There are two types of people in the world: those who are extroverts and those who are introverts. I am an introvert (an ISTJ for those who know Myers-Briggs), which is neither here nor there, but lately it’s become en vogue to flaunt one’s introverted-ness as a leadership strength (see here, here, here, and here).
Woo hoo. Power to the introverts.
Frankly, I don’t think it matters which type of personality we are so long as we are serving the people that have been entrusted to us. Nevertheless, there are certainly some drawbacks for the introvert that has chosen to work in the people-saturated industry of disciple-making. If the introvert is not careful, he or she may quickly find him or herself either burned out or hating people more than usual.
The introverts out there will think that was funny.
I’m kinda serious though. As an introvert, I recharge best when I’m not around people. Yet, if one of the most important steps to disciple-making is having one’s disciples with him all the time – it does not bode well for the introvert. I’m no expert, but I’ve been surviving in this field as an introvert for the past 12 years, so here are some thoughts on how introverts can thrive in the world of disciple-making.
1. Remain an introvert. Two thoughts here. First, no one is worth following if they’re trying to be something they’re not. So, just on general principle, don’t try to shake the fact that you are an introvert. Deal with it, roll with it, rock it, whatever. The better you understand how your introverted-ness works, the better you will be able to minister to the people you are discipling. Second, there is nothing wrong with you, so don’t feel like you have to over-compensate or “fix” yourself. Just like any extrovert, an introvert will have tendencies and preferences that he or she will either need to encourage or resist. Again, it’s better to understand introversion and wield it well than it is to “turn it on” or “turn it off” depending upon the circumstances.
2. Protect time for yourself regularly. If you think of the two personality traits like recharging a battery, it goes like this: introverts get recharged by being alone and extroverts get recharged by being around people. So, the drain on the battery is the reverse: being around people drains introverts and being alone drains the extrovert. Thus, it stands to reason that the introvert will need to regularly protect time when he/she can recharge enough to be able to have a battery to drain.
Since I have the privilege of directing a discipleship program and do discipleship full-time, I get creative with getting my alone time. When we’re traveling, for example, I always sleep alone or on the complete other side of the room. When spending a week with the students, if I know I’ll have 30 minutes each night in a room by myself, I can generally make it through just about any day. When we’re not traveling, it depends on how low my battery is. Some days when my battery is extra low, I won’t invite someone along with me on an errand (when I otherwise normally would) – I’ll just go by myself. Usually the 45 minutes alone is plenty to get me back on my feet. I also make sure not to schedule too many appointments in any given day. If I can keep my relational interactions few and focused, I can be more effective in my disciple-making than I could otherwise. Finally, I give myself permission to not talk to my students on the weekends unless I want to. Seems simple, but it took me a while to get used to not feeling guilty about it.
3. Drain your battery – daily. I use a laptop. I’m one of those crazies that’s always looking to plug in my computer wherever I am – regardless of whether or not the battery is low. For me, there’s always the possibility I’ll need a full battery sometime later, so I should keep it at 100% charge as long as possible. . . just in case. If I’m really honest with myself, though, I kinda live my life that way too. Having a low battery is risky. I don’t want to be caught without a power source when my battery is low. When I live that way, though, I’m not in a position of service; I’m in a position of self-protection (the most selfish posture of them all). So, my goal of late has been to make it to my protected alone time with 3% of my battery left. Isn’t that the point of having a battery to begin with? When I know I have a protected time when I’ll get the chance to recharge, it gives me the freedom to run my battery all the way down every day in service to other people.
4. When your battery dies, don’t freak out. There are certainly times when you finish the day with 3% left and are looking forward to your alone time and then something unforeseen pops up and zaps the rest of your energy as well as your chance to recharge. I’ve been in that position more times than I’ve liked and you know what?
It’s not that bad.
Introverts are super-sensitive people – especially when they don’t get their alone time. However, introverts must remember that just because they didn’t get the alone time they were hoping for, they are not entitled to treat people rudely or completely shut down. Believe it or not, we find that when we get to 0% on our battery, we actually don’t explode, disintegrate, or go crazy. We cope. We find a way to make it. And we’re fine. Introverts that pitch a fit because they are “out of gas” have forgotten that there is more to what keeps us running than time alone.
There are times in life when our battery dies. Those are hard days. But that’s the way it goes for everyone. We all have hard days. Better to live through a hard day than to live your life trying to avoid one.
So, to all of you who are introverts out there in the business of making disciples, I wish you all the best. Remember, the command to make disciples supersedes our need for alone time. We will all find that our natural abilities only carry us so far; it is the supernatural within us that makes ministry effective anyway.
. . . and He has an unlimited power supply.