December 4, 2020

Adam McHugh on “A Matter of Motivation”

'introvert3' photo (c) 2008, Robert - license: from CM: I have been asking Adam McHugh to write a post for us for awhile, but he has been busy working on his new book. However, he recently sent me a note and said he had something, for which I’m grateful. His fine work on introversion has come to the forefront again through mention in a bestseller by Susan Cain, called “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.” You can read his blog writing at Introverted Church.

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A Matter of Motivation
by Adam McHugh, author of Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture

The defining feature of introversion is where you find your energy; introverts, even though we may enjoy social interaction, even though we may really like people and be socially confident and skilled, lose energy in the outside world. We retreat into solitude in order to be restored.

'study introvert' photo (c) 2005, Robert - license: as I have continued to learn more about introversion, I have also come to see that there is a motivation factor for many of us. Introverts have rich inner lives and we can spend hours in our worlds of impressions, thoughts, reflections, and in the other dimensions of our inner life. From a neurological point of view, introverts have more brain activity and brain blood flow than extroverts, and we have less tolerance for the dopamine that is released from social interactions and activity. So in many cases it actually may be more pleasurable – in terms of the good feelings released in the brain – for us to be alone or at home than it is for us to be at a party or a church activity. In other words, we are more motivated to be alone than to be in a crowd. It’s not that we don’t like people or are anti-social or standoffish, it’s that it actually feels better for us to be alone sometimes. Reading a book on a Friday night may feel better than a night out with friends, especially when we have spent the week in a socially charged atmosphere at work. In that case, it’s not that we are choosing out of something, it’s that we are choosing, joyfully and purposely, another activity.

Often, in Christian circles, we idealize those people that have a “passion” for community. Those people who constantly want to be around other people and who love organizing and mobilizing social events are often considered those people who have the most “love” for people, and by derivation, God. And, let’s be clear, those people are absolutely indispensable for the formation of relationships in a community. Those churches that don’t have those people suffer because of it. At the same time, let’s also acknowledge that there is more than “love for people” that is happening here. For those social galvanizers, it feels good to be around people and to see people connect with one another. They are thriving on the dopamine that is released in their brain from those experiences. And that’s how God intended it for them.

Love for God’s people does not have to look for everyone like an overt, uncontainable passion for being with others. Love, as we know from the scriptures, is self-sacrificial, in which we lay down our rights and place the good of others ahead of our own. Thus, it can be a great display of love for those of us who relish our inner worlds, to lay those things down sometimes and be present with others, when we might otherwise prefer to be alone.


  1. Richard Hershberger says

    The common mistake in my experience is to confuse introversion with shyness. I am an introvert. I am not the least bit shy. I am more than happy to read lessons and serve as assistant minister in church. I am fine with public speaking. But, as this blog post says, I find my energy in solitude.

    Yet even this can be misunderstood. This doesn’t mean that I always, or even usually, want to be alone. It means that social activity is tiring, while solitude is restorative. But tiring is not necessarily a bad thing. Playing sports is tiring, too. Yet many people engage in sport for recreation. The point to understand is that if I go spend some time alone that isn’t because I am anti-social or am angry or don’t like the people around me, or even that I haven’t been enjoying myself. It is that I need to rest, just like someone engaged in physical activity needs to take a rest now and then.

    This does mean that I tend to dread conferences and similar events (including, oddly enough, church retreats). They often have every minute of the day scheduled, and disappearing for an hour or two to sit and quietly read a book doesn’t fit in well.

  2. Richard, like you and the author, I am a friendly, outgoing, and cheerful INTROVERT! The first time this came up on a personality test I was floored, because the lead in the school play and first person to answer in class could not be an introvert (again, thinking of the shy, bespeculted gal in the corner, silent.)

    It has taken me years to stop apolgizing for who I am and how God made me. People exhuast me, and since as a nurse and teacher I am always “on-stage” at work, the thought of leaving the house after dinner for a meeting or even for “fun” makes me want to find a hole to hide in. There are exactly two people I can just “be” with, and luckily for me one of them is my dearest husband. Having people over for simple dinners stresses me for weeks, and when the family is here (adults kids and spouses) I enjoy them but have to get away to read for at least an hour to calm down before bed time.

    Never could understand how my oldest friend needs to have a crowd around to be happy, but the thought of a houseful of folks sounds like a root canal to me. It is time to celebrate that not everyone is just like ME!

  3. And how do churches encourage “community”? By doing things like progressive dinners. An introvert’s nightmare. Running around to different houses all evening and interacting socially with an ever changing group of people? I’d rather have a tooth pulled. At least I can be alone with my thoughts while under the influence of the relaxing gas!

    And I completely agree that nothing “feels” as good as reading a good book after a long week of people. 🙂

  4. Thank you for posting this. I too am an introvert who can function in an extroverted world and then go home for a nap. I find if I spend an hour alone reading or studying before I go out to a meeting, I have restocked my brain. Of course I have to defuse at the other end. Thank goodness my husband understands.

