I’ve been in ministry for fourteen years alongside my husband and have had several upfront roles of my own. So it can come as a surprise to people when I admit to them that I am quite shy.
I was a shy child. It was partly personality and partly because we moved a lot internationally. I quickly learned to watch and listen so I could adapt before I spoke up (and give myself away with a different accent!) In my youth, it meant that:
- I found children’s parties hard and sometimes chose to hang out with the host mother rather than the kids.
- I volunteered in the library in the early years of high school, rather than managing uncertain friendships.
- I hated giving talks at school and uni. I distinctly remember being unable to stretch a book review to the required 2 minutes. A teacher carefully suggested I join the debating club to learn more skills, but I was horrified by the suggestion (although obviously in hindsight, it was an excellent idea.)
- I only ever have a few close friends at a time, rather than a large group.
- I was very content with my own company, enjoying a good book and some silence. Actually, I still am!
Shyness and Introversion
Obviously, this is not only shyness but also her related sister, introversion. Numerous personality tests have since confirmed it. I’ve had to work hard at being open, welcoming and friendly, and therefore avoiding my natural shyness and hesitation.
Yet, I do walk up to new people and introduce myself. I often find that I'm the one driving conversation: asking the questions and following up later. And, I believe, God has been at work giving me confidence to stand in front of people and present with (almost!) ease.
I do these hard things because I am convinced God calls us to serve one another in love. I need to welcome newcomers or people on their own. I need to put my nervousness aside. God strengthens me in my weakness.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s still uncomfortable at times. Breaking into groups of people is very hard, and am more likely to be seen standing on my own after church, wondering who to approach. I use a full script for every situation where I have to present something in public. Unlike my husband, who can speak competently with little or no notes, I need them. They are my personal life raft, ready to rescue me if my mind wanders or my thoughts flee.
As the years go on, I’m testing as more introverted. I’ve begun to wonder—is it because I constantly push myself outside my comfort zone and therefore need and value the recovery time more? I have also pondered—are extroverts ever shy?
Interestingly, my husband currently tests as extroverted (even though we both know he’s truly an introvert). We think it’s because he answers the questions reflecting his job which is almost entirely people-based. Of course, this also shows how subjective some of the tests are!
The Cost and Management of Introversion
Doing ministry amid shyness and introversion come at a cost. We often ‘veg out’ in front of the TV at the end of the day, before we have the energy to talk with each other. We both cherish silence—but need to keep reminding ourselves that a house with three children will never be quiet. We want to be hospitable and have an open house, but know we have limits. Both of us often retreat to helping out in the kitchen at various points in large gatherings.
So, what have we discovered about being shy and introverted in ministry?
Generally, we’ve realised that we need to avoid overloading ourselves with other people—making us unable to care for ourselves, each other and our family. Here are some of the practical ways we manage this:
- We don’t host Sunday lunches. Sunday is busy enough with morning and evening church, and having people over for lunch means there is no break to recharge. We use other days for ministry hospitality.
- We keep school holiday evenings clear. In term time, 3-5 nights a week are taken up with ministry commitments. Breaking the cycle every school holidays gives a chance to re-set and take a breather.
- We share our calendars online. We can both see when things are getting too full and when to stop booking more in.
- I plan my days with ‘free-time’ so I can get through the afternoon and evening joyfully (well, I try!) Sometimes it feels decadent putting my feet up with a cup of tea and a book for an hour before school pick up, but it means I can manage the rest of the day much better.
- We make a concerted effort to accept each other’s limitations. When one of us cannot do more or needs to slow down, we respect it and change things accordingly. We also speak-up when we suspect each other’s diaries are getting out of hand. My husband can spot my limits approaching much sooner than I can! (At the same time, it’s his encouragement and prompting that’s helped me move out of my comfort zone. As a result, I have a more upfront role in ministries than I would have considered 15-20 years ago. I’ve really appreciated his support in this.)
We were recently described publicly as extroverted—we had to laugh, thinking ‘it’s funny what people assume!’ In reality, we manage our personalities both in public and private so that we continue to serve God to the best of our abilities, and God-willing, will continue to do so for years to come in ways that honour him, and are helpful for others.
So, if you are similar—how do you manage your shyness and/or introversion?
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