Introverts for Jesus: Surviving the Extrovert Mission Field

by Anisha Hopkinson on February 9, 2016

introverts

I am a classic introvert.

Being around a lot of people I don’t know totally drains me. I need substantial daily doses of quiet in order to survive. I’m introspective. I learn best through observation. I am friendly, but I hate small talk. If I had my way small talk would be forever eradicated in favor of deep talk. So what if I just met you? I don’t want to talk about the weather. What I’d really like is to say is, Hi, I’m Anisha. Tell me about your most rewarding and most regretful life experiences, and what you learned from them.

I used to think schmoozey business meetings were my own personal version of hell, but then I became a missionary and realized it’s actually evangelism.

Don’t misunderstand, I really love people. I do. It’s the whole reason I signed up for this missions life – I want to see the whole world set free to live whole, healed, thriving lives.

But I can’t do this in the typical extroverted missionary fashion. If I’m going to survive I’ve learned I need to…

Embrace who I am. I could pray (heck, I have prayed) that God would make me an extrovert, “Lord, change me and make me bold!” and all that, or I could embrace who God actually made me to be. Now, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of change or boldness, but I’ve learned that while I’m busy agonizing and feeling ashamed over who I’m not God is right there waiting and wanting to use who I am.

Get concentrated. Instead of trying to gather and manage a large circle of people to minister to, I do much better if I focus on developing deep and meaningful relationships with a handful. I can be friendly with a lot of people, but I don’t need to force myself to try to have lots of actual friendships. 3 or 4 committed, deep relationships are about my limit. I do much better privately mentoring a few rather than publically preaching before many.

Start and build relationships in ways that fill my emotional tank. I used to do street evangelism, but that level of unmitigated shallow social engagement only leaves me angry and depressed by the end of the day. Instead, I can spend an afternoon one on one in my kitchen baking cookies with a teenager and having deep and honest conversations about God, school, and that boy she’s interested in. Crafts and photography (It’s not fancy. I use my phone camera) are other good options. I don’t have to do evangelism to engage with people. It is completely possible to meet and build relationships in ways that I actually enjoy and won’t totally and immediately tap me out.

Pick team/missions community jobs that have a built in escape. I’m a better host and cook than a facilitator. Being the host allows me to serve the people around me, but also provides me with an escape. I can break away to clean the dishes or re-fill the kettle for hot water, rather than having to stay in the middle of a large group initiating chit chat or directing conversation topics.

Use my talents. As people who generally try to avoid the center of attention, introverts are usually naturally good listeners. We also tend to do well working independently. For me, writing is my most enjoyable independent work. Combined with a love for people and meaningful conversations, my ministry project became writing life stories. It turns out, people want to be heard and understood. Writing someone’s story is a direct route to the heart. Introverts bring valuable talents to the mission field that may fall outside of normal or expected missions activities, and so extends the reach of ministry.

Schedule regular alone time. It’s no secret – introverts find a lot of social interaction very draining. And missions in general just seems to come with a boat load of social expectations. I can do the extrovert stuff as long as I have sufficient time to nourish my introvert self. Needing time alone isn’t selfish; it keeps me joyfully serving. No matter what, I’m going to need a good chunk of alone time most days. So I plan for this and try to make sure I have time after lunch every day to just chill. As much as possible, I avoid planning activities during this time and send my son to his room for “quiet time”. It doesn’t always work out, and there have been weeks that pass without any down time, but I know that I need it and will quickly flake out without it. Including quiet time as a scheduled part of my day helps to keep it a priority.

There you have it – how I survive as an introvert on the mission field. I’m certainly not your typical extrovert missionary, but thankfully I don’t have to try to be. God uses introverts too.

 

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About Anisha Hopkinson

Anisha was born to Chilean and Texan parents, first tasted missions in Mexico, fell in love with an Englishman in Africa, and now lives in Indonesia. She journals about cross-cultural life, helping people, and loving Jesus on www.namasayamommy.blogspot.com
  • Jennifer

    This makes so much sense to me. Thank you for this! I thought I was the only one who couldn’t handle the typical ministry load. I’ve been trying to find ways to minister to people on a more personal level, and I have struggled a lot with feeling like an inefficient, ineffective missionary. This was a life-giving article.

    • Anisha Hopkinson

      I’m so glad you are encouraged and I very much understand the inefficient/ineffective feelings. Kick them to the curb! Because the truth is that sometimes (maybe even most times) the typical ministry programs are a mile wide and an inch deep. God wired us to crave more of the deep and it’s so needed in missions/ministry! I hope you are able find a way to connect with the people around you.

