The Introverted Youth Pastor
I’m an introvert in a large ministry. If you think that sounds contradictory, you aren’t alone. Despite the fact that half the population is introverted, we’ve come to see youth ministry and introvert as mutually exclusive terms.
Being introverted doesn’t mean—
- that you’re shy.
- that you don’t like people.
- that reading is your preferred form of recreation.
- that you don’t enjoy leading from the front.
If you’re introverted, you may run into the following misconceptions:
- Because you don’t emote enough, you must lack enthusiasm/compassion.
- Effective ministry = high-energy staffer.
- Avoiding the spotlight is not how Jesus did it.
- Because you haven’t spoken in a meeting, you didn’t participate well.
Knowing yourself should be one of the top priorities for every youth pastor. Sustainable, effective youth ministry as an introvert is possible. Here’s what I’ve found helpful:
Introverts have to gear up for and recover from social interaction. This sounds like I’m describing a workout, and in many ways I am. Most introverts are human data-collectors. They study interactions and scan for feelings. An introvert may deeply sympathize with the kid who is not connecting and with the parent who is struggling. Because they tend to be great listeners, they hear a lot of things they might rather not hear. Their capacity to care can be focused and especially draining. For that reason, creating space before and after ministry is especially important. Scheduling a nap before youth group, a day off to recover, and a Sabbath after a big event is not only smart, it’s also biblical. The notable leaders in Scripture kept a metronomic rhythm that included alone time and community time. Because they spent time away, they were able to minister effectively in community.
For the introverted youth pastor, the choice of attending a brainstorming session or slamming your hand in a car door might actually require some thought. Unfortunately the pattern of most church meetings is brainstorm-and-decide. (Prayer would be awesome here, but let’s be honest . . . ) Knowing that you need some time to discern decisions is of utmost importance. Communicating your way of decision-making will not only allow others the opportunity to communicate the same, but it will also help them to understand you. Saying something like, “Let’s sit on this discussion for three days, spend some time in prayer, and reconnect via e-mail on Wednesday” is a great way to move forward and make decisions you can fully support.
Diversity is required in your ministry recruitment. The default setting for a good number of introverted youth pastors is to recruit people like them. Obviously a ministry needs introverted and extroverted leaders in order to effectively connect with all students. When you’re recruiting, it might be helpful to ask, “Why do I want to recruit this person for the team? Is it because the ministry needs them or because I enjoy being around them and can communicate easily with them?”
Introverts can struggle with communication. The upside for introverts is that many communicate well in written form. This is helpful for websites, newsletters, and e-mails. (Expecting others to read what we write might be a poor assumption, though.) If communicating is a struggle, lean on your writing abilities to script these opportunities. Most crowds will not know they’re scripted, and they will recognize and appreciate your preparation.
Find Your Bliss—But Pay the Rent
Though a spiritually deep conversation with a single youth might satisfy your internal ministry meter for a month, more than that is needed for effective youth ministry. I have a youth ministry friend who says, “We need to pay the rent.” Paying the rent looks like a big event at least once a semester—a ministry that attracts a lot of kids and involves the whole church in terms of resources, people, and enthusiasm. In preparation for ministry it’s helpful to consider the variety of student needs in your group. Ministries must allow for times of rowdy play, large group service opportunities, and loud worship. As introverted youth pastors, we need to push past what we would prefer as we seek to love the youth in our ministry as we would love ourselves.
Lastly, if you find yourself in a church that knows you’re an introverted youth pastor and values you nonetheless, you need to wake each morning singing the doxology. It takes a special church with some theological depth and sociological understanding to push against the cultural flow of equating (perceived) energy level with ministry achievement.
For everyone else, be encouraged and hang in there. As culture tips toward the loud, the famous, and the beautiful, our students (and churches) will need the consistent, quiet presence of introverted youth pastors to provide balance and perspective as we all navigate the wake.
TONY AKERS has been in ministry to youth and families in large and small churches for 25 years. He is a graduate of Asbury Theological Seminary and just entered his 12th year serving as the Minister to Youth and Families at Trinity United Methodist Church in Huntsville, Alabama. Tony also serves as a youth ministry coach and writes fairly frequently at WWW.STUDENTMINISTRYSOLUTIONS.COM
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.