Confessions of an extroverted leader
By Alvin Reed
Our culture loves extroverts.
We love the brash, outspoken athletes, the most extravagant of actors and musicians, and the most extreme spokesmen on TV. Add the glut of 24-hour sports and news networks and it seems the louder and more extroverted you are, the more popular you will be.
That’s often true in church as well.
Pastoral search committees love hyperactive pastors with relentless energy and great people skills. Congregations love preachers who can “shuck the corn” and interact with crowds.
When it comes to choosing leaders in churches, extroverts (like me) often have an advantage over introverts.
That’s not always a good thing. We all know of extroverts who go too far. They’re bullies, poor listeners, and often are short tempered and impatient.
But if we’re honest, we also know extroverts who genuinely love people and show they care without reservation, who lead groups of people to do remarkable things for God, and who take the time to learn and listen.
Benefits of extroversion
In my mind, there are at least five ways that being an extrovert can help a pastor or church leader:
1. Extroverts tend to be risk takers. The mission of God and the fact that we as believers are a sent people requires risk for the gospel. As a seminary professor, I have watched students over the years, and those who go to the hardest places and take greater risks most often are extroverts. This is not to say that introverts won’t; I have seen many introverts take serious risks for Jesus. But the extroverts tend to answer the bell more quickly and more often.
2. Extroverts thrive in social settings, and the church is a social community of people.
3. Extroverts tend to be more likely to share Christ, although I would argue that introverts may in fact be better personal witnesses when they endeavor to do so.
4. Extroverts are also typically early adopters, those vital people needed in any new initiative.
5. Extroverts tend to be more openly happy about life and thus are effective at creating positive momentum.
Challenges of leading as an extrovert
We extroverts have our issues as well:
1. We can easily become utilitarian—thinking bigger is always better and might makes right.
2. We care more about crowds than individuals. We’d rather read in the Book of Acts about 3,000 coming to Christ than one person being saved.
3. We are easily dissatisfied. We can yearn so much for the next great thing, we fail to rest in the goodness of God today.
4. We struggle to keep balance in our lives.
5. We tend to be more excited when things go well, but more moody and easily upset when dealing with people who don’t see the world the way we do.
Learning from others
In order to be successful in ministry, we extroverts can and must learn from others, especially from the introverts in our families and congregations, because they are all around us.
About half of the people who take the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator, a common personality test, are introverts. Other studies suggest that somewhere between one-third and one half of Americans are introverts.
My wife, Michelle, is one of them.
We epitomize the “opposites attract” idea of marriage. She is as introverted as I am extroverted, and has been the greatest blessing of my life.
Michelle has helped me understand and appreciate introverts. She has taught me by her example how vital it is to sit at Jesus’ feet for lengths of time, alone, to know Christ more. She is also the greatest listener I have ever known.
Our personalities offer a great example for the need of community in the church. I have been in class when an extrovert begins to wax eloquently (in his own mind) while other students roll their eyes. Pulling that student aside and taking the time to give him a little perspective on when and where to expound his learning has helped more than a few.
That young minister who wants to change the whole world and do it yesterday needs to be helped to see how his ambition to make God famous can easily become ambition to be famous himself.
Living in community where we encourage one another to see the strengths in different personalities while being aware of the dangers can play a vital role in spiritual growth.
God has given us such a variety of personalities, interests, talents and gifts, why not celebrate them and encourage one another to be who we are for the glory of God.