I’ve been mulling over this idea since reading Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking . In the book, Cain discusses what she calls the Extrovert Ideal western countries, especially the United States have– valuing the characteristics of extroverted people above introverts. Her section on the extrovert ideal in religion struck a cord with me.
She recounts her day at Rick Warren’s mega-church campus, Saddleback. After speaking with a pastor, not employed at Saddleback, the author explains how the Evangelical mode of worship can be off putting to an introvert. Mega churches are exhausting to an introvert. Their pastors are motivational-speaker level enthusiastic, praise and worship is loud, bright and terrifying if they’ve got cameras in the audience threatening to put your face on a jumbo-tron for everyone to watch. Even more subdued churches like the one I grew up in can be intimidating.
Having now spent 6 or so years in the Catholo-sphere I can raise similar objections to the modern American Catholic church. Even in the Catholic mass which purports to encourage meditation and quiet reflection is constantly noisy. At the very least there is always a piano playing, often with vocal accompaniment, priests wear microphones so even his silent prayer is broadcasted to the pews in the back.
The pastor Susan Cain interviews is concerned that these outward signs of worship — lifting your hands, speaking in tongues etc — as well as church involvement — spending more nights at church than not, being involved in groups, studies, attending mixers and outreaches — are now seen as benchmarks for holiness. As though, not only fortune, but God himself favors the bold. It seems, the pastor suggests, that Evangelical churches are embracing this extrovert ideal and associating it, not only with worldly success, but to your holiness and indeed your salvation.
The pastor Cain interviewed was not nearly as jaded as I may make him sound. He is happily working at a church near Saddleback, completely at peace with God and Evangelicalism. He took it upon himself to open venues for introverts in his church — calmer praise and worship, low intensity\small volume Bible studies etc. But his statement that the ideal, holy American Christian is an extrovert, started me thinking: is that true?
Protestantism and especially Evangelicalism emphasizes your personal relationship with God over your actions. Congregations are constantly directed to spend silent time in prayer seeking God and His guidance. How can a church who extols the virtues of an intimate, private relationship with God also value loud, brash, attention seeking extroversion?
To answer this, I thought back on my experience and learning growing up. What does the ideal Christian look like? Who is that person we all ought to inspire to to be like? A few introverted characteristics came to mind — daily prayer and reflection, modest, meek, giving and nurturing. But the answer I couldn’t get away from was: a foreign missionary. Someone who abandons all familial ties, strikes out on their own to an uncharted, pagan land to learn their ways, teach them Christ and win their hearts.
I think Susan Cain would argue that if an introvert believes strongly enough in something, they will act in brash, extroverted ways. But this idea of being a foreign missionary is largely appealing to someone with an extroverted personality. That charismatic, go-getter who finds themselves at ease in most situations and with most people. An introverted person thrives on close relationships, familiar surroundings and respite — not things to be expected living in deepest darkest mission field. But still this seems to be the ideal, what children are raised to aspire to be and adults to give selflessly to support.
Apparently I wasn’t the only person to notice this glorification of the foreign missionaries. Hope Henchey wrote an article titled Youth Ministry’s Family Blind Spot in which she describes the difficulty she and her husband experienced in their young adults youth group. The Henchey’s married and started a family young. They were disheartened to discover their age group being encouraged to actively pursue the foreign mission field rather than support families in their own church. In her article, Henchey describes how the youth group was geared with the expectation that the members would at some point or another find themselves on the mission field. Indeed they worked to raise money for short trips around the world. What Hope noticed was that at no point was the group taught about the virtues they would need to be married or to be parents. Despite the fact that most of them would end up settled down, married and raising families, the church group educated them as missionaries. It would seem this group also believes that the ideal Christian life is one that is lived on foreign soil and not in the trenches of domestic life.
Why do we believe a good Christian life must be one of excitement and adventure over routine and contemplation? Where is the place for a quiet introvert in our churches? Are we doomed to feel less holy or failures for giving into our desire to remain at home and raise families? Is our life in a Judeo-Christian society so boring that we seek out persecution? Boring ‘ole Thomas Aquinas is just as much a saint as Ignatius of Antioch.