In my previous post in this series, I talked about the way that introverts often feel pressured to share their faith in the same way extroverts do – and why that’s a bad idea. I noted that the more reserved among us don’t respond well to the talk-to-strangers approach (either on the receiving or on the giving end). Now I want to develop that idea a bit further.
I can imagine someone saying: But shouldn’t an introvert make the effort to share the Gospel wherever he or she goes, no matter what? I mean, that conversation you force yourself to have might be uncomfortable to you, but that discomfort is nothing compared to saving a soul from eternal damnation!
No pressure, right.
I’ll agree with this point in one, very limited way, which is: Yes, my personal discomfort is nothing compared to the eternal fate of a human being.
However, I strongly disagree with the connection that many (well-intentioned) Christians immediately make: that since sharing the Gospel is so important (it is), one-on-one personal conversation about the Gospel is therefore essential for all Christians.
It all comes down to good stewardship.
In the parable of the talents (Matthew 25), the servants are entrusted with money while their master is away. The good and faithful servants go off and engage in trade such as to increase what they were given, and are praised by the master on his return. Note that in the parable, no specific mention is made of exactly how the servants doubled their master’s money – only that they put it to good use. Consider also how St Paul emphasizes the diversity of gifts in the Body of Christ. It seems to me that Scripture assumes that people have different gifts, to be used in diverse ways – and certainly the history of the Church and all her glorious saints shows that there are all sorts of ways to glorify God and do His work in the world.
Our gifts include talent (in the modern sense, of ability and vocation), time (we all have 24 hours in a day), and energy. Apologetics and evangelism, to be done effectively, must take into account all these things — or else it can easily become an exercise in self-aggrandizement or a response to peer pressure.
How is one best to use one’s gifts to share the Gospel?
I would argue that doing all things to the glory of God means doing things well. To do something badly is sometimes necessary – for instance, every beginner is going to do things badly for a time, and sometimes a bad job is better than nothing. But I think it is important to recognize that no one is good at everything – and that this is not a bad thing. I think the redeemed creation will include the joyous exchange and enjoyment of our various talents.
One can appreciate the importance of a gift that one does not have. I enjoy music, and I think that fine choral music is itself an argument for Christianity, because of the way it gives a foretaste of the beauty of heaven. However, that does not mean that I should sing in my church’s choir. Oh no. Definitely not.
As an apologist, I cringe when I see someone using fallacious arguments to support Christianity, and when I see trite, shallow, badly written books in the “Christian fiction” section. Good intentions are not enough; see ‘Road to Hell, paving thereof.’
Good stewardship in apologetics and evangelism means, in part, determining one’s gifts and interests and using them well. St Paul could be ‘all things to all men’ but as for me, I’ll stick to poetry and let someone else tackle Bayes’ theorem; I’ll write and teach, and let someone else chat with people one on one.
Everything has an opportunity cost. If I am having a conversation with someone, I am not writing. If I am writing, I am not reading. If I am reading, I am not doing something else… you get the picture.
The time that I spend doing something I’m not good at takes away from the time that I could be doing something well. The time that I spend doing something I’m unsuited for takes away from the time that I could be learning and growing in the area that I do have gifts.
Thus, for introverts, ‘trying to act like an extrovert’ is a double waste of time: it’s ineffective compared to what we might otherwise have been doing; and it takes time away from that more-effective thing we might have been doing!
Finally, we need to be good stewards of our own energy and our mental, physical, and spiritual health.
Extroverts typically get recharged by interacting with people, but introverts get recharged by time alone. The classic “how do you know what kind of person you are” question is this: An extrovert and an introvert both go to a party and have a fun time (note: introverts can be social and enjoy it!). Afterwards, they can either a) go to another party, or b) go home and have time alone to rest. The extrovert will likely choose a), since the first party has energized him, and the introvert will choose b), since the first party has drained his energy.
We need to manage our energy as well as our time – it is a question of stewardship of how God made us, part of loving our neighbor as ourselves. The introvert who forces himself to talk to people and to interact socially, beyond what he really needs to do, is not using his energy wisely.
In the same way, the extrovert who shuts himself up with his books and forces himself only to study and never to interact with people is not using his energy wisely.
When I first started teaching at church and speaking at conferences, I would often get badly depressed afterwards. I looked forward to the events, yet with a certain degree of uneasiness, because so often I’d ‘crash’ afterwards and be worthless (and miserable) for the rest of the day. Then I realized that lecturing is, for me, a very energy-intensive activity. I love it, and I’m good at it, but it drains me. If I can get a break away from people, with time entirely to myself, after I do a talk, I can ‘catch my breath,’ so to speak, and keep a mental and spiritual equilibrium for the rest of the day.
Now when I speak at a conference, I use the speakers’ room as a refuge — I will interact with people for a bit, then retreat and do a bit of reading or email, then venture back out to engage with people again. Even if there are lots of exciting sessions and people I want to talk to, I have learned to pace myself, taking breaks so that when I do interact with people, I have the energy to do it well, to really be present in the moment, and respond to peoples’ questions and engage with the conversation in a meaningful way.
Oddly enough, recognizing my own limits has helped me trust God more: He made me, after all, and He will make use of my work within the limits of my capability.
Dr. Holly Ordway is a poet, academic, and Christian apologist. She is the chair of the Department of Apologetics and director of the MA in Cultural Apologetics at Houston Baptist University, and the author of Not God’s Type: A Rational Academic Finds a Radical Faith. Her work focuses on imaginative and literary apologetics, with special attention to C.S. Lewis and Charles Williams.