Introvert in Missions: Five Ways to Thrive

November 02, 2017

introvert missions

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 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.

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?

Resources:
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

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  • Mercedes Woodiel

    Yes! Samuel lived in Ramah but then made the rounds to other places. So he lived separately from his mission field! Thank you for the article! It refreshed my spirit!

    • So true, such a good point. Do you have any more thoughts on being an introvert in ministry, I’d love to hear them! :)

  • Kristin Tillotson

    As an INFP in missions this speaks to me on many levels. :) Thank you.

    • You are so welcome, I’m so glad it resonated! How do you stay healthy on the field as an introvert?

      • Kristin Tillotson

        Probably the biggest thing (which has taken years) is to accept my differences and stop comparing myself to other missionaries. I can’t do cold call evangelism, or lots of people interaction, or intensive situations- partly because of my personality, and partly because of health issues. Releasing myself from my own, and others expectations has been helpful. Although it doesn’t totally fit into my organization’s plan I’ve given myself permission to do the things that I know I’m capable of doing, and give me joy and life- like teaching a few music students, or spending a morning just writing…things that don’t directly fulfill my organization’s mission, but in an alternate way does impact the Kingdom and at the same time gives me a chance to engage with things I’m passionate about. I’ve learned that if I don’t engage with my passions, then I pretty much just shrivel up and die. So, I’m learning to live outside the “missionary box” and just be me, and see where God takes that. :)

        • Those are really great thoughts Kristin! I’m so glad you found the voice inside yourself to know what you really need. It has taken me a long time to find that kind of bravery. I sucked at door to door evangelism–I hated it! Just wasn’t authentic to who I was. I love what you said about passions- we gotta chase them or we start dying so good! Thanks for commenting!

  • Patty Stallings

    Thanks for sharing this with Velvet Ashes! Acceptance of who we were created to be and then shaping our lives to fit who we are is definitely a sustainability practice we all need to practice! I am an introvert as well – and you’ve offered great advice!

    • Thank you so much Patty. I love the Velvet Ashes community- so many subjects close to my heart! :) Glad to hear from another introvert! #introvertsunite

  • Mike Field

    thanks for sharing. you’ve attached words to some of my own “misunderstandings”. I think some have pegged me as an introvert, but miss the part of loving to engage people in their stories.
    You points are right on and necessary. Thanks again!

    • Thank you so much Mike, so glad you could relate :)

  • Dave Lewis

    If you can’t quite give yourself permission to have alone time, find someone who will. It needs to be someone who knows you well and whom you respect. Give THEM permission to hold you accountable in some way.

    • Really good point Dave! That’s a good idea. Thanks for the feedback!

    • Any ideas on who this person could be? I find it so hard to give people that kind of authority in my life ha!

      • Dave Lewis

        We promote the idea of forming an advocate team before going to the field, comprised of a select group of people who can fill specific caring roles. Each team should have someone of this sort, who has agreed ahead of time to fill that role.