I’m an introvert by temperament. According to the well-worn (at least among seminary types) personality inventory, that means I find energy in being alone. Interacting with other people, on the other hand, sucks energy from me.
Being an introvert, on this account of personality types, does not necessarily equate to shyness. Shyness has to do with feelings of awkwardness around other people, while introversion has to do with one’s temperamental preference for the inner-world.
But I’m shy, too. My default response to new situations and new people is awkwardness.
Being introverted and shy, as you might imagine, is a difficult combination when it comes to my line of work. Ministry requires me to be around people more than I would normally choose, if the choice depended upon my natural inclinations. In fact, in seminary the Pastoral Care professor who reviewed my Meyers-Briggs type said, “Derek, less than one percent of ministers have your personality type. So, if you want to go through with this, you have to be aware that ministry is always going to be difficult for you.” Because, you know, people.
In the past I used to harbor a secret pride that I was bucking the odds. I liked the idea that somehow my willingness to stare down my own disposition was a kind of heroic vocational quest. Now, I tend to see it more like I see eye color or mouth-breathing—there’s no praise or blame attached to it; it’s just something you deal with or you don’t.
To survive as a minister, I’ve had to figure out how to be outgoing, how to appear extroverted. Over the years I’ve been able to muddle through passably well enough that people often act surprised when they find out about my shyness.
But the truth of it is, I’ve been faking it. I’ve done it long enough that sometimes it even feels natural. When it comes right down to it, I don’t really have a choice. Well, I guess I could choose not to be a minister, but short of that, I’ve got no choice but to figure out how to interact with people.
So I fake it.
That sounds bad. I don’t mean I fake ministering to people, or that I fake liking people. My big secret: I fake not being shy. I have to.
And you know what? Most of the time I can make that work—and not just so that I can have a modicum of job security. I fake being confident because leadership requires that you at least look like you know what you’re doing. And, it turns out, sometimes I do … look like I know what I’m doing.
Fake it till you make it. It’s a slogan sometimes associated with the recovery movement. If you’re an addict, part of the pathology that besets your life is chaos. You feel like you have no control. Essential to recovery is wresting control from the clutches of addiction. How do you do that?
You start working the steps, doing the things that people in recovery do—before you ever understand them, before you ever feel confident about your ability to pull if off. It’s easier, in other words, to act your way into a new way of thinking than to think your way into a new way of acting.
You’ve got to fake it till you make it.
But this sort of insecurity is not a phenomenon known only to individuals; it can also happen corporately.1 Congregations in decline, for instance, may not describe themselves as shy, but they almost always share the same awkwardness around new people. You know what I’m talking about, right?
“Welcome to First Christian Church of Misery, Oklahoma! We’re sure glad you could be with us. We haven’t had a visitor since that lady slipped out of the nursing home and came to church in a flannel nightgown that matched the curtains in the JOY class. She sat on the front row, and kept falling asleep. Boy howdy, that was something. Anyway, welcome to church! Do you want to join?”
The problem, though, is that awkwardness begets more awkwardness. People begin to see you in the way that you see yourself … unless you figure out how to fake it.
Churches in decline are going to have to learn how to project confidence, even though the matter of their awkwardness leaves them feeling inadequate and unlovable.
A few helpful hints:
- Relax. Take a deep breath. Remember: This is God’s church, not yours.
- Take an inventory of things you love about your congregation. Focus first on strengthening those things, instead of overhauling all the crappy stuff. Addressing structural problems is always best done from a position of relative strength.
- Try to act glad to see new people. If you find visitors to be an inconvenience to your otherwise cozy ecclesiastical arrangement, do us all a favor and put a sign out front indicating your lack of interest in living much longer.
- Be warm to new people, but don’t try to be best friends or to get them to sing in the choir promptly following introductions. Quit appearing so needy.
- Quit talking about how small you are. If I meet people and they immediately begin talking about what big noses they have, or their cousin Eddie who has a pet chicken, or the fact that they just had hemorrhoid surgery, I start looking for the nearest exit. People who’ve gotten up the courage to come to your church don’t want you to list all the reasons why they shouldn’t like you before they’ve finished their first cup of coffee.
Look, I know it’s not easy. But, if you fake it long enough, you may just wake up one day and find everything’s changed … even you.
- I’ve written about, what I take to be, the fact that declining congregations are like addicts: Crack Addiction and Church Transformation. ↩