Thriving as an Introvert in Youth Ministry
The youth pastors of the 90’s and early 2000’s were Wild West gunslinger types, shooting from the hip, often seen as the stereotypical wild card in every staff meeting and pastoral gathering. They wore shorts when they weren’t supposed to, they weren’t afraid to shoot a kid in the face with a rubber band at 10 yards and laugh when the kid got mad. These pastors were pioneers of the modern movement in church development, and as these pastors “graduated” on to senior pastor positions across the country, they may have turned down the volume on their Christian hip-hop radio stations in their old minivans, and finally gotten haircuts, but now they have set themselves up as leaders in their churches, still working hard, still showing the rest of us what being an “up-front” and outspoken pastor looks like.
Those pastors were my precursors. When I was coming up, figuring out my calling, I looked up to these pastors and I found a lot of reasons to see them as great leaders. These types of pastors changed the way that I looked at life and are a big part of what got me involved with youth ministry to begin with.
The thing is though, these pastors were insane, and for the average person thinking about being a part of ministry today, they almost cause a barrier. Youth ministry has been thought for a long time to be a loud mouthed, outgoing extrovert’s game. So for those of us who don’t describe ourselves in that sense, we may have hesitated, maybe even been turned off by what it would mean to be a pastor.
As I got closer to working at a church for real, thinking about responsibilities of a pastor, the ones that frightened me weren’t the one-on-one conversations with a desperate teenager, it wasn’t the times of writing and research to prep sermons, it was getting up on stage and talking, it was having to do ridiculous games and stunts, it was being ok with sometimes purposefully making a fool of myself. Those things were terrifying, and almost kept me from trying, but being an introvert doesn’t disqualify you from ministry.
Of course no one has ever claimed this, but plenty of introverts ponder what kind of role they could possibly bring to a team that serves such a loud, out in front type of ministry.
So here’s a couple thoughts for you to consider:
For every loud, outgoing pastor, there’s at least one quiet reserved person to balance them out
There has never been a pastoral team, a student leadership team, a ministry or even a marriage that is made up entirely of outgoing extroverts that are just doing crazy stuff all the time. Every leadership team or partnership needs balance. Every successful extrovert pastor in the 90’s needed to have an introvert somewhere in their team to be there for when things toned down. The reality is that we need a variety of personality types with different strengths and weaknesses to reach a wide audience and engage with them in multiple different ways. And just like functioning teams will need different kinds of input for differing individuals, different teenagers will need to latch on to relationships with different leaders that can best communicate with them. We need both introverts and extroverts and everyone in between to build bonds and relationships with the different teens in our groups.
There is such a thing as an introverted leader
Leadership has to do with being passionate about your cause, and having direction in mind to accomplish a goal. There’s nothing about leadership that requires public speaking, being outspoken, or knowing how come up with the craziest games. Those things just aren’t necessarily tied to great leadership. Leadership coming from introverts will look different on the outside and in action, but the results of good leadership is always the same, and it always changes lives. That doesn’t mean you can go your whole pastoral career without delivering a sermon, it doesn’t mean you can work as a minister without having to probably do something that will make you feel exposed or outside of your preferred realm of comfort. What it does mean, however, is that you can lead a ministry and not have to love those things that push you outside your comfort zone.
God does work us out of our comfort zones
If you read the Bible, you’ll see examples of people being pushed to be things for a God that changes them into leaders they never knew they could be. You see Moses, who had a speech impediment, yet led the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt. You see Gideon widdle an army down to a group of 300 to take on an entire invading nation. God seems to enjoy making people uncomfortable in order to stretch them and mold them I to the people God needs them to be to be the most effective in a given situation. There’s no way for me to be an effective youth pastor without sometimes letting God call me to do something I may find a bit discomforting. In fact, ministry as a profession, is a calling to working on areas of discomfort. Introverts will have to work through being that up front leader, they will have to occasionally make themselves take the role of speaker, or charismatic moral booster. Likewise, extroverts will have to work through awkward one-on-one conversations, and crying teenagers, and periods of working alone while writing and maybe even having office days without much human interaction, some of which may be something an introvert may be more comfortable doing. Both introverts and extroverts will have to work through elements of ministry they like less, but God has called them to nonetheless.
God has never had a type
The cliche that all pastors or all youth pastors need to be a certain type of person is antiquated. We know that to be true because we have such a wide variety of pastors working across the country to achieve similar goals. If we fall in the trap of thinking that introverts somehow are at a disadvantage then we are already setting ministries of the future up for failure. There is no qualifier to ministry. There are not introvert pastors and extrovert pastors any more than there are black pastors and white pastors or male and female pastors. There are just pastors, who do ministry differently, work in a different context, or are just different from each other. Every person’s personality and life experiences will change the way they do ministry. The key is finding ministerial roles to plug into, that you feel God has called you to, and that you can be effective in. You don’t have to mimic pastoral styles, even my fellow introverts shouldn’t worry about pastoring only the way other introverts pastor.
If anything, the fact that introverts are called ministry proves that God has a need for pastors with that type of personality. This isn’t a hurdle for you to overcome, it’s a trait for you to use to your advantage. Sometimes it may make you feel disadvantaged, but remember that for every feeling of struggle you overcome because of your personal preference or personality, you have at least as many advantages, and things that come easy to you because of that same personality, that a whole other group of people are envious of in the same way.
Pastors everywhere are working toward a goal, and no matter who you are, you can contribute.
Cory Williams has been doing Youth Ministry in some capacity for the last 6 years, attended Southern Nazarene University to get his bachelors in Youth Ministry, and now lives in Orlando FL where he works and ministers. He enjoys photography, graphic design, is a total music addict, a gaming nerd, and loves quiet nights in just as much as loud nights surrounded by teenagers. You can find him on Instagram (@lifewithcory) or Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/corywilli).
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.