I just read a thoughtful article oriented to technology, but as I read, I realized that the insights offered are relevant to some ministry contexts also. The article on the Tidbits site is titled, “Instant Messaging for Introverts,” and is written by Joe Kissell. This isn’t the usual tech article, but includes some discussion of personality as well. Though I’m not into psychological discussions, Kissell’s observations about how different personality types interact with and use technology for communication (be that email, IM, Twitter, blogs, cell phones, etc.) strike me as being accurate and helpful. Kissell is an introvert—not “shy, withdrawn, afraid of crowds, or lacking in social skills”—that’s not what an introvert is. And introversion is not “a problem that needs fixing or as a trait that one should actively try to suppress and change.” You can read his description of introversion, but in its simplest form, it refers to those who tend to be focused more inward than outward. Kissel describes himself as someone who,
will happily stand in front of hundreds or thousands of people, give a speech, answer questions, make jokes, and generally take charge of keeping the group interested and involved. If anything, I have a reputation for being long-winded in social situations, telling stories that go off on one tangent after another—and for being among the last to leave. I like people, and I think I’m reasonably competent and comfortable in a crowd of any size.
However, given the choice, I do generally prefer to be alone. If you asked me which would be more fun—going to a lively party where I’d be socializing with a couple dozen other people or sitting in a quiet corner reading a book—I wouldn’t even have to think about it: I’d much rather sit alone and read. All things being equal, I prefer smaller gatherings to larger ones, and I prefer solitude to company.
One more quote before I make the association with ministry. “Another typical introvert trait is wanting to compose one’s thoughts carefully before sharing them (either verbally or in writing).”
Kissel’s ultimate purpose in his article relates to how different people use (or don’t use) specific kinds of current communications technology. He prefers email and tends not to use those forms that demand, by their very nature, immediate response, multi-tasking, and constant availability (e.g., IM, Twitter, cell phones).
As I was reading his discussion (curled up in a hotel near Boston this evening for the ETS Eastern region meeting tomorrow morning) I realized that there are a lot of parallels with my reactions to and participation in some forms of ministry. I’m also an introvert. Like Kissel, I have no qualms about speaking to a large group, teaching (preferably in a very interactive setting), using technology, etc. Though I’ll not likely be described as “the life of the party,” I’m not phased by walking into a large group/meeting/party, etc. and participating. But (and as one well known NT scholar is prone to say, “it’s a very large BUT!”) there are other forms of ministry and interaction where I do not “fit.”
In one of my several contexts I am expected to participate in a “small group.” And yes, I know, small groups have been the rage in ministry for some time now. At least where I’ve been involved, the expectation is that everyone is supposed to “share” what they’ve discovered in the Word of late (the more recent the better), and then the rest of the group is supposed to chime in and contribute to the discussion of the text (usually a relatively short text, often bereft of its context) as to what it means and how it “applies.” In such settings I typically sit quietly and observe.
I’ve always thought that such discussions ought to be based on someone preparing and teaching, or of several (or all) studying a passage in advance. The spontaneous sharing of comments without previous thought and preparation has always bothered me. I had not thought of it in terms of personality before. I still cannot fathom how or why people would treat the text in what seems to me to be such a “cavalier” way (that’s perhaps my problem for lack of imagination!), but it certainly does fit that those who seem most excited about such forms of ministry are decidedly not introverts! I guess I need to cut them some slack—but on the other hand, I’d suggest that it is not wise or helpful to expect everyone to fit into the mold of a method shaped by the extroverts. I see nothing in Scripture that requires introverts to treat their personality as somehow deficient or sinful—in need of remediation.
Though I think the method ought to treat the text somewhat more seriously than it sometimes seems to do, it is perhaps useful so long as it is not presented as THE way to do “real ministry” and so long as those of us “methodological misfits” 🙂 are not pressured to become something we are not. And if you’re looking at this from the perspective of local church ministry as a pastor, don’t expect everyone in your congregation to flock to your small group/s. The lack of such a response says nothing about “how spiritual” they are. You need to provide multiple avenues of ministry to and for your people. Don’t force them to fit your mold—or the mold of a particular book or personality just because it is touted as THE answer to all your church’s problems.
If you’re excited by such methods, please don’t over-generalize what you like and find helpful as something that is required of everyone. There are other ways of encouraging and helping people to mature in their faith. You will not (indeed, cannot) find “small group ministry” in the NT—unless you go looking to find a prooftext for something you’ve already designed. That doesn’t mean the method is wrong, only that it is not a biblical mandate.