I’m one of those introverts who has learned to put on the vestment of extroversion in ministry situations, mainly because it’s difficult to lead in a community from your chair in the corner. So at church, I will greet the newcomers, run through the list of questions I keep in my back pocket, make small talk. But I confess, it’s exhausting. I feel so much more at home sitting one-on-one with someone in a pastoral relationship, talking over things that matter over coffee, than I do in a room full of people chit-chatting.
It’s even harder outside of those ministry spaces where I’m deprived of my standard conversational crutches (“How did you hear about this church? Are you new in town? How’s that thing we’ve been praying for?”). One neighbor finally decided to come to church with us one week, at my extroverted wife’s invitation, of course. And after hearing me preach she remarked, “I have never seen that Bob!” We had been neighbors for five years.
Coffee Shop Guilt
I recognize that this isn’t ideal. Theologically I know I should always be looking out for those opportunities to do good for others, to offer friendship and compassion, to see Jesus in others and be Jesus to others. But often, when I see people conversing easily at the store or the coffee shop, especially those who are chatting others up in line with ease, or striking up an impromptu conversation with someone at the next table over, I’m filled with both awe and no small amount of shame.
I have friends who tell stories of getting to know their waiters, their mail carriers, their baristas, and over time, seeing those folks come to faith, and I have often wondered, “Why can’t I do that? Why must I hide within such a personal bubble all the time when I’m out in public?”
But I have come to realize that I do not have to move someone from non-believer to follower of Jesus in one conversation across the space between two tables at Starbucks. I am, however, ever-committed to the invitational and relational nature of the Kingdom of God. The God who invites us in wants to see that same invitational, relational heart formed in us, to the point where we long to see the Kingdom opened in the lives of all of those around us through lines of relationship. I have come to realize that I do not have to move someone from non-believer to follower of Jesus in one conversation across the space between two tables at Starbucks. Click To Tweet
Here are a few ideas for how even introverts can lean into the mission of God in those spaces we find most intimidating.
Find Something That Will Do the Heavy Lifting for You.
I’m always looking for a way to make interactions more do-able for myself when I’m out and about. Luckily, I’ve found one such (non-alcoholic) social lubricant I need, and his name is Bentley.
Bentley is our three-year-old golden retriever, and he’s never met a stranger. His friendship is aggressive and his love prodigious. He’ll accost random strangers with wags, sniffs, and that glorious golden retriever smile. Few people are able to resist stopping and petting him, and telling him what a handsome boy he is.
And while many people like to talk to Bentley, the funny thing is that they often end up talking to me, too.
My wife and I were at a community concert in the park this summer. For the first half, we sat on our blanket, listening to music, in our own little space. Then we noticed how many other dogs were present, so I decided to run home and grab Bentley.
The concert experience was completely different AB (“After Bentley”) than before. Now, suddenly, there was a constant stream of people approaching and talking to us, using Bentley as an excuse, but clearly just happy to connect.
You don’t have to be a “dog person” to have the same experience. There are other things you can do that will open people up to you and give you a chance to connect. When our kids were younger, taking them to the park to play was a sure-fire way to attract others with similarly-aged kids who wanted to converse. Babies are literally magnetic, drawing people from across rooms or the next park bench over to take a look and ask questions. Small children enjoying the playground while mom or dad sits on a bench nearby conveys an invitation to others in a similar stage of life to sit awhile, share, and commiserate.
Maybe you have a hobby, such as knitting? Just sit outside or in a coffee shop somewhere and watch as fellow knitters perk up and notice, then wander by, and eventually strike up a conversation about knitting. Tinkering with a drone, carving a piece of wood, doing cross stitch, reading the latest best-seller that has people talking…it almost doesn’t matter what the activity is. If you can take those solitary endeavors you love so much to a park bench or café table, the activity itself will do the heavy lifting for you and draw people in. It almost doesn’t matter what the activity is. If you can take those solitary endeavors you love so much to a park bench or café table, the activity itself will do the heavy lifting for you and draw people in. Click To Tweet
Leverage Your Introversion
So, what do you do when someone does initiate a conversation? As it turns out, introverts are good at are listening and observation.
What if we began to think about being out in public spaces, on mission for God, not so much as looking for opportunities to talk about Jesus (terrifying!), but as simply looking for those chances to listen for Jesus? What if we began to think about being out in public spaces, on mission for God, as not so much looking for opportunities to talk about Jesus (terrifying!), but simply looking for those chances to listen for Jesus? Click To Tweet
The prospect of starting a conversation can be daunting, but the idea of just being available to listen? I can do that. And knowing that God is always at work in the lives of those around us, long before we even arrive on the scene, means that I don’t have to find a way to work Jesus into a conversation. It just means I have to be attentive to the places he’s already showing up in other people’s lives.
What struck me most that night in the park with Bentley was how many people volunteered to talk about some of the hardest parts of their lives. It’s almost as though the presence of a dog opened up an emotional doorway for them to talk not just about how much they loved and enjoyed their dog, but about other joys and pains as well.
We listened to the woman whose Down syndrome daughter really wanted to pet Bentley and learned something about the joys and hardships of parenting such a special person. We listened to the man who was the caretaker for his granddaughter (who wanted to pet Bentley), and learned all about his life, his family, how he had come to be guardian for his granddaughter, and of course, his dog.
I know I still have to take advantage of the opportunities God gives me when I’m out and about. I still have to be courageous enough to ask good questions, listen well, and be observant for the places where God is at work in someone’s life. And then take the hardest, scariest step of being willing to share those observations. “Wow—it sounds like God is really giving you an opportunity to practice patience there!” or “I went through something similar a few years ago—I never would have made it without knowing God was with me through the whole experience.”
I used to wish I could be more extroverted in public. Now I’m learning that God has made me the way I am for a reason, that he can use the unique gifts we introverts have. More and more, I’m realizing that walking my dog, being with my kids, or reading on a bench provide opportunities to listen and have conversations, rather than seeing those conversations as an inconvenience to my walk or whatever else I may be doing at the time.
What ways have you found, as an introvert, to make yourself available to others and to God as you move through life in an extroverted world?