  5. As yet another introvert in the church, another thing I’ve found is that, in general, extroverts have a much harder time giving voice to their own internal reality (including talking about how they relate to God). As someone who really likes to have deep one-on-one or small-group conversations with people, that’s something that I actually find even more frustrating that the expectation that everyone wants to be social.

  6. This silence seeking Protestant at times needs to seek the refuge of an empty Catholic cathedral for some quiet. Worship can be such an extroverted experience in my faith community — I can only wish that Sunday was a day of rest. To be a Christian is to belong and engage in a community, with expectations to witness and evangelize. It presents quite a conundrum for me, a shy introvert.

  7. HaHa! This is awesome. While I’m not the most introverted person in the world this really touched on some things in my life. I felt God calling me into ministry for Him a couple years ago and wondered what He was thinking. I was the guy in high school who was perfectly happy at an all night diner on Friday or Saturday night smoking cigarettes, drinking coffee, writing and reading. It’s not that I didn’t like people. I had some friends but liked my alone time too.

    When thinking about being a typical pastor, which at the time I thought God intended, I didn’t know what to do. I don’t like crowds. I don’t mingle. I like to talk to new people but I like to have real conversations. Those kind of conversations take longer than a pot luck will allow. I’m not shy necessarily but have always felt alone in large social gatherings if I can’t hide in a corner talking to a couple of people.

    But God know’s we’re all unique and He hasn’t forced me to be something that I’m not. He’s given me a dream to do something where community can be built without large crowds demanding attention. God really is everything to everyone.

  8. Great post.

    I believe that there are as many ways to love, as there are people out there to love.


    “Love is not a feeling…but a role we pick up and play.”

    ( that’s a quote, but I cannot remember who it was that said it)


  9. I know this is slightly off-topic but do any of you have any tips for those of us who are introverted and very shy? I admire – and am a little envious of – those of you who are introverted and yet still easily interact with others.

    I really struggle to connect with others at my church and to form a community. It is not that anyone is unfriendly, it is just that I find going to any group type thing (bible study, singles group, etc) extremely anxiety inducing. I am very aware of my need for community, but after a rough day at work (or even a normal one) it is easier to just sit down with a book instead of going to meet people at church.

    Have any of you gone through this? How did you get beyond it?

    • srs,

      If you’d rather sit down with a good book instead of going to meet people…then do that.

      You can interact with people a bit after worship, if you feel like it. If not, then go home.

      I think that’s what Jesus told the demoniac after he drove out the demons (wasn’t it?).

      “Go home…”

    • Srs – I am an introvert who used to be painfully shy but I have managed to work through that – usually I’m OK now. For me the ‘breakthrough’ came when I realised that most people weren’t usually thinking of me but of themselves. I came to realise that by allowing myself to be so introverted I was being very selfish by focusing so much on myself and ignoring other people’s needs so I trained myself to shake hands, smile and say hello and ask questions. In many ways it’s simply a matter of good manners.
      If you met me you’d have no idea that I am introverted but you’d go away knowing I had ‘noticed’ you and shown an interest. You’d also think I was very confident – which I’m not! I still struggle with parties and large groups of folk so I tend to avoid such situations if I can. In order to function like this I have to schedule in regular time outs so a busy day at a conference I can handle cheerfully knowing the next day is to be spent on my own – bliss!

    • This is me, too, SRS.

      Ali has some good advice…but it’s hard. The anxiety is so paralyzing that it’s difficult to think of others, or of anything other than that instinctive animal panic of “Get me OUT of here!”

      Guess we’ll just have to keep trying.

      • It is hard and there are varying degrees of introvertism (is that a word?!) so what I’ve suggested won’t work for everyone. Btw that’s a good description of my reaction sometimes – it does feel a bit like being claustrophobic.

    • I have often found that having a role helps. Joining the coffee rota, giving out service sheets, being part of a creative group like a choir or a banner making group, making costumes for drama groups – things like this really help me be alongside other people in a “doing things together” way rather than having to initiate conversations or talk too much. I make a lot of cakes for people too – it is another way of loving people, rather than the more obvious stuff that the extroverts love out the front!
      It took me a long time to realise that being an introvert is part of God’s plan – He made us too. I do think the church would be poorer without the less vocal but quiet thinking people – but it took me years and quite a lot of heartache to realise this!

      • Lynda, good advice! I have always found it easier to talk with people if I am DOING something. It helps to be doing something together and gives me something to talk about, if nothing else. And it gets my attention off myself and how awkward I might feel.

    • I agree with the idea of having a purpose in the crowd. I find it much more enjoyable to have a task to do and be engaged in a meaningful way than just hanging around waiting for the event to be over. I’ve also learned to seek out the other introverts in the crowd. If I can engage a few people in a good conversation at an event, I can go home completely happy and not worn out. Mindless mingling and making small talk wears me out. Having meaningful conversations doesn’t.

      • I have this problem at church. I don’t like merely walking around before/after the service looking for someone to talk to. When arriving, I usually go straight to my seat and stay there until the service starts. Afterwards is more difficult. I want to be sociable, yet the meandering around trying to make conversation seems so uncomfortable. Who do I talk to? How long should I talk to them? What should we talk about? It all becomes very stressful. And yet, if a definite activity occurs, like going to a restaurant or going to someone’s house, I’m usually much more comfortable.

