Some people read this title and roll their eyes, frustrated that diversity has been elevated to the crowning virtue of our day. Other people read this title and get excited, believing that more perspectives at a table necessarily means a better product will be produced. I’m not writing this article to please or displease either group. I simply want to raise an interesting and, IMO neglected, insight for consideration.
Speaking about the financial crash of 2008 Susan Cain comments:
“In the wake of the 2008 crash, a financial catastrophe caused in part by uncalculated risk-taking and blindness to threat, it became fashionable to speculate whether we’d have been better off with more women and fewer men – or less testosterone – on Wall Street. But maybe we should also ask what might have happened with a few more introverts at the helm – and a lot less dopamine (p. 162),” in Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking
Before reflecting on her comment, I think explaining her references to biochemistry may be helpful. Earlier in her book Susan Cain provided studies which show that extroverts are more sensitive to dopamine than introverts. Whether this is cause or effect (i.e., chicken or egg) is unclear, but it accounts for extroverts being more prone to risk taking behaviors. In this quote above, Susan is seeking to attribute risk taking behavior to extroversion (i.e., dopamine) as much as to maleness (i.e., testosterone).
Why is this worth noting? There is a tendency in both business and church life to fill decision making tables with powerful people who “get things done.” The result can be that even with ethnic and gender diversity, there can still be a nearly exclusive extroverted decision-making team. This will come with all the strengths and weaknesses that accompany extroversion.
Leading up to the 2008 financial crash this meant too many high-risk-high-reward decisions in the pursuit of maximum profits. The question worth considering for churches is, “What does this mean in ministry contexts?” My caution would be to avoid one-size-fits-all answers. Neither gender not personality fit stereotypes.
But if we’re going to make good application of Proverbs 11:14, 15:22, and 24:6 we need to consider whether a “multitude of counselors” just means adding more people to the room or whether there is additional benefit to adding different kinds of people to room.
As we consider the differences in introverts and extroverts, we recognize that both bring something important to the table. Extroverts are more likely to get the discussion started (i.e., speaking first), speak with passion, and keep the meeting engaging. Introverts are more likely to carefully weigh what’s being said, consider the implications of what’s not being said, and synthetize the possibilities being deliberated.
What happens when introverts are absent? Decisions can be hasty, decision making contentious, and unintended consequences are more likely to be missed.
What does it take to get more introverts to the decision-making table in ministry circles? We must value more than the stage. The most spiritually mature person may not be the person who talks about God the most; it may be the person who thinks about and talks to God most. We must ask. Introverts are usually not the first to raise their hand and push their way to the front. In short, we must be intentional.What does it take to get more introverts to the decision-making table in ministry circles? We must value more than the stage. Click To Tweet
To be clear, introverts are not inherently wiser or more spiritually mature than extroverts (as much as I am predisposed to think we are). We just think differently. Extroverts bring as much to the conversation as introverts (more by volume and quantity… sorry, I couldn’t help myself). All I am saying in this article is that churches would be wise to consider whether there is a skewed personality profile on the leadership teams (staff and lay) of their church.
If you want to gain more insight into the strengths of introversion which tend to get missed in our culture, I would recommend Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. She has several sections on how churches have, intentionally or not, tended to buy into the extroversion ideal which may be particularly beneficial for pastors to read.