It was in first grade when I noticed I was a little different. The teacher challenged us to count as high as we possibly could. She placed a stack of grid paper on her desk and said we could use it to write our numbers one by one. I loved the challenge. If I remember correctly the teacher gave us a week to complete the task for a chance at a prize. For me, I skipped both recesses to write my numbers. Other children claimed they wanted to do it, but individually they all dropped off in favor of having a social time with their friends. I kept counting. In the end, the teacher claimed I went the highest of any student in her twenty-five years of teaching. I like to think the record stood until she retired some years later.
I look back on events like that as foundational to my personality. I am an introvert. Before you say, “Oh yeah, me too,” let me tell you the depth of my struggle. To say I am not a people person would be an understatement, I generally do not care for anyone outside of a few immediate family members. They confuse and frustrate me. As a result, I like to be alone in my mind. I wear headphones and try to avoid people and conversations. Large crowds give me anxiety, and small groups are more stressful. I chose activities I can do alone. I read, I fish, I hunt, I metal detect, I think, I dream, and I am beginning to enjoy writing because I can do all of them alone or with a very select few.
When God called me to be a preacher in college, I was sure he was kidding. Me? Right. The struggle became immediately apparent as people would criticize me for being unfriendly. The first full-time ministry offered an unwanted evaluation. They commended my preaching and my leadership. They also told me that my work with people, particularly adults, was sub-standard. Honestly, they were correct. My wife tells me I tend to treat people like they are stupid. I don’t mean to do it, I just have thought through all possible scenarios and other’s lack of thought frustrates me.
When I planted a new Church, I had a series of funny T-shirts. I wore them everywhere including Sunday mornings, and it became an identifying characteristic. They told the bitter truth in a funny way for all the world to see. One of my shirts simply read, “Doesn’t play well with others.” It’s true.
My words may seem foreign to many of you. You love people. They bring you joy and happiness in a way I do not understand. Some of you may know a little of which I speak. For either group, I want to offer a couple of lessons I have learned in 20 years of God calling me to public speaking for him.
1. God Made Me Unique. Early on in life, I wanted to be like the other kids. When I told them about my imaginary basketball teams, they would look at me like I was from Mars. I learned to hide my unique personality to try to fit in more. As an adult, I have learned to embrace my one of a kind approach to life. I have a unique perspective that I now see as a gift. I think God gifted me this way to make me a better preacher and leader. Everyone should embrace their own personality.
2. People Need Jesus. Even though I do not entirely understand people, I am sure they need Jesus. I have read and thought, and I am one hundred percent convinced of the gospel story. Everyone needs to know Jesus and the gospel message which leads to salvation. God stretches my boundaries to proclaim what I believe is factually true. This truth forces me to live in ways that are uncomfortable for the sake of the gospel.
3. I Can Help People. Because of my personality, I can see things that others miss. Because I spend so much time inside myself, I am able to arrange lessons and sermons in a logical way that makes sense to people. Lately, I am discovering that since I do not care about what other people think it has helped me to speak the truth that some people are afraid to reveal. I think my life can be a blessing to others, even with our social differences. Just be patient with me and people like me.
4. I Need Other People to Be Complete. God has taught me the need to have people who are gifted in other ways in my life. I need extroverts to do parts of ministry that I am not talented at doing. You complete me … and I complete you. The body of Christ needs all its parts.
I am hesitant to write any of these words. I am not a person who likes to draw attention to myself. It will lead to awkward conversations and embarrassing questions. Being open about my inner world creates more anxiety, but I am going to risk it. There are introverts everywhere, probably not exactly like me, although I have found some ministers who are similar. We want you to understand us. The Church needs to come together beyond all barriers no matter what differences there are.