        A counselor once told me to approach it like an actor approaching a part. Act the part of a confident, talkative person, and it will come more naturally over time. After awhile, it becomes more a part of you. You are still yourself, but with an extra dimension added to your personality.

  10. When I’ve had issues with anxiety in social situations and yet have wanted to interact with people I would have someone with me who I felt comfortable with and was aware of my anxiety. At church dinners I would sit near a door so I wouldn’t feel trapped and my friend would sit next to me. She happened to be an extravert, so that helped a lot. But if you have no desire to interact with people and are happy to be alone, then do that.

  11. At the Bible College I went to we all had to take personality tests the first week we started and it turned out that the vast majority of ministers in training were introverts. Maybe that’s why there is such a high rate of burn out for ministers? Those of us who are introverts need to know ourselves really well and guard our times of solitude in order to survive with our sanity intact.
    We used to have a Quiet Day once a term with the idea of getting a rhythm of quietness into our schedule. The introverts loved it but most of the extroverts were gritting their teeth trying to keep themselves in check. I love being an introvert – I can’t imagine not liking solitude but some church traditions are definitely much better than others at accommodating introverts.

  12. I’m not sure if I’m an introvert or an extrovert. It probably depends on which day of the week or even what time of day you catch me. I once took a rather lengthy A-B personality test as part of a college course, and I scored right on the center line on the A-B scale.
    Like many of you have described, I often crave solitude and can draw strength from my own inner resources. On the other hand, I sometimes find myself craving human interaction and social activity, especially if I have been engaging in a little too much solitude. Sometimes I want to be alone, and sometimes I feel almost desperately lonely. And I can experience both in the course of a day.
    I can also get grumpy or restless when I have to either deal with people or be alone when I am in the opposite mode.

  13. Can totally relate. Many times in social settings, I just did not know what to talk about. Fellowship would totally stress me out because I felt this constant pressure to be welcoming and make conversation with people, even though I was socially awkward and it never came easy to me. At my old church there was always this assumption that if you don’t go out and talk to the newcomers and make other people feel welcome then that reflected on your relationship with God. You lack faith, or you’re ungrateful to God.

    Eventually, I realized that this is who I am and God still loves and cares for me. Yes, I will greet you and shake your hand warmly, but I don’t need to stress about making conversation. I can be quiet, enjoy my bagel and be at peace.

    Another thing, I realized in relation to this (and this is actually a much broader topic for me), is that church should be a place where I feel safe.

  14. In-depth, meaningful, and open conversation about one’s spiritual state and relationship with God is something I think most churches really need to encourage and facilitate. Too often churches micromanage every moment of collective interaction, and even small group or cell meetings tend to be herded briskly along the narrow road of detailed schedules and lesson plans.

  15. Fran Decker says

    There is so much more to introversion/extroversion than gauging one’s love of social interaction. Perceptions of the world, methods of processing information, self-image and personal validation are all tied up in these opposite ends of the spectrum. I’m currently reading Susan Cain’s book “Quiet” because I really want to understand introversion. As I get older I have a greater capacity for and appreciation for solitude but from all the material I’ve read from an introverted point of view, all I can do is apologize for what seems to be a lack of sensitivity on the part of extroverts.

    • It has been my experience that introverts understand extroverts fairly easily. It definitely does not work as often in the other direction.

      • I have noticed that there are two types of extroverts: those who are gregarious enough that they are able to draw introverts out of their shell and into the center of things, and those who do not seem to get introverts at all and so turn away from and surround themselves with similar extroverts.

        • “Turn away from THEM” and surround themselves with similar extroverts.

        • One thing that also helped me navigate social gatherings more satisfactorily was realizing how many extroverts function at parties. I would feel frustrated that I had just started connecting to a person in conversation and then he/she would be off. I realized it wasn’t a personal thing in that extroverts didn’t want to talk to me. They were that way with EVERYONE. Thirty to sixty seconds with a person and it was time to move on. They do that over and over again. I’ve learned not to take it personally. That’s just the way they function in a social setting. They want to mix and mingle in the truest sense of the word.

          • fran decker says

            Ouch . You are on target Sallie. mea maxima culpa. I am not being sarcastic. I truly am sorry for and tired of being a clueless extrovert. But God has begun a good work in me and will complete it. Thanks for the insights and the forthright dialog.

        • Both the research and observation have shown that introvert/extravert pairing are very common. The extravert does not have to compete for “air time”, and the introvert is not forced to carry the conversation.

  16. faith gates says

    An introverted friend just directed me to this site. You have no idea how much just reading these comments has helped me. I have 60 plus years in the church and have beat myself up for most of them wondering what was wrong with me that I dreaded going to church and related functions even though I am a natural leader, not at all shy, and have served in every capacity from janitor to pulpiteer. I have discovered that I love people but they absolutely exhaust me. For the introvert, sacrificial love is being around the rest of the family!!! I’m just getting it that it is okay to be me. Wow! Just before I leave for heaven. Well, better late than never I guess.