that people can burn out from either one: too much work that draws on their strong areas days after day, or too much pushing themselves to try to do something that they’re not innately good at. I have come to believe that a balanced life involves working out of our strengths a good part of the time, but also pushing ourselves in grow in weaker areas. I was frankly quite shocked to find out that people can burn out even when they’re using their strengths most of the time. I had always fantasized about having a life where I could use my strengths a lot.
Turns out, we need to engage those weaker areas in order to challenge ourselves, and to be stretched. A painting needs dark patches in order for the bright parts to show up. The same is true of many aspects of life, and in this area of personality type and patterns of work and service, the same is true.