I’ve accepted the fact that I will never fit the image of the ideal evangelical Christian woman. She is popular, and you’ll see her lingering to chat with everyone after Sunday church services, hosting ladies’ teas, leading prayer groups and women’s retreats, mentoring the youth group, and running Vacation Bible School. She has lots of “girl friends” and regularly goes on “girls’ nights out.” Her home is always open, with a stream of people dropping by for coffee, play dates, Thirty-One parties, and Bible studies.
There is nothing wrong with the ideal church woman. She is a devoted Christian, a kind person, and a good friend. But her life exhausts me. She is an extrovert who feels energized when she spends time around people. I’m an introvert. I’m not shy or socially awkward – at least I try not to be – but I do feel energized by spending time away from crowds. I need time alone, or with only my close family, to recharge and reflect. Introverted women just tend to keep more to themselves, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Introversion has become a popular topic, thanks to books like Susan Cain’s Quiet and Adam McHugh’s Introverts in the Church. But while there is more awareness among general society about introversion, much of evangelical church culture still glorifies extrovert behavior.
First, there is a focus on the social within many evangelical churches. On Sunday mornings (and often Sunday and Wednesday evenings) there are welcome centers, greeters, greeting time, public decisions, group prayer, Sunday school, coffee hours, and children’s ministries. During the rest of the week, there are Bible studies, choir practice, support groups, softball games, committee meetings, and youth group events. There are special events like retreats, Bible trivia nights, Vacation Bible School, potluck dinners, and holiday music and drama performances.
Even small groups, which are more introvert friendly, often meet on weekday evenings, after many introverts have potentially been socially engaged all day at work.
There is also a focus on the social outside the church. As the name suggests, our churches are evangelistic and seek to spread the Gospel. That has often come to mean on-the-spot street evangelism, stranger evangelism, or offering counsel and praying aloud with strangers. Many of these practices involve small talk and confrontation – two things introverts can be bad at.
That’s not to say that evangelical churches should curtail extroverted opportunities. The church advances the Gospel best when there is balance and respect for all personality types. My closest Christian female friend is an extrovert who works part time for her church. I appreciate how we never run out of things to talk about. She is friendly to unfamiliar moms we meet when we take our kids to the mall play area, loves a good cup of hot tea as much as I do, and has many ideas for drawing young people to the church.
Here’s something we should remember in our eagerness to hold up extroverted women as the most ideal: the greatest example of a godly woman the Bible gives is not a woman who necessarily is involved in every religious program. Rather, the wife of great value in Proverbs 31 is focused on work at home. Some of her undertakings have a social element, like caring for the poor, but most of the passage addresses home management and domestic production. She feeds her household, buys a field, plants a vineyard, and makes clothing for her family to wear and to sell. Her focus is first on the Lord, then her husband, her children and dependent servants, and the needy.
Again, this is not to say that extroverted activities don’t have a place in the Christian life; it’s just a reminder that introverted activities also do.
For years, I tried to live up to the extroverted ideal. When I met my introverted husband, I learned it was okay to be different and say no. Our family doesn’t attend every church event. We guard our time together in the evenings, when my husband needs to recharge after a day teaching high school students, and when my grade-school-aged daughter needs time to be a kid and enjoy unstructured play. That means we are absent from the weekly Wednesday prayer service. We don’t feel compelled to attend men’s or women’s retreats (too much interaction and very little down time). We say no to some large church events.
I’ve never joined the popular Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS). I participated for a year in a multi-church women’s Bible study group that meets on weekday mornings, but I’m currently a mom without an official “church women” social group.
I have a small number of close Christian friends. We arrange playdates with our kids, meet up at local parks, share plants from our gardens, and make homemade applesauce every fall.
I also find fulfillment in the quiet way I support my family, reading Bible stories with my young daughters at breakfast, praying with them at bedtime, and praying with my husband every night. Our girls see me serve behind the scenes as I volunteer in the church preschool class on Sunday mornings, cook and deliver meals to churchgoers recovering from surgeries, prepare a dessert for a funeral lunch, or donate to the food pantry or our church’s twice-yearly clothing giveaways.
On evenings when others may be engaged in a corporate prayer meeting, my husband and I talk with our daughters during non-rushed dinners at home about salvation and baptism. We recently counseled our oldest daughter when she admitted tearfully that it’s hard to believe in God when she can’t see Him. We talk about deep things, and we like to allow time for reflection.
Along the way, I’ve come to realize that people who are less visibly involved in church are not necessarily less faithful. Here’s my advice to my extroverted evangelical sisters: Love the introverts in your church. Worship with them. Sit next to them during Bible study. Pray for them. Be friends with them. And when they seek a little bit of space, don’t take it personally. They still love Jesus. They appreciate their church community. And they’ll be back.
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Tags: Christian women