Introverts and Extroverts in the Body of Christ
Various articles have appeared online dealing with introverted and extroverted personality types. I have appreciated some of these because they bring to the table important factors in understanding how we interact with others. There are many misconceptions about what it means to be an introvert or extrovert. For example, some think that being an introvert means that the person is shy and needs to get over it. That’s not necessarily true. Many introverts have no problem with being in front of crowds or having meaningful discussions. Introversion is not about shyness.
This is not a scientific or psychological study. I’m making a few observations from what I have read and experienced. While there are several points of differences between the two types, one of the most fundamental differences that I have noted is in the way that each “recharges batteries.” In a nutshell (this is a generalization), the extrovert recharges by being around people and getting energy from them. The introvert recharges by getting away from people and being alone. Many introverts are fine being around others, and they will usually have a few close friends, but there is a time limit to being around people; after a while they need to get away because they are worn out. That’s not an insult to their friends; it’s just the way things are. They aren’t depressed. They simply need more space than the extrovert needs (and a larger personal space bubble). An introvert might be mistaken for being unfriendly, uncaring, or aloof. That is likely a wrong impression, but we can understand why some think that way. On the other hand, an extrovert might be mistaken for being overly enthusiastic or “clingy,” which, again, isn’t necessarily true. Both need to work on understanding each other.
Truthfully, I don't believe that anyone is “all” introvert or extrovert — there is some of each in both, and some are further down the scale of one or the other. We don’t need to label people officially, but we do use the terms accommodatively. The problem is when one tries to force another to change “types,” and that just won’t fly.
What does all of this have to do with Christians in the kingdom of God? The body of Christ is comprised of introverts, extroverts, and all in between. The variety of personalities and abilities should be appreciated (cf. 1 Cor. 12:12-27; Rom. 12:4-8). When we understand this, we can learn how to interact with each other better. This we must do because dividing the body of Christ over personalities is never warranted. Here are a few suggestions:
1. Try to be understanding of differences and needs. If we know someone needs space, give it. If they need to get away for a while, let them go recharge. Likewise, if we know that someone needs to be around others for a time, we should try to help. Don’t shut people out because they have different personalities. Think how different Peter was from Paul.
2. Don’t expect that the way you experience enthusiasm is the way everyone should. What we think of as “type A” personalities can be fairly aggressive with enthusiasm, but this can quickly wear out introverts. It’s not that one is wrong and the other is right; both need to be accepted for who they are. Just because some aren’t glad-handing and talking with great excitement doesn’t mean they don’t care or aren’t excited. Just because some are more outgoing and aggressive doesn’t mean they are trying to be controlling. We need to allow for differences of expression.
3. Don’t force your personality on others. This is similar to the above, though broader in application. Don’t think badly of others because they need to go home sooner from a gathering, or they don’t get into the big parties, or they aren’t always smiling from ear to ear, or they aren’t constantly engaging in conversations with others. Introverts are happy with silence, and often crave it. This doesn’t mean they are shy or can’t carry a conversation. At the same time, introverts should be understanding of the extrovert without being overly judgmental about their way of interacting.
4. Don’t tell other types the way they should be acting (unless it’s a matter of right and wrong). For example, don’t tell introverts that they need to talk more — that irritates those who don’t feel the need to do so. Introverts may not say much at all sometimes, and that’s okay. The extrovert might like to talk more, and that’s okay, too. The point is to let people be who they are and not try to force them into another mold.
This isn’t about right or wrong, sin or righteousness. This is about the fact that there are different personalities in the kingdom of God, and we need to appreciate that. If someone is doing something that is sinful, that is one thing, but if it’s just a matter of reacting differently or needing to recharge in a different manner, then we need to let people be who they are and not try to force them to change to be more like “us.”
“For the body is not one member, but many…” (1 Cor. 12:14ff). Let’s nurture the whole body.