The Introverted Pastor

Shawn is a doctoral student at Liberty University, working on a study of how introverts can or cannot function as local church senior pastors. He needed to interview several.  Someone gave him my name. First there was a personality test I had to take to confirm that I was indeed an introvert. I passed with flying colors. Then, yesterday, an hour-long interview.

After 48 years as a pastor—nearly 16 of them here at FBCA—I have had a long time to think about this subject. There are times I have wished I were more charismatic and extroverted, perhaps you have wished for that, too—but I am who I am.

Here are a few of the points I made in the interview as I answered his questions.

1. You cannot "manufacture" a call to pastoral ministry. If you believe you have had one, and you possess at least the basic gifts of preaching and caring, you can do the job. The other things required of leaders can be learned. I have never doubted my call to ministry, but I have often wished to be more outgoing and gregarious. Worthy role models have inspired me along the way, and I have learned from each one. And I'm learning still.

2. It helps if you are married to an extrovert. So much of what I have learned about greeting strangers, making people feel loved and appreciated, helping folks "connect"—I have picked up from just watching Audrey. She has always been that way—taught by her parents from a very early age to be a charming host—she has spent every Sunday morning since marrying me in "working the room" before and after services. It occurred to me one day in my third pastorate (in Orlando, circa 1981) that I should and could be doing the same thing. Instead of spending those pre-service moments back in my office, praying and going over the sermon one last time, I realized that I had an entire week when I should have been doing that. This, however, was a very limited opportunity to touch the people who would soon be listening to my sermon, and I should make full use of it. The reason politicians press the flesh along the rope-line and want to hold your baby and take a picture is they know that once a connection has been made, you are more likely to vote for them. He or she is now someone you feel like you know.

By the way, Audrey even does this in churches where I am the guest speaker for the day. And I have to hold her back from doing it when we are merely visiting another church on vacation. ("Hey, Marge, who is that lady in the hat that just welcomed me?”)

3. If you do not love—and, more importantly like—your congregation, you cannot be their shepherd for very long. But you do not have to be an extrovert to do an extrovert’s job.  You don't have to be a loud-mouthed backslapper to be effective. Just look them in the eye (and not over their shoulder to someone else in the room), hold the gaze, give a hug, and say something positive.

Of course, the best example of this I have ever met is our former pastor, Jay Wolf (just retired from FBC, Montgomery). I invited him to my church in Danville to lead a marriage conference and had the opportunity to watch him closely. His most effective ministry to my people there took place before and after the sessions.   He took time with every person he met to say something affirming and encouraging.

Every. Single. Person.

And, when we have had him back here to preach, I have been amazed that he remembered everybody's name after all the years. He also asked specifically about their family members, their job, etc. You have to love a guy who is clearly that interested in you. He has a very rare gift, of course, but the rest of us can at least take a lesson.

4. I told Shawn that I was glad that I did not have to immediately follow Jay Wolf here as pastor!

5. Introverts who function in an extrovert's job need more "down-time" in order to re-energize. I do that by sitting quietly on my deck in the evening after a busy day, enjoying lunch alone with just a newspaper, dinner with little groups of friends. Walking the beach at Daytona. Then—I am ready to go again. I actually do love people every bit as much as Audrey does, and long to spend post-COVID time with them, only in smaller doses.

6. Introverts best lead their churches by building consensus over time, not by coming down off of the mountaintop with tablets in their hand. I am a middle child, and I think that has had a lot to do with my leadership style, too. Attempting to be fair and even-handed comes rather naturally to me.

7. What I want to tell young pastors just starting out (if they ask): It will not be your sermons that they talk about when you leave the church for another or retire altogether. It will be the late-night visits to the emergency room. The prayer before their child's tonsillectomy. The pre-marital counseling session. That thing they say you said that changed their life—that you do not remember actually saying.  It was the tender way you conducted Momma's funeral. Even in a high-tech world, it seems that nothing beats high touch.

My hour-long interview with Shawn was a pleasant experience for me, and he said that it was helpful for him, too. He promised to send me his final paper on the subject, and I will read it with great interest. He's an introvert like me, so I think I was able to encourage him that there are places of service out there for guys like us. The conversation set me thinking back across the years. though, and seeing where perhaps I could have done some things better, had I only had a different personality.  But also grateful to God that I got right as much as I did, despite everything.

God gifts and uses all kinds of people for His sacred work.




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