  • I’m right there with you. But older. So much of what you write I wish I’d realized in my teens and twenties! How often I wondered what was wrong with me, with my walk with Jesus, that I simply could not…well, stay with the sort of things you mention. Large conferences, retreats, camps; what so many call evangelism; social occasions on the cocktail-party model (with or without the cocktails)–all those ways of “connecting” with people for the glory of Christ. I want to mention a couple of reads that I assume you know, but if you don’t, you will love them. First, Quiet: The power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain. Wonderful book, and you can get a taste from her TED talk. Second, Introverts in the Church: Find our Place in an Extroverted Culture, by Adam McHugh. Less powerful than Quiet, but specifically relevant to the evangelical church.

    • Anisha Hopkinson

      Wonderful! Thank you so much for sharing the books. I have Susan Cain’s book on my reading list but haven’t started it yet. I’ll look for the second book too.

  • Martha Wagar Wright

    Many of these recommendations are just as beneficial to more extroverted people as well, I think. They may be overall very good ways of interacting in general for many people – including those we live among, who likewise aren’t all necessarily extroverted! Thanks for sharing these thoughts. We can all try to make the effort to accommodate others.

    • Anisha Hopkinson

      Yes! My extrovert husband and I often meet in the middle on much of the things I wrote about from my introvert perspective. We are just coming at it from different ends of the spectrum. Love that you pointed out considering the people we live among too!

  • Ruthie

    Thank you, Anisha, for a great explanation of how we introvert missionaries are wired and what are our strengths are and can be to our teams and fields. Last week I helped out with a youth camp and though I definitely didn’t want to be the administrator, I so enjoyed supporting my friend in that role, and helping out with some of the behind-the-scenes work. We realized we made a great team!

    • Anisha Hopkinson

      I love this. Glad you were able to find your fit!

  • Love this! As an introvert who is often misunderstood for being an extrovert (and/or pressured toward that direction) I appreciate your words giving me permission to be me. 😉

    • Anisha Hopkinson

      Glad you are encouraged! I’m often confused for an extrovert too 🙂

    • Debra

      Me too!

  • brooke

    thanks! I just finished 3 weeks around people in meetings and hosting teams. I am exhausted. Some of the time was vacation, but little was alone time. The first day home, I didn’t answer my door or phone. I needed to be alone.

    • Anisha Hopkinson

      Haha YES! I do the same after an intense time of lots and lots of people and very little quiet.

  • Bruce

    Really liked your thoughts. I still am not sure if I’m really an intro or an extrovert. I enjoy making my living as an opera singer on the stage, which seems very extroverted, but I do identify with lots of your introvert challenges and needs. Anyway, thanks for your article.

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  • Amanda Geaney

    Halfway through my overseas mission trip to Bulgaria, I had to explain to the team leader that I needed to skip breakfast with the team for a little alone time. It was tough to go from living on the farm where I’m my only company during the day to being with the team from 7am-10 or 11 pm.

  • Christa

    I really liked what your wrote and wend through a similar time as well. I tried open door policies, street evangelism, even the talking to ten new people a day in language learning all left me feeling like a failure because I just couldn’t do it or at least do it well.

  • Jane Kramer

    So very very true..Thank you. I’ve learned to be more in balance as i’ve grown into my 75 years but I still CRAVE those alone times and find too many people for too long draining. My motto: Be Still and Know – rich, rich time with my Abba

  • Courtney

    Something seems to have malfunctioned with the page. I can only see the first paragraph – I assume there must be more. I’d love to be able to read the full text!

    • Anisha Hopkinson

      Weird. We’ll try to get it sorted. Thanks for letting us know!

  • mmegginson

    Anisha, thank you for sharing your thoughts with us. It really is difficult being an introvert in an extroverted world of missions and ministry. But what you said is so true, that God made us this way, and who are we to argue with God. This is not good grammar, but “God don’t make no junk!” On the mission field now for the first time, I am discovering more time to just be still and work on being instead of doing. I love it! I hope you can do the same! May the blessings of quiet and solitude be yours today!

  • Phil

    Thank you. This is a subject that has pestered me my whole life (and most likely will continue to do so). Introverts are typically treated like half-people and not given the same opportunities as extroverts. That treatment really wears into the fibers of our self-perception and worth. I am so mega an introvert it’s not even funny. While I have embraced this and refuse to try to be someone I’m not, it is still difficult to find my place in ministry in spite of what seems to be a very clear life-long calling. As I took a walk yesterday evening, the thought occurred similar to your prayer to become an extrovert. That tension will always exist because the extroverts always get the best “gigs.” I so envy what they get to do, and it seems like none of them envy what I can do. Oh well, I have to believe God knows all this and will still use me anyway. The whole thing about listening and observation is KEY, no HUGE. It is a humongous strength we introverts have, and we should rejoice in it. Also, the whole depth with few relationships instead of machine-gun approach – yup! That’s us. I think any introvert will bond with your statements and even chuckle at how true they are. Great tips.

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  • Rachel Hibberd

    I related to this post so well! Very helpful, thank you!

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