By Mark Clavier

One of the things I most enjoy about living in Britain is that I get to experience life as an extrovert. I’m not suggesting that my move across the Atlantic somehow caused a seismic shift in one of my Meyers-Briggs categories. Rather, I’ve discovered that strong American introversion translates into an acceptable degree of extroversion here in Britain. In fact, usually when I mention that I score incredibly high on the Introversion scale on the Meyers-Briggs test, people here refuse to believe me. I’m apparently too open and friendly to lay any reasonable claim to introversion. So, I get to be an introvert who masquerades as an extrovert.

Life here has made me aware how fuzzy these definitions are. Introversion and extroversion do indeed describe ways people interact with others (or don’t, as the case may be) but these social attitudes are themselves shaped by surrounding social expectations. American culture prizes characteristics we normally associate with extroverts: confidence, friendliness, openness, and talkativeness. Encounter Americans abroad and these cultural traits jump out at you, not infrequently in ways that make one want to say to one’s compatriots, ‘Please shut up for a minute!’ We are a brash people, especially the male of the species. But, because of the kind of sociability Americans esteem, even introverts learn to perform in ways that are confident, friendly, open, and talkative. Perhaps not as much as their extroverted neighbors but enough to make them seem socially confident to many non-Americans.

Here in the UK, on the other hand, society seems to have been exquisitely calibrated to produce the maximum number of introverts among the general population. It probably has something to do with British reserve and the abject fear of causing social awkwardness. Better to sit quietly and avoid eye contact than risk causing offense or making a social gaffe. Note, however, that none of this holds true once Brits enter a sports stadium, imbibe sufficient quantities of beer, or watch Eurovision together—then even seasoned trainspotters or birdwatchers are transformed into raucous social animals.


There’s a kind of chicken and egg scenario here: do extroverted cultures produce more gregarious people or do amassed extroverts create gregarious societies in which even introverts must learn to behave like extroverts (and vice versa)? In other words, to what extent do we create society in our own image, favoring practices and customs that allow us to stay in our comfort zone? And what about subsets of that culture such as institutions and organizations? In theory, at least, they are even more susceptible to this phenomenon since many of them attract certain kinds of people who reinforce their own predominant culture. To see what I mean just try to imagine a conference of reserved and thoughtful salespeople or a rowdy gathering of library archivists.

This observation got me wondering about the Church and new modes of clerical practice. Are we perhaps inadvertently creating a Church of the Introverts? Here’s my thinking:

Surveys in both the US and the UK suggest that Anglican clergy are generally (perhaps even increasingly) grouped on the introverted end of the spectrum (though this is more pronounced in the UK). Among clergy, Catholics tend even more towards introversion while Evangelicals tend towards extroversion (which may account for the deep suspicion many Brits have of them). This suggests that more clergy than not find prolonged social engagement taxing, especially in uncontrolled environments. Perhaps this accounts for the most sacrosanct of clerical activities: the Sunday afternoon nap.

These same clergy are also engaged in thinking about shared ministry in the modern-day church. They’re the main drivers behind the so-called empowerment of the laity. How much then does our introversion influence how we imagine that ministry being shared? Are we perhaps inadvertently creating elaborate systems for allowing ourselves to remain safely within our comfort zones? And then does this vision of ministry attract more introverts than extroverts, thus reinforcing that bias?

This might strike you as preposterous. The church is simply trying to allow laypeople to be more involved in the mission and ministry of the Church, which is our shared responsibility as baptized Christians. True enough. At the same time, I can’t help but observe that the collaborative systems devised to foster shared ministry often leave clergy in roles more comfortable for introverts. These are generally defined by structured environments (e.g., liturgical worship or meetings) or managed one-on-one situations (e.g., pastoral counselling, supervision, or line management). These might be symbolized by three tables: altar, desk, and meeting table.

Messier situations are left to the laity: they’re encouraged to go into people’s homes, visit the sick in hospitals, engage with the local community, organize fellowship, work with children and youth, and the like. Their roles generally require more social flexibility and creativity than clerical ones. They have to put themselves out there in ways that make us introverted clergy feel uncomfortable, especially once we’ve become accustomed to the performative aspects of our jobs (i.e., standing up in front of people).

