Introverts Don’t Make Good Pastors

Or, maybe they do.

  • I’m a pastor and an introvert.
  • I get energy from being alone.
  • Being with people for long periods of time drains me, although I  have strong people skills.
  • I love to read.
  • I go on silent retreats.
  • After church every Sunday I need to spend time without high people interaction.
  • Did I say I am an introvert?

Am I automatically disadvantaged as a pastor?

Do only the gregarious, back slapping pastors lead big churches?

Some  years ago I learned that my introversion offended a church leader where I once served. We held an overnight leadership retreat at a local retreat center. After the last session ended around nine, we provided snacks and games. At about ten, I went to bed as was my habit. Most of the other leaders stayed up past midnight. Had I stayed up with them, I would have been toast for the sessions to follow the next morning.

I learned months later that my leaving the group to go to bed offended him. He brought it up more than once. He was an extrovert and did not like me yielding to my introversion.

Should I have stayed up to “work the crowd?” Perhaps. But that incident illustrates the challenges introverts often face when they serve in ministry.

As I’ve pondered this issue more deeply, I read the book Quiet, the Power of Introverts that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain, a great read. As an introvert, Susan presents a compelling case for the the power of introverts. If you are an introvert, you will feel affirmed if you read it.

Here’s a good article on introverts here.

If you are an introvert, what challenges have you experienced in ministry?

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Three Probing Questions every Pastor should Ask Himself

Some time back I sat in a local McDonalds working on one of my books. I had set my iPhone to remind me to pause and be still each day at 10am and 3pm. I don’t always stop, but that day I did and read a portion of Pete Scazzaro’s book, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality Day by Day. That day Pete quoted Eugene Peterson’s thoughts about  Jonah’s resistace to God’s call on him to preach in Ninevah. His words left a powerful impression on me and prompted me to ask myself three questions we leaders should often ask ourselves.

Here are Peterson’s words.

And why Tarshish? For one thing, it is a lot more exciting than Nineveh. Nineveh was an ancient site with layer after layer of ruined and unhappy history. Going to Nineveh to preach was not a coveted assignment for a Hebrew prophet with good references. But Tarshish was something else. Tarshish was exotic. Tarshish was an adventure … Tarshish in the biblical references was a “far off and sometimes idealized port.” It is reported in 1 Kings 10:22 that Solomon’s fleet of Tarshish fetched gold, silver, ivory, monkeys and peacocks … In Tarshish we can have a religious career without having to deal with God.

Did you catch the last line? “In Tarshish we can have a religious career without having to deal with God.” As I reflected on my goals and drive in minsitry, I asked myself these questions.

I encourage you to ask yourself them as well and ponder your answers.

  1. Where do I find my identity, in Christ or in my ministry?
  2. Am I driven to bigger and better ministries so I can feel good about myself? Or can I find contentment “that transcends all understanding” even in what appears to be a dead-end ministry or one without much potential for growth?
  3. Is my deepest motive to one day hear Jesus say, “Well done, good and faithful servant”? Or, am I driven to hear the people in the church say it instead?

Take a few moments and ask yourself these questions to see what God reveals about your heart and motives.

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Critics: Stay Away or Draw Close to Them?

Criticism hurts, especially the non-constructive kind. We tend to stay away from such critics. But is that the wisest choice? Should we draw close to them instead of pulling away from them? In this post I explore the idea of not shunning your critics.

Murray Bowen, the father of family systems, coined the phrase “non-anxious presence.” He used this term to describe a personal quality that when a leader exhibits it, can keep a family or a group’s overall emotional reactivity and anxiety down. He and others suggest that leaders should not cut off their critics, but should actually stay connected to them in a calm way.

What does a non-anxious leader look like?

  • can truly listen to another, even if he or she is bearing bad news or criticism
  • can hold his emotions in check when in the hot seat
  • seldom gets defensive
  • can acknowledge the emotions of his critic
  • will calmly and courageously respond instead of reacting

Ernest Shackleton, one of the greatest explorers ever, modeled this non-anxious presence with his Antarctica expedition crew as they were marooned for over a year in 1915-1916 after their ship was crushed by the ice. His calm presence and his drawing to difficult crew members allowed him to lead them all to safety. Not one man perished. Here’s what he did.

