Introverted Pastors, Part 1

            “Anybody else discouraged today by the pastoral blueprint in the ‘church growth’ movement?” writes Jared Wilson, a pastor from New Hampshire. “The most ‘successful’ types of pastors today,” he continues, “are more of the entrepreneurial type than the pastoral. They are speakers, CEOs, innovators, vision-casters, pioneers, personalities, and administrators. But too few are pastors.”[1] Wilson is not the only one observing this trend. Many are concerned that the ideal pastor in the mind of the American church looks much more like a Christian version of Tony Robbins than the likes of Saint Augustine, John Calvin, Richard Baxter, or John MacArthur. The uncritical acceptance of cultural ideals for leadership has largely precipitated the assumption that those with introverted personalities are not well suited for pastoral ministry.

            In light of this, I will proceed in three stages (which will be reflected in three posts): first, by examining how extroversion became an American ideal; second, by considering how the church inattentively absorbed this ideal; third, by offering three challenges to its present dominance.

            For our purposes, I am using the terms introverted and extroverted primarily in a broad, culturally understood sense rather than a more technical sense.[2] Thus, the introvert would identify with attributes such as: reflective, unassuming, thoughtful, inner-directed, modest, risk-averse; and the extrovert with: sociable, gregarious, assertive, active, risk-taking, and outer-directed.[3] While no person completely identifies with either introversion or extroversion, people generally tend toward one or another. Nevertheless, American culture has chosen a favorite, namely, extroversion. Let’s now consider how that happened.

            Susan Cain traces the cultural shift in America from the Culture of Character to the Culture of Personality.[4] She explains the difference saying,

 In the Culture of Character, the ideal self was serious, disciplined, and honorable. What counted was not so much the impression one made in public as how one behaved in private. The word personality didn’t exist in English until the eighteenth century, and the idea of “having a good personality” was not widespread until the twentieth.  But when they embraced the Culture of Personality, Americans started to focus on how others perceived them. They became captivated by people who were bold and entertaining. ‘The social role demanded of all in the new Culture of Personality was that of a performer.’ Susman famously wrote, ‘Every American was to become a performing self.’[5]

 

You can see the change in the culture’s values: from what someone is to what they are perceived to be, from being to performance. What mattered to people transitioned from who you were on the inside to how you presented yourself on the outside.

            Cain discusses how the industrialization and urbanization of America played a major role in this shift. The evolution from a primarily agricultural economy to one in which big business rules forced Americans to respond “by trying to become salesmen who could sell not only their company’s latest gizmo but also themselves.”[6] Not only this, but radical developments in technology, energy, and communication all influenced people in becoming self-actualizing individuals.[7] With the development of cars, people could travel and expand their social network far beyond what they once could. And with telephones, radios, and eventually television (not to mention the internet) people could connect and interact in new ways. Americans entered a new cultural marketplace dominated by personality and salesmanship where only the most attractive and entertaining would survive.

            It is important to see that not only did the culture shift from focusing on character to personality, but a certain kind of personality was valued above others; in part, because of the increasing social and industrial opportunities and demands of the day. Cain notes the change in the terms used by self-help literature to demonstrate this. Earlier guides included attributes such as: citizenship, work, honor, morals, and integrity. But the new guides sought qualities such as: magnetic, stunning, attractive, dominant, and energetic.[8]

            Moving to more recent times, Cain observes, “The pressure to entertain, to sell ourselves, and never to be visibly anxious keeps ratcheting up. The number of Americans who considered themselves shy increased from 40 percent in the 1970s to 50 percent in the 1990s, probably because we measured ourselves against ever higher standards of fearless self-presentation.”[9] Moreover, she explains that we are prone to perceive talkers as leaders; the more someone speaks, the more we turn our attention to him/her and are inclined to follow. But, as she points out, there is no correlation between more talking and greater insight.[10] Even still, the reality in America today is that we tend to “follow those who initiate action—any action,”[11] whether for good or for ill.

            These increasing standards and tendencies are the artifacts of the Culture of Personality; or perhaps, more precisely, the cultural ideal of extroversion in the Culture of Personality. As Cain articulates, what we see today is an age-old dilemma between the man of action and the man of contemplation. In America, Cain writes, “We live with a value system that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha, and comfortable in the spotlight.”[12] We much prefer the man of action: the doer, the go-getter, the assertive, energetic, and sociable fellow. Those of a quieter, contemplative spirit, who often do not enjoy the spotlight and are slower to take risks, are seen as somehow needing reform. Thus, the way we parent, the way we educate, the way we hire and fire, the way we observe and evaluate appearances as we get our morning coffee or stroll through the park, all tend to bless the extrovert and reject the introvert. Or to put it another way, we encourage extroversion, while seeking to transform introversion.

Jon Deming earned his M.Div. from Cairn University. 

                [1] Jared C. Wilson, “The Entrepreneurial Pastor Trend,” The Gospel-Driven Church, n.p. [cited 9 Nov. 2015]. Online: http://gospeldrivenchurch.blogspot.com/2007/08/what-is-pastor.html.

                [2] Susan Cain also wrote Quiet in this way. She explained her reasoning for doing so in “A Note on the Words Introvert and Extrovert” in Quiet (New York: Crown, 2012), 269-271.

                [3] These lists are dependent on Cain, Quiet, 269.

                [4] Cain, Quiet, 19-33.

                [5] Ibid., 21.

                [6] Ibid., 22.

                [7] Andrew Root, The Relational Pastor (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2013), 35-38.

                [8] Cain, Quiet, 23-24.

                [9] Ibid., 31.

                [10] Ibid., 51.

                [11] Ibid., 52.

                [12] Ibid., 4.

 


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