How to minister as an introvert - without burning out
Relationships transform lives. People with people. Iron sharpening iron. I'm convinced of this truth, and I've dedicated my life to seeing lives - especially the lives of the vulnerable and poor - transformed through relationship.
For the past fifteen years, I've lived in vibrant slums and inner cities, places overflowing with life and people. We established an intentional Christian community in inner city Vancouver, living together with a dozen people and practicing radical hospitality by inviting our homeless neighbors to join us for dinner almost every night.
Our motto was "Cook too much food. Invite too many people."
In our current home - nestled in a crowded little Phnom Penh slum - there are probably 100 people within a few meters of me at any one time.
In the past, I would lament and complain about how God wired me - a cringing introvert.
But over the years, I've come to see that being an introvert is a gift, even in the ministry of radical hospitality. Deep thinkers, thoughtful readers, folks with a quiet presence - are all desperately needed in the world - and especially in ministry.
We are the introverts - sitting quietly in a corner near you!
As I've grown more comfortable in my own skin, I've picked up a few strategies to make sure my life and ministry is sustainable. No - I don't need to move out of the slum, into a hermitage somewhere in the woods. There are better ways to remain engaged, while taking care of my need for solitude.
Here are my top 3 tips for thriving as an introvert, even in the midst of a needy crowd.
1. Establish RHYTHMS of engagement and withdrawal
The kids in my slum know that when Uncle Craig pulls up on his motorbike in the late afternoon, they will be welcomed inside the house to play. I lie on the hammock in my living room and the neighborhood children make Lego creations, dance around wildly and alternate between laughing and fighting. Sometimes these shenanigans continue for hours, other times I kick them out after 10 minutes.
But I can do this because I have periods of solitude and quiet at other times during the day. And a weekly rhythm that includes a quiet Sabbath and occasional holidays (Holy-days).
Selfishly speaking, I personally need these times of engagement with the neighbors - for my own growth and learning, for the way God speaks to me through them, and because they take me outside my comfort zone.
And equally, I need times of prayer and quiet to replenish my soul and gather my thoughts.
Jesus knew and practiced these things (Lk 5:16). So, over time I've developed a set of daily rituals of Engagement and Withdrawal that mirror some of how Jesus lived, and still suit my own energy levels and capacity for relationship. I try to approach each of these moments mindful of God's presence and open to what He wants to do or say.
2. Establish PLACES of privacy and rest
You have heard it said, "A man's home is his castle." but I say to you, "A man's home is his place of hospitality. His bedroom is his sanctuary."
I'm a little cautious about the common cultural practice of maintaining our homes as a "No-Go Zone" except for friends and family. I have experienced the beauty in other cultures of practicing radical hospitality in the home, and I have grown to love the Biblical value of welcoming those from the margins. In doing so, Jesus says, "I was a stranger and you welcomed me in." (Mt 25:25)
But every introvert understands the need for some place of escape. And that, for me, is my bedroom. Few people, outside my immediate family, ever set foot in that room. And it is truly a comfortable place of escape, rest and rejuvenation. Thank God for my bedroom.
3. Establish COMMUNITIES of welcome to share the load
I love how 4 friends brought 1 paralytic to Jesus - not the other way around - 1 super-Christian bringing 4 paralytics to Jesus! Our individualistic cultures are hung up on promoting the myth of the Lone Ranger - the super minister who can do everything by herself.
We desperately need to develop new ways of doing ministry that will spread the load between folks in a committed team or community of people. When one of us is feeling weak (or peopled-out!), the others carry the load of hospitality.
Even Jesus had a team of people travelling and ministering with Him.
For some, this could mean considering intentionally growing our households in order to grow our capacity for hospitality. For others, it might mean joining forces once or twice a week with friends to be intentional in welcoming others.
Whatever God calls you to do, consider this - God is community, Three-in-One. And He gently invites us into community ourselves.
So what is He saying to you?
As an introvert, which of these three areas have you found helpful? Which do you need to develop further? And what other practices have increased your sustainability in ministry? Share!