  • His photographer, Frank Hurley would feel slighted if the crew didn’t pay attention to him and would become difficult to work with. Instead of isolating him, Shackleton gave him a place in his tent and often conferred with him.
  • His physicist, Reginald Jamer, was an introverted academic. Shackleton feared that his personality might invite ridicule that in turn could escalate into a serious issue. He made him a bunkmate as well.
  • When Shackleton selected a crew to take a lifeboat to sail from Elephant Island to South Georgia Island to assemble a rescue party for the entire crew, he selected the carpenter, McNeish. He chose him not only for his skills but also because he was concerned that McNeish could create discontentment with the men who were left.
  • Finally, Shackleton specifically picked two other crewmen because he felt they might cause trouble in his absence. In total, more than half of the group he chose were potential troublemakers.

So, how can we present a non-anxious presence to those who are our critics or to those with whom our personalities rub? I suggest these five ideas.

  1. When criticized, truly try to understand the critic’s perspective. Ask questions. Really listen.
  2. When someone criticizes, thank them for sharing it.
  3. Keep a good sense of humor. Don’t allow the criticism to suck the life from you.
  4. Spend some social time with the critic so he can get to know you. Share some of your personal life story.
  5. Do something thoughtful for your critic, something that he or she would not expect from you.

As counter-intuitive as this may seen, staying calmly connected to your critics can actually help you grow as a leader and move your church or organization forward.

At what point do you believe you should you draw the line with criticism? That is, when should you cut if off before it truly damages you?

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What Should Pastors Do with Personal Pain?

Every leader carries personal pain and baggage not only from his or her family of origin, but also from previous ministry experiences. For some, that baggage may feel like a light daypack. For others, it may feel like a 100-pound duffle bag. What we do with it affects our personal well being and the well being of our ministries. In this post I suggest ways pastors and ministry leaders can deal with personal pain.

Several factors influence how heavy baggage from your pain feels.

  • Your overall emotional health. If in your current ministry you are stressed, you won’t have much internal reserve before you redline. You’ll ‘spill over’ more easily when jostled by ministry demands and conflict.
  • Your personality type influenced by your genetic makeup. Some people are genetically pre-disposed toward pain which is reflected more in anxiety and depression than in others. Our genetic makeup accounts for about 1/3 of our ability to be happy and enjoy life.[1] The remaining 2/3’s, however, gives us lots of leverage to change, manage stress, and bounce back from difficulties. It’s called resilience.
  • Your previous ministry setting. If past ministries were difficult, you’ll need to pay more attention to your ministry pain.

If dealing with personal pain seems self serving, look to the words of Jesus Himself. In response to a Pharisee’s question about the greatest commandment, Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matt 22.37-39, NIV) So, Jesus’ own words remind us we should love ourselves and be kind to ourselves which encompasses processing our own hurts and pain. Research tells us that pastors who are kinder to themselves when they fail or don’t meet others’ expectations, are less prone to burnout.[2]

I learned this insight several years ago when I transitioned to a church in California from a church in Atlanta. After we moved I was surprised when I began to grieve. I recall one day as I assembled an outdoor tool shed how deep feelings of sadness suddenly swept over me. I wasn’t sad about my new role as teaching pastor. The new possibilities exited me. However, my emotions reminded me that I must deal with my feelings of loss from leaving the church that my wife and I had planted fourteen years earlier.

In a later ministry setting in Chicago I faced significant conflict with two leaders that left deep wounds. During the year and a half between that church and my new church in Canada, I had to process this this pain that I had carried from that church.

So how can we deal with our ministry pain?

First, admit that you probably still carry some leftover baggage from prior ministries. These questions may help bring to the surface unresolved issues that could potentially hinder your current ministry.

  1. With whom have you experienced the greatest conflict or the greatest hurt?
  1. How have you dealt with those conflicts? Passively, aggressively, biblically?
  1. When you think of that person(s) do you feel significant anger, rage, or bitterness rise into your awareness? Or are the emotions more akin to mild disappointment and sadness?
  1. Do you feel that any of those conflictual relationships lie unresolved and that resolution remains possible? Or do you feel that you did what you could to resolve the issues?
  1. How would you rate where you stand in relation to this person(s)/issue(s): distraught, hurting but managing, coping OK, or in good shape with occasional twinges of loss or pain?
  1. Is God prompting you to do anything to resolve these past issues?

Second, take specific steps to deal with the emotional baggage. When my pain was most acute prior to my coming to Canada, I sought professional help. I consulted a counselor for several sessions and I hired a coach who helped me process my woundedness. An objective third party can help you see issues to which you may be blind. I recommend that every ministry leader find a good friend. In this post I describe what to look for in a safe, healthy friend.

