The stakes are high when it comes to being an introverted pastor because our job is people. The very nature of our role requires us to engage with our congregation relationally, but the nature of our personality inclines us toward alone time. To the extent that we avoid people, or outsource shepherding to staff pastors or interns, we short-circuit our leadership potential.
But there are strengths to being an introverted pastor, too. It seems to me that people think there are only curses to being an introverted pastor. Maybe it’s just me being a sensitive introvert, but I’ve never heard someone being referred to as an introvert as a compliment, nor have I heard someone identified as an extrovert negatively. The word extrovert, it seems, is synonymous with entrepreneurial, charismatic, and being a people person. Even the negative sides of being an extrovert are given a positive spin, like the gift of gab.
When people think of an introvert, they tend to picture someone who keeps to himself, doesn’t care for company very much, and perhaps lacks confidence. I doubt that many people imagine someone who is wise (remember, it’s the fool in Proverbs who does all the talking), reflective, studious, observant, or a thinker. But this is often what introverts are.
My goal is to share three blessings and curses of being an introverted pastor so that whether youare an introvert or an extrovert, you can be encouraged and challenged in your journey as a pastor.
Three curses of being an introverted pastor
Although I’ll get to the good things about being an introvert pastor in a moment, here are some not-so-great things about it that I’ve experienced.
1. Being labeled as an “introvert”. It is easy for people at church to wonder how effective a pastor can be if he is an introvert, but this is only because the negative sides of the personality type are often the first to come to mind. Introverts can like people, and it’s the ones that do like people who are often drawn to pastoral ministry. I think if we created a category for an “outgoing introvert” people could more readily see that a pastor who is an introvert can effectively shepherd a church.
2. Lack of deep relationships. Typically, introverts thrive relationally when they can go deep with a few close friends. But because being a pastor requires relating to a lot of people mostly on a surface level, we can easily feel unfulfilled in the area of friendships. Pastoral leadership is lonely enough in and of itself, but it can feel lonelier for an introvert.
3. Burnout. The definition of an introvert is someone who recharges with alone time. That can be hard for a pastor to find. Between leadership meetings during the day, other meetings at night, counseling sessions, Sunday mornings, and church events, it’s difficult to carve out time for yourself. If you have a family, evenings at home and vacations can be more exhausting than rejuvenating, because you need to be “on” for your wife and kids. If we don’t take a time out from the constant relational stimulation so we can pray, read, and revitalize, we put ourselves in danger of burning out.
Three blessings of being an introverted pastor
Having covered a few curses, here are some benefits to being an introvert. Pastors with this personality type should look to capitalize on these things.
1. Strong leadership skills. While it is common to view the extroverted, charismatic pastor as the most effective leader, more people recognizing advantages introverts have in terms of leadership gifts. Forbes made this point a few years ago in “Why Introverts Can Make the Best Leaders”. More recently, Forbes called extroverted leaders to practice typically introverted disciplines in “Extroverts – Tapping Your Inner Introvert Is a Key to Excellent Leadership”.
What are these strengths? Introverts use solitude to reflect on the direction of their organization. They value depth, and often consider where things can be improved. They don’t need to be the center of attention, which allows them to foster teamwork. These tendencies help us become effective leaders.
2. The inclination to talk second. Listening is an underrated skill in pastoral ministry, and introverts are natural listeners. Whether in counseling sessions, staff meetings, or giving constructive criticism, we need to ask questions and listen before we can offer suggestions to work through an issue. Someone who is very successful in sales gave me a piece of advice several years ago: whoever talks most loses. He was referring to making a sale, of course, but I’ve applied this many times in pastoral ministry.
3. Thriving in sermon prep. Sermon prep is a creative process that requires study, reflection, and lots of alone time – things introverts love. Our wiring is an advantage when it comes to spending the time it takes to get ready to preach.
Christ’s grace is sufficient for our weaknesses
Neither introverts nor extroverts are perfect. The weaknesses of our personality types (not to mention our sinfulness) cause us to mess up every day and miss opportunities to serve our churches best. Fortunately, Jesus promises us, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). So whatever our personality, let us glorify God, giving him credit for our strengths, and relying on his grace to make up for our weaknesses.