Introvert in Missions: Five Ways to Thrive
I have a confession.
I love being alone.
This might sound strange to people who gather that I’m an extrovert from my personality, because I love engaging with people and hearing their stories. But the truth is, I’m an introvert. I’m an extroverted introvert.
Yes, I’m one of the weird ones, which means I’m often misunderstood. When people find out I run a nonprofit and speak to large groups, they’re often confused by this.
The early morning light with my cup of tea and journal observing the way the vines on my backyard fence have morphed from green to red. The stillness of writing. My legs curled under the covers with a good book in hand. This is my happy place.
My husband has learned it’s basically worthless to try and talk to me until I’ve had my solitude and cup of tea.
But for a long time, I was confused.
I thought I was an extrovert, that I should like being around people all the time.
I thought it made me a better Christian, to constantly be available to people, to be extroverted and always volunteering. But I was wrong.
I didn’t really know I could say “no.”
Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE my friend time. And I love having fun and going out! But I prefer one-on-ones to large group gatherings, the true hallmark of a secret introvert.
I like to go deep.
It was my desire to people please and perform that conscripted me into believing I was an ENFP instead of an INFP.
On the mission field in Uganda, living in a home full of rescued girls I started, I often felt strung out from the constant interactions. These demands can often lead to burnout and compassion fatigue and introverted missionaries are more susceptible to this.
Which means we need to be more proactive about preventing it.
Because I didn’t fully get what I needed as an introvert, I felt guilty for trying to escape to be alone, or cranky when I was surrounded by constant neediness.
I didn’t see my introvertedness as a value. Rather, I saw it as a flaw.
In a world of ministry that often values extroversion over introversion, I felt shame for being who I was.
But that was wrong because God created me this way, and when He created me He said, “It is good.”
The gift of being introverted is the quiet space for inner peace. We are the calm in the storm.
Once I began celebrating my introversion and the way it brings me life, I had so much more to give.
Are you an introverted missionary? Don’t worry!
Here are 5 Ways to Thrive as an Introvert in Missions:
1. Value your Talents
As an introvert there is a gentleness to you that can make others feel safe with you. You’re often a really good listener, you think before you talk, which means you are less likely to say something insensitive or culturally inappropriate. You’re extremely loyal with those who’ve chosen to open up to you. You also carve out space and time to be with God and to have self-reflection which means you’re likely to have a high emotional intelligence and self-awareness that lends to personal growth and change. You are deeply connected to your internal values, purpose and mission in life which makes you committed to staying the course. Research shows that introvert leaders are more likely to listen to and apply their employees’ suggestions.
2. Carve out alone time with God & self
You have to know about yourself that you gain energy through inner reflection. Plan your day to start and end with stillness (soaking to music, meditation, journaling.) One of the first things to go on the mission field is our purposeful time to be with God or be alone. But this is the most important thing introverts need to refuel and refresh. Set it as a date on your calendar so it isn’t interrupted. When you get home from a long day in ministry, you might need an hour to reset: to just lie on your yoga mat and cry, pray and journal, or read a book, before you can join your spouse for dinner. That’s ok! Psychology today states that
“Introverts, as compared to extroverts, are far more sensitive to dopamine and feel overstimulated. They thrive on a different neurotransmitter: acetylcholine. It rewards not adrenaline-laced activity, but quieter activities, like thinking and feeling.”
Even 15 minutes reading can help calm down your brain. There are some great tips for self-care in my eBook here.
3. Shine in your one-on-ones
The Kiersey temperament system calls INFP’s the “Healers” because “their great passion is to heal the conflicts that trouble individuals, or that divide groups, and thus to bring wholeness, or health, to themselves, and community.” A common misconception is that introverts don’t like people. The truth is we love them. We’re extremely loyal, we just prefer to experience people in one-to-one or small group settings. That doesn’t mean we can’t be great speakers, leaders, and teachers. I’m an introvert and I enjoy speaking in front of others and gain energy from it. But after the adrenaline wears off, I might need more time to rest. Rather than crowd gatherings, invite someone over for tea and discipleship. Try to buffer yourself from managerial roles with constant interruptions and questions. Live separate from the people you minister to and set specific times for visits rather than an open door policy.
4. Avoid Isolation
Remember to reach out to friends. So you might suck at responding to text messages because at that moment you might not want to talk to anyone, but you will have times when you’ll be lonely. Don’t just expect people to know how you’re feeling. Reach out to 1 or 2 close friends and let them know when you’re lonely and need to process out loud. Communicate to your indigenous culture about your personality and why being alone to think, study, pray, refuels you and help them understand it isn’t a rejection of them. Don’t be afraid to exercise your extrovert muscles on occasion, you can parlay those group experiences into more soul-filling one to ones.
5. Feed your Inner Artist
Many introverts are artists–writers, photographers, painters, craftsmen, musicians, graphic designers. It is often in neglecting these parts of us that our passion, creativity, and “alive” feelings begin to wither. We think these activities are selfish or we don’t have time for them, but feeding that part of your soul will produce life. When I began to pick up my pen again, it helped heal me and keep me sane on the mission field.
Being an introverted missionary can be a beautiful thing. The most important thing is to love and accept yourself for who you are.
How has being an introvert in missions/ministry affected you?
Take the quiz to see if you are introverted or extroverted
Meyers Briggs test
Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking
The Artist’s Way