The perfect picture of a pastor cemented in many of our minds is the gregarious shepherd greeting the congregation at the back of the sanctuary after a well crafted and delivered sermon. The perfect pastor is full of smiles and laughter, even a consoling hug or two, and once the church is locked up and the congregation is gone he heads out on his afternoon rounds to the shut-ins. The perfect picture of a pastor is the picture of the true extrovert. Many pastors however find themselves exhausted after a morning of polite conversation, and as a result feel guilty for not measuring up to the standard of perfection we have in mind.
Introverted pastors arrive in ministry to discover that the very qualities that helped them excel in academic preparation for ministry are a hindrance to the practice of ministry. The social requirements of pastoral ministry can be draining for introverts, and the reflective, quiet, thoughtful strengths of the introvert are often dismissed as inactivity, or simply out of place in a world that values noise over content. Here are six practices that can help the introverted pastor remain energized and sane in such a world.
1. Minister in Your Strengths
The mistake many introverted pastors make is to minimize or forget the strengths they bring to ministry because they do not resemble the ideal extroverted pastor. We have found it important to embrace and celebrate the gifts we bring to ministry that are a natural part of our wiring as introverts. So live out your “silent ministries” such as listening and shoulder to shoulder care as you minister to your congregation. Living out these strengths will benefit you and your congregation, as you fulfill your call to minister.
2. Contemplative Practices
We have found great value in taking personal retreat days to pray, read, journal, reflect, and consider big-picture issues in ministry. Noise will follow you if it can. We use libraries (preferably in a different town), the homes of colleagues, or monasteries in order to escape the noise. Days away can be a great help in the regular cycle of ministry, but including these quiet reflective practices on a regular basis can help keep us energized for the daily grind of ministry.
3. Tolerate Others
Eric gets into the office very early, before everyone else is up and around. He does so to be alone and quiet, reflecting on the day to come and tasks at hand. His new secretary would come in a couple hours later and regularly ask if he was OK or if she had done something wrong or had made him upset. Eric explained that not talking to her when she first arrived wasn’t personal, but that he simply didn’t have any words to use and he was busy in his internal world. She has since relented in asking if everything is OK, and trying to fix Eric. Clear communication can help others know our silence isn’t personal and reminds us to use words—as exhausting as they are.
4. Solitary Recreation
Be it exercise, fishing, or yard work—allowing downtime alone is very important for introverts. Recreation that allows for stress relief and a retreat to our rich internal world of reflection and thought is ideal. A big mistake we’ve all made is inviting others to join us for recreation. The need to communicate to a fishing buddy can suck all the restorative quality out of recreation for an introvert. Recreating alone elevates a fun activity into valuable self-care.
5. Find Like-minded People
For introverts particularly, it can be a very lonely world. We have been wrongly labeled as not liking others, arrogant, stand-offish, flippant, loners, angry, boring, bookish, quiet, and any other title that describes the opposite of the self-assured, people loving extrovert popularized by media and society. Finding others of like-mind that will let you simply be yourself is essential. Ironically you may have to have an open conversation, even with your co-introverted buddy, giving yourselves both permission to be quiet, not use words and simply be with each other.
6. Stretch Yourself
No matter how unnatural it may feel there are times in ministry that we introverted pastors have to “fake it.” It is not that we are insincere, but we realize that “I’m just not wired that way” is not a valid excuse to not engage in the areas of ministry we find difficult. There are times when we must force ourselves to communicate verbally when our tendency would be to remain quiet. We have to allow God to stretch us in healthy ways as we seek to be effective in reaching a church that sometimes requires us to reach out when we would rather stay still.
Eric Askren is chaplain at Coyote Ridge Correctional Facility in Connell, WA. Eric and his wife, Kim, make their home in Othello, WA with their two daughters.
Kory Heal is pastor of the Cheney Church of the Nazarene in Cheney, WA. Kory and his wife, Rhonda, have three boys, and are in the process of adopting two young children from Haiti.
Paul Clark is pastor of the Church of the Nazarene in Connell, WA. Paul and his wife, Alyssa, have one little girl.
This piece came out of the colaboration of these three introverted pastors. They gather monthly for mutual edification over breakfast. Their meals together are filled with long silences, which, as only true introverts may understand, are never awkward. See more articles from our feed on Church Leadership.
Note from the editor: one line has been changed in order to reflect a better reading of the advice.