I’m an introvert.
Several years ago I spent some time with a professional counselor. He was recommended to me by a friend who is also a very capable professional counselor. My first visit to my new counselor was a very significant moment for me. It was my desire to find a counselor who did not go to my church, who did not know me, and who was not that familiar with the various ministries of our church.
A wise friend told me no such person existed. While there may be 1.5 million people in the greater Oklahoma City area, I was certain to find someone completely objective, unbiased, and someone who had no knowledge of my 30-plus years in Oklahoma City.
This new therapist seemed to either not know about me or not care about what he knew about me. He was blunt, to the point, painfully objective, and clearly correct in his understanding of all that defined me.
So I trusted him. I held nothing back.
After a few months of weekly sessions, he looked at me one day and said he’d like to run me through a series of tests. These tests were designed to help him more fully understand my thinking, so I agreed and spent a full day answering questions, checking boxes, and spinning my mind around concepts that, at the time, made no sense.
When the end of the day arrived, I was exhausted and a bit confused, but also willing to trust the process. It was a very extensive process, but one I needed. I was hopeful these efforts would provide me some clarity about my true self. There was so much going on in my life that I did not understand.
A few weeks later, I received a call from my new counselor telling me that the results were in and he needed a full morning or afternoon to process those results with me. Once again, I signed off on a challenging day. I anticipated results that were sure to help me press on into the future.
“You’re an introvert.”
These were the first words out of his mouth. In that moment, I thought that the tests were flawed and he clearly did not know me that well. It didn’t seem possible that his analysis of me was remotely correct. But, by the end of that day of examining the results, it became clear that I was completely wrong in my thinking and he was a genius who unmasked the key issues of my life.
Initially, I kept thinking: “There is no way I could be an introvert.” When I thought of the word, I pictured a person who appeared withdrawn, shy, with limited social skills, and had no desire to interact with people. To me, an introvert was someone who stayed inside all day, had no interest in interacting with people, and most likely spent the majority of his time all alone in his home. None of those traits described me--or so I thought.
When we sat down to analyze the results, my counselor began to gently explain what that word “introvert” meant.
First, let me tell you what it doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean that introverts don’t like people; quite the contrary. We cherish people and the deeper the relationship, the more life-giving it is for us. It doesn’t mean we can’t handle crowds. In her book Quiet, Susan Cain says, “introverts are capable of acting like introverts for the sake of work they consider important, people they love, or anything they highly value.” It doesn’t mean we desire lives of complete withdrawal from people, noise, crowds, relationships, or parties. It doesn’t mean all introverts are the same. There are varying degrees of introversion and even the extrovert has some degree of introversion. We all function on a scale between the two extremes.
So what is an introvert? A person with a mild case of introversion, like me, loves people, functions fine in crowds, social gatherings, church, etc. I speak to thousands every week and used to have numerous conversations in and between the walk to three different auditoriums on our church campus.
Every Sunday, for most of five hours, I was talking, speaking, greeting people, and listening to many people who wanted to quickly tell me something. But, after all of that, I'd go home completely exhausted. This exhaustion wasn’t so much physical, but rather mental and emotional.
That was my primary clue that I may have a problem. I didn’t understand why I felt so drained on Sunday afternoons and Mondays were often worse. I was too young to live life in this funk most Mondays and many Tuesdays.
I didn’t understand all this until the counselor explained it to me in vivid detail. The basic definition of introversion for Marty Grubbs is the simple fact that after long periods of interaction with people, I am mentally drained. The two takeaways for me in this process were to first understand that I had to pace myself, and second, that I had to build in downtime after periods of interaction with people.
One of our key leaders at Crossings approached me one Sunday after church. He had been a pastor of a large church for many years before becoming key leader and professor at a local university. Unbeknownst to me, he had observed my Sunday morning schedule. He pulled me aside one Sunday after church and let me know that he had observed that I was in conversations with people before each service, after each service, plus speaking in three services back to back. He informed me that I could not sustain that activity for very much longer if I did not have downtime before and after each service.
This meant I should no longer be greeting people before the services started, talking with people after the services, speaking three times, and heading to other church activities that afternoon or evening. I never wanted to be that kind of pastor. I used to think those guys were arrogant, inaccessible, and too important to really serve their people.
We often call our elders and prayer teams to the front of the auditorium at the end of our services. They are there to pray for those who want to come forward after the service ends. Soon after we started this prayer time, another elder noticed I was standing along the front of the auditorium along with the elders and prayer teams. This elder, a very kind and gentle spirit, walked over to me and let me know that I needed to leave the room. He was lovingly clear as to why: “Marty, as long as you are standing here, no one will want to talk to me. So, if you will leave the room, I will be able to do the job you’ve asked me to do. And you will get a few minutes to catch your breath, drink some water, and get to the next service.” He was right.
The first Sunday I walked off the stage after the benediction was very difficult for me. As I walked off, I thought of the many times I had hoped to meet a pastor in a large church I was visiting while on vacation. I remembered how I felt when told there would be no way to meet the pastor due to his schedule and role in other services that morning. I had no clue then what it was like to be in his shoes on Sunday. My thoughts were often less than kind.
That day, walking off the stage, I became that which I used to criticize. Thankfully, I never shared my thoughts with those pastors. I never emailed letting them know my disappointment in not getting to meet them. I’m so glad I did not share those thoughts or I would have had to spend a great deal of time apologizing to pastors who were doing exactly what they needed to do.
After 36 years with my church, a current weekend schedule of seven services (three of which are live while we stream a video feed to the other four) means my boundaries have to go far beyond Sunday. Once I got the hang of pacing myself on Sunday--even though it meant not being available to our people--the next challenge was pacing myself between Sundays.
As the church grew, I began to realize that I could not have staff meetings all day on Mondays and Tuesdays, respond to email, have a few meetings with people in the church, write sermons, plan for future sermon series, or meet with leaders and staff as needed. That “Sunday afternoon” feeling lingered through the week and I went into too many weekends tense, sometimes angry, feeling foolish that I had not given adequate time for message prep, and wondering how much longer I could sustain this approach lacking in boundaries. Truthfully, I’m still working on it.
And just to be honest, it is no easier today to do what I know I must do than it was the day my counselor told me that I would have to change, or quit, or even burn out. Thankfully, with God’s help, an understanding wife, and over thirty pastors serving alongside me, I chose to change.
Don’t for a minute let me leave you thinking this is easy.
It has never occurred to me to avoid doing anything outside of my comfort zone. Having a mild case of introversion cannot stop how, when, and where God wants to use me.
We are all wired differently. We all have strengths and weaknesses. We have comfort zones, as well as uncomfortable zones. I’m glad God stretches me and takes me out of my comfort zones where I can then use all of my gifts and uniquenesses to their full potential.
After all, the Bible says, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13).
And I especially value the truth found in 2 Corinthians 12:9 “…for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
So whatever it is that you wrestle with, it may be that God will do his most extraordinary work through that weakness.