You can do this.
It’s amazing to plant new churches, and Anglicans actively seek more of it.
“But”—you might say—“I’m an introvert.”
And I want to think with you about being an introvert and a church planter, with help from a few others who are like us. Whether you’re a pastor or a lay leader, please take a large eraser and clear your head right now of the misconception that church planters must be extroverts.
For some of you, this is your image of a church planter. Especially if you came into the Anglican church from evangelical traditions in the last 15 years, you might have felt the influence of the Acts 29 church planting network and its previous leader: a brash, loud guy who could talk and hold people’s attention as long as he wanted. Driscoll’s shortcomings led to his replacement by a much calmer fellow … Matt Chandler. Also not exactly taciturn.
I’ve admired leaders like that quite a bit. I’ve learned from them. I’ve grown.
But it’s obvious: That’s. Not. Me.
Perhaps you have learned that some trappings of latter-day American evangelicalism are overplayed. You don’t really need the newest songs. If your rector wears skinny jeans, you wouldn’t even know it (under the cassock-alb). But it’s hard to dislodge the idea that the church planter is a smooth charismatic.
“Being introverted was an initial obstacle to me even believing that I could be a church planter, because only extroverted, Type-A persons plant churches.” That’s from Justin Read-Smith, planter of the Community of St. Columba in Missoula, Montana.
It’s a common feeling.
And it’s wrong.
Should I Be a Church Planter?
Let’s decrease the stakes here: very few people sense a call to be a “church planter” in general, blazing from city to city starting up new congregations. Most of us were going about our lives, and then we were struck by the need, opportunity, or burden for the work of God in a particular place. We could see that new thing in our minds and said, “Yes, I might be the one for this.”
(Watch: More content on Anglican church planting)
Seven years ago, I was a layman, looking back at my native Buffalo, New York, from a distance. I was in discussion by phone with a new Christian there about churches. I thought, “Buffalo could really use a vibrant Anglican church in the city proper.” I thought, “Maybe I can help someone figure out how to do this.” I knew: “If no one else is going to do it, then I need to do it.”
Are you called to be a church planter? Ease-off that question, friend. Here’s my simple agenda:
- Church planting is great, it’s needed, and it’s especially needed for Anglicans in North America.
- Let me clear away some of the negative misconceptions that unnecessarily stop people like us.
- Don’t seek out the vocation of a church planter, but keep your eyes open for what might be possible.
Are Introverts Shy?
The Five-Factor Personality Model is probably the most studied model we have. It’s not perfect, but it uses factor analysis to control for personality differences across cultures.
One of the more-or-less steady “Big Five” personality measures is Extroversion, whose scale includes introversion: the more solitary or reserved types. The trait is generally enduring over time.
Are introverts shy? Not necessarily, but confidence might look different in different circumstances for different people. I hear this from St. Paul, and it resonates with my experience of introversion: “Some say, ‘His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing.’” (2 Cor. 10:10)
That, by the way, is from the greatest church planter of all time.
Let’s be clear: a church planter needs to talk to people. A lot of people. But most introverts are not anti-people. They just need time away to balance their time with people.
“I’ve found over the years that I need two hours of alone time to recover from every hour of people time,” says Ryan O’Dowd, who started Bread of Life in Ithaca, New York.
Resources for a Journey
Church Planting is like going on a journey. We make good plans, and then we figure things out as we go. I want to go through a preparation checklist for the introvert church planter so you feel better prepared for a journey God might invite you on.
Note: you don’t get a map for this trip. So many good resources are out there, but a single map that works for all planters is a myth. Each new endeavor is unexplored territory.
1. Gather the Team
An introvert can be a church planter. But some things will be hard.
For example, every church plant develops a new culture. That’s what’s so great about them! But it is exhausting to get a culture going. It helps so much to have gregarious co-workers for the kingdom, people-magnets who thrive on new connections.
“Team, team, team. I need people around me who are more extroverted to help in sharing the load,” shares Justin Read-Smith. And when you know you don’t have to do everything, it also helps psychologically. “I think the acceptance for me is found in not feeling guilty about doing more and recognizing my need to rest and recuperate.”
2. Daily Rations
Church planters must make new connections. They also find new buildings and set up new ministries. (Everything is new.)
You will need to set your own healthy barriers so you can be fresh for that work.
Ryan O’Dowd was clear that he needed two hours away for every hour with people. Plan it and don’t feel bad! “My calling is to be the priest I was made and not the priest next door,” he says.
A heads-up to bi-vocational planters: I’m an accountant by day. While this limits my time, it actually supports my personality. I can flex my hours, so I meet someone for coffee, and then I pore over spreadsheets for a while. It’s a good balance. It would be impossible for me to work a social day job and then minister to people.
3. The Magnifying Glass of Contemplation
Personally, I think my best strength in ministry is the time I spend reflecting on myself, on what I’ve done, and on what’s coming. At least, that’s when I’m operating well.
As an introvert, it’s natural for me to find time alone. It’s negative when I use that to feed worry and doubt, but it can be very positive when I put in the time to consider the implications more deeply, work out a variety of perspectives, and craft my words better.
This impacts both my time alone and my time with others.
“I assumed that a church planter’s ministry needed to be extroverted in nature, but the more I’ve become comfortable with myself, the more my leadership has taken on a contemplative shape and pace.” Kevin Whitfield planted Church of the Lamb, now in East Rockingham, Virginia. He continues: “For instance, I find that some of the most fruitful time I spend with people each week is listening to them and praying with them.”
4. Plenty of Fire
You don’t need a charismatic personality, but you are the one to set the tone for your church. Do you believe in this mission with all your heart? Will you pursue the kingdom of God against all opposition?
On the outside, this can look different for an introvert. You might not get a big crowd right away. But an introvert who can keep that fire for vision fed long-term is a force for the kingdom of God.
“I suspect people are initially attracted to outgoing personalities, but I don’t think they stay in a church long if the ship is barely afloat,” reflects Ryan O’Dowd.
5. Fresh Socks: The Ability to Change
In the Five-Factor Model, another personality measure is Openness to Experience. Church planters do a lot of recalibrating when things don’t go as planned. This applies to ideas and ministries, but we probably also need to accept some challenges for our personality. God does not call us to be always comfortable.
“We should accept our basic personality types as how God made us, but we shouldn’t be totally constrained by them either,” thinks Blake Johnson, founder of Church of the Holy Cross in Crozet, Virginia. “Introverted church planters will have to step outside of their comfort zones regularly in ministry, and particularly in church planting.”
Personality isn’t everything.
God can call anyone to a new ministry, lay or ordained. And he can call both extroverts and introverts as church planters.
I agree with Ryan in Ithaca: “If there is a common key to success, it’s that they are organized and communicate well.” And I’ll add: they have a great team.
So go about your business. Serve the Lord where you are at. There’s no pressure.
But open your eyes to the kingdom possibilities around and ask yourself: Is this challenge also an invitation?