As you process your pain, God may want you to initiate an act of kindness toward the person(s) who may have hurt you in any prior ministry. God prompted me to do that after I heard a sermon from a pastor friend.

During my consulting/writing days prior to my move to Canada, our family joined a local church near the small lake house we had moved into. I immediately bonded with the pastor and I volunteered to serve. Each Sunday I learned something new from his solid preaching. One day his sermon dealt with turning the other cheek toward your enemies and loving them despite the pain they may have caused you. Like a lightning bolt, I felt God impress me to send a restaurant gift card to both leaders who had hurt me the most at my prior church. I included a kind note with each card. After I took that simple obedient step, I felt God begin to close that painful chapter in my life, although I can still feel an occasional tinge of emotion when I recall those experiences.

God used my pain to teach me. He can use your pain to teach you as well. However, we must never allow pain to fester in our souls. I encourage every pastor to inventory his our her prior ministry experiences and bring out into the open any stuffed or hidden pain. If you don’t deal with it now, it will leak out, insidiously drain you, and quite possibly derail you.

How have you dealt with ministry pain?

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[1] “Can Happiness Be Genetic?,” Psychology Today, accessed November 20, 2015, http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/media-spotlight/201302/can-happiness-be-genetic.

[2] Laura K. Barnard and John F. Curry, “The Relationship of Clergy Burnout to Self-Compassion and Other Personality Dimensions,” Pastoral Psychology 61, no. 2 (May 21, 2011): 149–63, doi:10.1007/s11089-011-0377-0.

Hymns in a Contemporary Church: Bury them or Resurrect them?

Several years ago I attended an old fashioned Gospel sing at a church near our home. It was out of my comfort zone because the last 30 plus years I’ve served in churches that primarily used contemporary worship music in their services. Yet, from toddler age through college I attended churches that primarily used hymns. When the seeker movement became widespread, I and many other like-minded pastors classified traditional hymns as barriers to church growth. As a result, I seldom used them in the churches I served except for the occasional Amazing Grace. Here’s what I learned that night about hymns and their influence on my spiritual formation.

As I sat through the Gospel sing, something stirred deep within me. Had I neglected an important part of my Christian heritage by not incorporating them in the churh services? Should I reconsider them going into the future?

The Gospel sing worked like this. The song leader invited those who attended (a couple hundred) to pick a hymn from the hymn book. They then raised their hands and he’d pick someone. They’d call out the hymnal page number. We’d turn to that page. The pianist would start playing. We’d sing. After 30 minutes of suggestions and singing, probably 20 songs, we’d take a short break from singing. The pianist then played a medley of hymns and a duet sung a couple hymns. Then we sung another 30 minute, prayed, and dismissed for ice cream sundaes in the gym.

I thought I’d be bored and planned to surreptitiously follow NFL games on ESPN’s Gametracker on my iPhone. Was I surprised. Here are several lessons I learned that night.

  1. The majority who attended were clearly over 65, many in their 70’s and 80’s. As I watched these seniors sing, their faces glowed with a deep love for Jesus. God reminded me that preferred music styles don’t indicate a person’s love for Him. The builder generation, which is quickly declining, has shown incredible commitment and sacrifice to the cause of Christ the last several decades. Just because they prefer a different music style than my preference doesn’t mean I’m any closer to Jesus than they.
  2. I was surprised at how well I recalled these songs that I hadn’t sung in over 20 years. I seldom even needed to look at the hymnal for the words. I realized how grateful I was to my parents for the rich Christian heritage they gave me. Those many years they took me to Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night services and to revivals and vacation bible schools. Those experiences had left an indelible imprint on my soul. Hymns had deeply imbedded the truth of God’s Word into my heart that I’d never forgotten.
  3. I marveled at the magnificence of how God created our brains. Music increases our ability to recall truth because it enhances long-term memory. Even after decades of not reading the words or singing the hymns, my mind easily recalled them. This thought reminded me how important music should play in our services to imbed theology into the hearts of believers.
  4. I felt sad as I watched my youngest daughter who sat next to me. As my wife and I sang, she followed along as best as she could, yet she hardly knew a single hymn. Either my naivety or my pride (or both) had caused me to neglect this powerful medium to teach the essence of the Faith. My kids had become the losers.
  5. Finally, I resolved to bring hymns back into the churches I serve. While updating their tempo and style a bit, I want those young and old in the faith to encounter the living Christ through the power of God’s word hitched to the medium of hymn music.

That experience was a profound one for me that I will never forget.

What are your thoughts on hymns? Do you believe we have neglected them? If so, how have you incorporated them into your services.

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