In my ninth-grade P.E. class, we wrote down positive attributes for each of our classmates. My teacher assigned two of us—me and one other student—to compile the responses. Combing through the answers, I was surprised to find some people described as “shy.” I chose to leave it off.
I am an introvert, but I hate the word shy. Honestly, I am not even sure I like the way “quiet” is often used. Both tend to have pejorative meanings in American society. Our culture tends to worship the extroverted ideal, doesn’t it?
In Susan Cain’s bestseller, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, she emphasizes how the rise of the “culture of personality” intensified bias toward extroverts.
“When they embraced the culture of personality, Americans started to focus on how others perceived them. They became captivated by people who were bold and entertaining,” writes Cain.
This bias isn’t limited toward those outside of the church. In his book, Introverts in the Church, Adam S. McHugh writes, “Introverts have gifts for the church and the world. But many churches are extroverted places where introverts are marginalized.”
One concern McHugh mentions is that often “extroversion gets to be defined by what it is, but introversion is too often defined by what it isn’t.” In other words, extroverts tend to be characterized by what they have and introverts by what they lack.
While there is certainly room to improve on our weaknesses (i.e. “what we lack”), this shouldn’t be done at the expense of minimizing our strengths. Percentages vary depending on the study, but somewhere between 1/3 to 1/2 of Americans are introverts. If we only look at what introverts lack, we run the risk of missing the strengths of almost half of our fellow Americans.
This holds true in all areas of life, including parenting. If we hold up being a more extroverted parent as the ideal, we do ourselves a disservice. We need all types of parents, and this includes the introverts and the extroverts.
The traits of extroversion and introversion are best thought of as a continuum (you may have heard the term ambivert…essentially a person in the middle who is equal parts extroversion and introversion). So, what is true of one introvert may not necessarily be true of every introvert. Also, some of the strengths of introverts may also at times be seen in some extroverts. Yet, despite this wide range, there still tends to be traits commonly associated with introversion.
So, what strengths do introverted parents typically bring to the table?
Introverts excel in creative thinking. Many of the most gifted musicians, writers, architects, web designers, and scientists have been introverts. We owe the theory of gravity to an introvert and the story of Peter Pan, once again to an introvert.
When it comes to our faith, creativity is again an essential. Studies done by Pew Research show that those with no religious affiliation now make up 23% of Americans. An additional 19% consider themselves “former Christians.” Combined, that’s 42% of Americans!
Does the church need creative people to help it rethink its strategy for reaching this group? Absolutely. Introverted parents can help lead the way as they encourage creativity or creative problem solving in their own families.
Introverts excel in building long term relationships. Whereas extroverts are often touted as experts in striking up conversations with anyone and everyone, introverts thrive on developing deep relationships over time.
When it comes to sharing our faith, an extrovert may find it easier to start a conversation with an acquaintance or stranger. Not everyone, however, is open to hearing the gospel right away. Some, especially those with deep wounds from the church, will not listen to any religious idea until a deep, relationship has first been established. They require patience, time, and a listening ear. Some of the most difficult people to reach are best reached by introverts.
If you are an introverted parent, you can excel at teaching your children (whether they are introverted or extroverted) the value of investing in a few key relationships even if they require more time and effort.
Introverts are well prepared. Introverts are not always good at thinking on their feet, but to compensate they make sure they are well prepared.
This will serve them well in many areas of life, but I’ve noticed that introverts are often well suited for one-on-one conversations with those who have difficult questions about Christianity.
To that end, some introverts spend a lot of time studying perplexing questions or theological conundrums posed by unbelievers. At the very least, if they don’t know the answer, they simply say “I don’t know. Let me think about that and get back with you.” And they do! If they don’t know the answer to a question, they will find out and return with an answer at a later time.
Be a parent who is willing to listen to your children’s perplexing questions about life (or maybe even those of their friends) and respond with wisdom.
Introverts are keen observers. Sometimes introverts hold back in new situations, but it is not because they are necessarily shy—there modus operandi tends to be: first observe, then interact.
If you ever want an accurate synopsis of a situation or a culture, your best bet may be to ask an introvert. They are often intuitive and know exactly what’s going on around them. These are the people watchers among you. Their observation skills tell them what’s going on and what is needed.
Sometimes, they are the first ones who notice a new person standing awkwardly in the corner of your church foyer. And, though introverts may not feel as comfortable walking up to a stranger on the street, they will often take a welcome basket to a new neighbor or offer to fix a neighbor’s broken fence they noticed on a walk. Their observations lead them to act strategically.
Use this skill to benefit your family by telling each other what you’ve observed and working together to help others who may need some encouragement.
Introverts think before they speak and choose their words carefully. Whereas an extrovert tends to think best out loud, introverts tend to think best inside their heads. Thinking out loud is a great thing when it makes an extrovert seem more authentic or approachable. But sometimes it backfires. There is a reason that the epistle of James says, “let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak” (1:19) as well as talks about the dangers of the tongue (Ch. 3).
Because introverts think (and usually observe) first, their words are often filled with timely wisdom apropos to each situation. When an introvert opens his mouth, make sure to listen carefully—it’s almost always important.
Be a parent that encourages your children to think carefully about the words they use.
As one proverb says, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver” (Proverbs 25:11).
The bottom line: We need the strengths of both extroverted and introverted parents. When we focus on the strengths each personality brings to the table, we will be better equipped to minister to all types of people.
Note: This article is adapted from a post originally written by Sarah for evantell.org