In my own ministry, it has been striking how many of these active laypeople are, in fact, extroverts—without their throwing themselves into church functions like fellowship meals, youth activities, and community activism, I would have been sunk. In how many of our churches must laity be extroverts just to start an active ministry? They have to take the initiative, put themselves forward bravely, because no one ever approaches them in the first place.

Turning clergy into managers is just the sort of thing one might expect introverted clergy to do even if not deliberately. Managing allows us a greater degree of control over social interactions and easy escapes into the safety of our offices. And in more extreme situations, this can even excuse clergy from having to deal meaningfully with many people. Outside of worship they spend their time managing the few who are ministering to the many. I don’t think these forms of collaborative working are devised in a programmatic way, but rather evolve from our disposition towards working in ways we find comfortable.

Now, all of this is undoubtedly grossly unfair. But I think it does at least open up an interesting thought experiment. If the surveys are correct about clergy being overwhelmingly introverted these days, how might that shape how we understand collaboration? And, if we were to imagine how extroverts would understand collaboration, would mission and ministry look different than it does now?

My own money is that we would end up with a far less managed church, where ministry is much messier, congregational life less structured, and roles less distinctly defined: more like how a family operates than a business. Our collaborative systems would also involve and facilitate a lot more of our going out into the world than people coming into our church offices. Our laptops might even gather some dust and Facebook benefit from our absence because we would be too busy actually co-laboring rather than striving to be leaders.

But that would be just fine—after all, we were called to serve not to lead.

About The Author

The Rev. Dr. Mark Clavier is Canon Theologian of the Diocese of Swansea and Brecon in the Church in Wales, Bishop’s Chaplain, and Vicar of St Mary’s Brecon.

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5 Responses

  1. Christopher SEITZ

    Glad the previously mentioned Bishop Straight Tongue never did a Myers-Brigg.

  2. Will Barto

    Thank you for your thoughtful essay, Fr. Mark. Your insights are certainly consistent with what I have observed in parishes and among the clergy. You lost me, though, at the end of the piece when you observed that you would have been lost had not the extroverts thrown “themselves into church functions like fellowship meals, youth activities, and community activism.” Perhaps that is the root of the problem here: if the crux of parish life is “fellowship meals, youth activities, and community activism,” then the dichotomy you observe is likely to persist. But if we consider that the crux of parish life is, instead, Holy Communion, discipleship, formation, catechesis, and spiritual direction, then the introverted priest or deacon need not contract out the life of the parish or become someone he is not, i.e., a socialite or community activist. To imply that a priest is deficient in some way or being a mere manager because he allows extroverts to be extroverts and he – the priest – focuses on the things that only a priest – introverted or extroverted- can do, is not very helpful and represents an all too common consumerist pressure on the time and effort of our beleaguered priests.

    • Mark Clavier

      Thanks for the comment, Will. I largely agree with you (see my earlier Covenant pieces on formation and catechesis or my latest book). It struck me after my post was published that I should have ended it differently by suggesting an approach to ministry that BOTH introverts and extroverts would find unsettling.

      What inspired the piece was hearing clergy say, ‘I’m an introvert so I shouldn’t be expected to do x or y because that’s not what I’m good at.’ Instead, they provide oversight to laity do things tasks. You end up with an approach to collaborative ministry that leaves the laity to do what introverted clergy don’t like doing.

      Reflecting on my own ministry, it occurred to me that my greatest growth and successes came through doing what is out of character for me. Of course, 2 Corinthians 12 addresses: “’My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”

      In short, I think we need to rediscover a vision of ministry that’s rooted in worship, prayer and formative teaching that compels people to get stuck pastorally into the messiness of everyday life…and gets us clergy out of our offices and into situations where we must throw ourselves onto the grace of God to succeed.

      • Will Barto

        Well said, and, as you observed, we agree on much. I was probably responding to your article out of my (still painful) experience in a large evangelical Anglican parish in the States in which introversion was viewed as a weakness in one’s faith. I like the conception of the faith that you have suggested – we are all going to be pushed out of our comfort zones in our Christian practice, and if we are not, then we might be doing it wrong, as the meme goes. Thanks again for your thoughts and effort, and best wishes in your ministry.

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