Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Struggling to be a "people person" and true to myself

This evening, for my last post of August, I was going to post something rather lengthy about what it means to be an introvert in ministry. This post was going to be based on a great article by Adam McHugh and my own experience. In fact, a paraphrased version of the subtitle of McHugh's article, Even if you struggle to be a "people person": you have much to offer the church, is the title of this post. It was the subtitle that made me decide to read it because, for most of this year, I have been hard-pressed to see what I bring to the ministry, something that has become more, not less, acute over the past month or so. The last time I experienced this was, like McHugh, before I was ordained, almost bailing out during my last year of formation. Sadly, circumstances got in the way of the brilliance I had planned. So, to quote Sir Elton, "my gift is my song..." One thing I want to draw attention to, something McHugh does not mention directly in his article, is that being introverted does not necessarily mean being shy. I am an introvert, but I am not shy. Given a choice, I would most often choose to be alone.

The good news is I will spare both of my readers a lengthier discourse and cut to the chase, which is why my plans to post something longer, better written and better thought out. "Calling belongs to God, and it is the foundational reason why introverts venture into Christian leadership," McHugh writes. What sustains an introvert in ministry is his/her "sense of vocation," understanding that it was God who, for whatever reason, called us, we did not assume the calling ourselves. So, we have to learn not just how to survive in ministry, but to thrive. McHugh suggests that this is done "through self-care," the practice of the spiritual disciplines, and "thoughtfulness about how we expend our energy, and a healthy perspective on our role in the ministry of the church."

McHugh is correct to assert that most often introverts have a leg-up when it comes to the practice of the spiritual disciplines, "such as prayer, writing, biblical meditation and fasting." What challenged me was this, for an introvert in ministry, "self-care must also move in an outward direction" because "there is clarity that comes from speaking out loud." Being Christian is inherently communal, God, who is a Trinity of persons, not a community, but a communio, "never intended for even the most introverted person to live life without connecting to others." Indeed, always being alone "is never an indicator of spiritual health." Hence, we need "to surround ourselves with a small group of trusted people who are able to show us our blind spots and receive us without judgment." It's this last part I find most important because, for me, the most excruciating aspect of being a minister is always being judged and always judging myself. "How was the homily?"- "How did the class go?"- etc. For me this leads to a great temptation to be cynical.

I was gratified to know that, as I mentioned on Saturday, I am ahead of the story in one regard, learning to monitor my energy levels, learning "how to save and restore" my energy." Because if I want to last in the ministry and have joy in it, as well as in my personal life, I have to be "thoughtful about scheduling" and very discerning about how I spend the time and energy I invest in ministry, both for my own good and the good of those I am called and ordained to serve. McHugh states that for "an introverted leader, the magic word may not be 'please;' it may be 'no.'"

I believe most introverts are sensitive people, too. This brings to mind something a fellow deacon told me a long time ago, "In ministry some people are just going to dislike you." Yes, indeed! My prayer these past days, when I have not been whispering Memorarés, has been, "Jesus, help me stay in front of these circumstances because I know my path to destiny is not over or around them, but through them." In other words, a feeble effort to practice what I preached. Good thing I am the work of Another.

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