The introverted leader

Doing ministry can be hard. Even preparing to do it is tough. That’s why I’m part of a couple groups on Facebook intended for seminary students and young clergy-people.

I love these groups because they give their members a chance to be themselves when they don’t always have that opportunity in real life. Whether you’re studying for a masters’ degree or a Ph.D., or serving in a professional ministry context, you’re probably under pressure to be strong and sure of yourself in front of others a good amount of the time. We need a chance to unload and find common experiences, frustrations and triumphs among our peers. We want to feel all right with being uncertain once in a while.

In one of our latest discussions, we were comparing Myers-Briggs personality types. If you’re not familiar with this psychological test, it’s a method of sorting people based on personality and the way they view the world and interact with others.

What we found is that the vast majority of us rated as intuitive (instead of sensing) and feeling (versus thinking). It made me wonder: what personality types are best suited to studying theology and practicing ministry? Are some personality types a better fit for being pastors or clergy-people?

I’ll give myself as an example. I’m an introvert, so I get my energy from spending time by myself. I enjoy being around other people but can feel drained if I haven’t taken the opportunity to recharge myself alone, watching a movie or reading a book or even having a cup of coffee in peace.

During my year-long internship in a church during seminary, I asked myself whether an introvert can be as effective a pastor or a leader as someone who is an extrovert. A pastor in particular is a type of public figure–am I at a disadvantage by being introverted?

I had a lot of uncertainty on this topic and wondered if I needed to change my perspective. I finally came to the conclusion that we introverts aren’t necessarily “less than” because of who we are. Extroverts definitely have their own benefits when it comes to ministry for obvious reasons. When you’re a pastor, you are constantly around people and can’t afford to be visibly exhausted sometimes. But introverts have their own surprising advantages, too when it comes to pastoral leadership.

I find that we tend to be more introspective and ready to engage on a one-on-one basis with others. We are an imaginative bunch with imagination and bookishness built in to who we are. Those aren’t bad traits for someone in ministry.

This is just one example of a seemingly unlikely personality type being suited for a theological career. My father is an ISTJ on the Myers-Briggs test: an introverted, sensing, thinking, judging person. Other than our introversion, we are completely different people.

Despite that, I see his sense of moral rightness and orientation toward justice as wonderful qualities that could be a perfect match for ministry. We all have our own gifts, abilities and limitations. God has made everyone differently–don’t let that hold you back from being or doing what feels right for you.