Introverted Pastors, Part 2

Adam McHugh, plainly and accurately states that the “slant towards extroversion in the larger culture has also infiltrated the church.”[1] (See part 1 of this series for more on how this ‘slant’ came to be.) Not only has this slant permeated how our congregations interact, how our services are planned, and how our programs are organized, but extroversion has also become the assumed, paradigmatic personality for our pastors and leaders. Let’s consider some of the voices alerting us to this reality in our churches.

            First, Adam McHugh, who literally wrote the book on the subject, points out the theological and historical roots of this slant in mainstream evangelicalism. He notes three theological marks of the evangelical church: an intimate personal relationship with Jesus, the centrality and authority of the Bible, and active personal evangelism, which are very often conveyed in strikingly extroverted terms.[2] For example, as a consequence of the church’s priority on a personal relationship with Christ, McHugh suggests, “It is not surprising that evangelicals have a high value for intimate, informal relationships with one another, and we structure our churches—with small groups in our houses, fellowship hours, social events, accountability groups and prayer chains—in order to support this value.”[3] And naturally, we encourage participation in these activities—often in as many as one can possibly be involved. However, what can unintentionally, and unfortunately, result from this is that a maturing spirituality is assumed to be marked by increasing sociability, that is, growing participation in activities and growing familiarity with more and more members of the congregation.[4]

            Regarding the historical roots, McHugh points to the First and Second Great Awakening. Fearful of an academic and lifeless spirituality, leaders of the movements emphasized that conversion be an experience, driving a wedge between the mind and the heart that evangelicals still today find hard to remove.[5] Moreover, American evangelicals applied pragmatic values to religious experience and focused on the visible, quantifiable results of their methods.[6] With this in the evangelical heritage, McHugh writes,

The pragmatism that we have inherited fosters an action-oriented culture. Evangelicalism values the doer over the thinker. The evangelical God has a big agenda. It’s as if the moment we surrender our lives to Christ we are issued a flashing neon sign that says “GO!” There is a restless energy to evangelicalism that leads to a full schedule and a fast pace. Some have said that, in Christian culture, busyness is next to godliness. We are always in motion, constantly growing, ever expanding.[7]

There is no doubt that this mindset has not only penetrated our thoughts and assumptions about our churches at large, but also our pastors and leaders in the church. In fact, Root exposes this very reality.

            Second, Andrew Root traces the historical shifts in thinking about church ministries and the pastorate.[8] In his discussion, he explains where things have stood for the last several decades. He suggests that programs (i.e. services and activities outside the regular Sunday gathering) have been the main method churches have used to get people to come.[9] “These programs,” writes Root, “made the church attractive in a competitive religious marketplace of individual choice.”[10] Moreover, he notes that these programs have tended to have a pseudo-therapeutic bent to them, in the sense that people could become the kind of Christian they wanted to be by participating.[11]

            Consequently, in place of “a learned, moral man, the ideal pastor became a creative, energy-bursting visionary that individuals could identify with and therefore would want to come to that church, bringing more and more individuals into participation with the offered programming.”[12] The entrepreneurial pastor with the biggest, most attractive personality was rewarded with people in the pews and money in the plates. But when said pastor could no longer manage the growing church, the executive pastor was created, “who would manage the day-to-day programs so the entrepreneur would be available to provide what individuals came to church for—an entertaining, pseudo-therapeutic connection with the entrepreneurial pastor.”[13]

            What has unfortunately tagged along at the heels of the extrovert ideal is what I call the entrepreneurial ideal, that is, the mindset that pastors must become ministerial entrepreneurs that operate more like savvy CEO’s and charismatic organizers than shepherds among the flock. A third voice, David Wells, laments and exposes these changes in his book The Courage to be Protestant. He notes, “Increasingly, [church leaders] are thinking like corporate CEOs who pursue market share, and market domination, with a kind of cold, calculating, ruthless, and steely zeal.”[14] In fact, more and more churches are being led by former accomplished business people, who generally do not have or desire a theological education.[15] Why is this the case? Because, “The skills that made them successful in the business world make them successful in the church world. That, at least, is what is assumed.”[16]

            To deny that these mindsets—those of the extrovert ideal and, like dust in its wake, the entrepreneurial ideal—are alive and active in the American church is to cover our eyes and pray it is not so. Though this is a broad stroke – and admittedly, it may not accurately characterize certain church traditions – it seems to me to be pervasive enough that the generalization is not without some merit. Mainstream evangelicalism, for one, is undoubtedly a participant in the propagation of these mindsets.

Jon Deming earned his M.Div. from Cairn University in Langhorne, PA. He now lives in New Jersey and is pursuing a call to pastoral ministry. In his free time, he enjoys reading, watching movies, and playing golf. You can find him blogging at jondemwords.wordpress.com.

                [1] Adam S. McHugh, Introverts in the Church (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2009), 17.

                [2] McHugh, Introverts, 19.

                [3] Ibid., 19-20

                [4] Ibid., 20

                [5] Ibid., 24.

                [6] Ibid., 25

                [7] Ibid., 26.

                [8] Root, Relational Pastor, 23-44.

                [9] Ibid., 38.

                [10] Ibid., 38.

                [11] Ibid., 38-39.

                [12] Ibid., 39.

                [13] Ibid., 39.

                [14] David Wells, The Courage to Be Protestant (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 25.

                [15] Ibid., 51.

                [16] Ibid., 51.

 


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