LOS ANGELES — If Jesus were
to take a Myers-Briggs personality test, would he rank as an introvert or an
extrovert? He was, after all, popular with crowds, but often retreated to pray
As an undergrad, Daniel
Perett wrestled with similar questions as a member of the evangelical
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at Middlebury College. He soon discovered
that his introverted personality clashed with the group’s prayer-and-share
“The expectation is if you
really are having a spiritual experience, the first thing that you’re going to
do is share it very publicly,” said Perett, 31, now a graduate student at the
University of Notre Dame.
In other words, “if the Holy
Spirit were working in your life,” you’d be talking about it — “you would be an
extrovert,” he said. But what Perett really needed most was time to process
what was happening to him spiritually.
Perett says evangelical
Christianity — with a bigger-is-often-better strain deeply embedded in its DNA —
is stacked against introverts like himself. And so, like other introverts, he
began to develop coping methods rather than a deeper theology.
Perett started to speak in
code. He sprinkled phrases like “God was testing,” rather than “God was absent,”
in his testimonials so that his peers would not realize that he was actually
trying to determine how — if at all — God was present in his life.
“It forces you to put on a
spiritual show for everyone else,” he said.
Perett is far from the only
Christian whose introverted personality has caused religious obstacles. Writer
and pastor Adam McHugh has taken note and released a book called Introverts
in the Church.
“In my mind at the time,
ideal pastors were gregarious, able to move through crowds effortlessly, able
to quickly turn strangers into friends,” he writes in the introduction of the
book published by InterVarsity Press.
But as an introvert himself,
McHugh found the social demands of his job overwhelming, which led him to take
a closer look at his specific personality type.
McHugh discovered that
although introverts had previously been thought to be in the minority, more
recent studies reveal that introverts actually make up roughly half of the
population. That doesn’t mean, however, that they’re always understood.
By definition, an introvert
is someone who is energized by solitude rather than social interaction. An
introvert might also love long intimate conversations; they aren’t necessarily
shy, but they may very well dislike small talk. In short, introverts like to go
deep, and they often like to do it alone.
As writer Jonathan Rauch
described introversion for the Atlantic Monthly magazine in 2003, “introverts
are people who find other people tiring.”
McHugh, for example, felt
absolutely exhausted by all the retreats he was required to attend as an
InterVarsity college minister in California. Canadian Jamie Arpin-Ricci says he
has endured similar frustrations as a pastor.
Arpin-Ricci, a Mennonite
pastor in Winnipeg, Manitoba, said most Christians expect a pastor to be
available at all times, which gives introverts like him and McHugh little of
the much-needed downtime.
Arpin-Ricci said it’s
important not to fall into certain stereotypes — that introverts are
anti-social, for example, or extroverts have plentiful but only shallow relationships.
His church, the Little Flowers Community, is intentionally community-led,
giving him the freedom to hand off certain responsibilities — especially when
he feels a more
extroverted personality may
be better suited to the task.
Donna Katagi, director of
spiritual formation at Cerritos (Calif.) Baptist Church, estimates that her
congregation is made up mostly of introverts who don’t fit neatly into the
category of demonstrative Christians that many believe define a truly spiritual
Although Katagi says her
church engages in typical activities like refreshments after worship, she also
says she’s catered her spiritual formation program to meet the needs of her
Outside of worship, Katagi
says she’ll break up members into smaller rather than larger groups to better
For his part, McHugh says he
has learned to incorporate solitude during the day, and says he remains
confident that introverts can make good Christian leaders.
“I had to just figure out my
own rhythm,” he said.