Sunday, 23 November 2008


This post has been substantially updated - May 2013.

In the Spring 2013 issue of the Baptist Union Retreat Group (BURG) The Journal, Ian Green pondered whether we ‘tailor make our retreats for introverts’, and wondered what a ‘retreat for extroverts’ might look like? Well, I've done the Myers-Briggs test a few times over the years, and I consistently report as a strong 'E' - that is, I am an Extrovert, rather than an Introvert. This means I am energised by being with people, and drained when I spend time alone. I’ve been on many ‘retreats’ and ‘quiet days’ over the years, and have variously found them either draining or challenging, but never refreshing. And so I think Ian might be onto something. The question I have frequently found myself asking is whether my ‘Extroverted’ nature means that I am inherently any less 'spiritual' than those who report as strong 'Introverted' types?

In their book 'Knowing Me, Knowing You' (SPCK, 2003), Malcolm Goldsmith and Martin Wharton comment that: 'Extraverts... often feel that they are unable to pray, and they feel uneasy when prayer is being discussed... and they probably need help in realizing that their thinking and action might well be a form of prayer... Retreats and Quiet Days can leave them feeling 'outsider', and somehow 'second class' when it comes to spirituality.' (p.158)

I've done a fair bit of reading over the years on 'spirituality', and have frequently been left feeling rather inadequate. Those whom the church looks to as 'spiritual' people, the great 'spiritual' writers of past and present, seem to advocate pathways to God which are predominantly 'I' rather than 'E'. Ignatian Spirituality is predicated on the idea of retreat, with silent meditation and contemplation featuring high up the agenda. The practice of Lectio Divina is based on silent reflection upon the text and the world. Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross are similarly focussed on the inner journey undertaken in solitude. When I was growing up, I was told that I should prioritise my daily Quiet Time, finding a silent place and meeting God in my solitude.

And all of this is fine, up to a point. And the point is this: For me, this is all a lot of hard work. I'm not denying it's value: I do indeed take quiet days, engage in silent reflection and meditation, and spend time alone in prayer. But, and it's a big but, this is not my naturally preferred place to be. It is tiring, draining, hard work. It's not that I'm afraid of a bit of hard work from time to time: we all have to work hard at things. But I'm not sure I want to locate my primary place of divine encounter in that place which also drains and exhausts me. Because if I do, when I am tired and stressed from the rest of my life, the last thing I'll want to do is go and meet God. Spending time with God, when understood as an Introverted exercise, can become just one more tiring task to put on the extrovert’s 'to do' list, which they then never get round to completing.

But, nontheless, 'sprituality' = Introverted has become almost de rigeur in Christian culture.

And, forgive the rant, I'm getting less and less happy with this status quo.

  • What if it is just as spiritual to meet God in others as it is to meet him alone?
  • What if it is just as spiritual to hang around at the end of the service talking to people, as it is to go home and contemplate the sermon?
  • What if it is just as spiritual to spend the afternoon visiting, as it is to spend it in prayer?

I was talking this through (as you might expect) with my Spiritual Director, and I was complaining about my perception of 'bias' in the spiritual literature towards Introverted Spirituality. She made what is I think a good point: most people who write books are Introverts, because writing is an essentially introverted discipline. This means that most of those who have put words to their spirituality have done so from a introverted perspective. The extroverts are too busy 'out there' getting on with life.

And so I'm starting to wonder, what might an Extroverted Spirituality look like? I’m starting to wonder what spiritual disciplines would look like that offer a sustainable and nourishing challenge for extroverts, in the same way that more introverted disciplines function for more naturally introverted people? And I also wonder whether an exploration of extroverted disciplines might pose a helpful challenge to those of a more introverted disposition, in an analogous manner to the way in which the introverted disciplines challenge extroverts?

Are extroverts any less 'spiritual'? I think not. I often take encouragement from Revelation 8:1 ‘When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.’ And I think, as an extrovert, that that’s about right. Half an hour – not a morning, or a day, or a week, or a month…

So, in the interests of getting the discussion going, here is my emerging manifesto for Extroverted Spirituality:

  • Intentionally seek to encounter God through interaction with others.
  • Listen for the voice of Christ when talking with others.
  • Seek the counsel of others when engaging in discernment.
  • Believe that it is as we gather that we discern the mind of Christ.
  • Practice accountability with others.
  • Engage in introverted spiritual disciplines, but not daily.
  • When Christ is encountered, tell someone about it.
  • Seek the forgiveness of others, because it is often there that our own forgiveness by Christ will be encountered.
  • Pay attention to what is encountered in the other, because it is often there that we find our inner self.
You might also enjoy: Nancy Reeves, ‘Spirituality for Extroverts (And Tips for Those Who Love Them)’, Abingdon Press, 2008.


Glen Marshall said...

Another suggestion:

Dare to look for God in the city and not just up a hill/by a river/under a tree/while fondling a lamb.

Robyn said...

I think your spiritual director has a point in indicating that those who write are more likely to be introverts (although I might take issue with the opposite of writing as being 'getting on with life').
But I also think it is important to point out that there is a strong Christian tradition of 'extroverted spirituality' as well. It just doesn't get the press or go by that title. It is true that many of the monastic orders were founded on contemplation or retreat (as you indicate in reference to Ignatius), but monasticism has also long had a strong tradition of community - hence vows of 'stability' taken by many orders. Being in community was regarded by these orders as a fundamental requirement for spiritual growth. You might also think of the Franciscan and Jesuit orders that place an emphasis on being 'out there' ministering with people, not just in your 'ivory tower' communing with God.
Perhaps we don't call it 'spirituality' and because it manifests itself in every day things like work and conversation, it can get the short shift, but extroverts have always been around 'getting on with life' in spiritual community, while the introverts have chased the great inner 'spiritual' experience.
As we have said so much before - God is in both.

Neil said...

Simon - you are probably right that many spiritual writers have concentrated on the contemplative aspects of spirituality. And recent interest may well be the result of becoming tired of evangelical activitism. But the tradition has been at its best when it has recognised the value of both the interior and exterior journey. The best monastic orders were those which engaged in a wide range of activities, some prayerful and reflective, some active, some missional.

Alongside retreats, silence and solitude have also gone things like stations of the cross (not a very baptist practice I know), prayer labyrinth and other forms of spirituality which engage us physically.

And then surely the nature of worship gatherings is just that, the church of God gathering together for corporate worship.

Simon Woodman said...

Glen: As a 'city boy' through and through, I couldn't agree more!

Robyn: Thank you so much for (as always) a sensitive, balanced and helpful response. I clearly need to do some more reading...

Neil: Yes to the recent upsurge in 'I' spirituality as a reaction to evangelical activism. However, the problem I have with the prayer labyrinth is that it is still very 'in the moment' and, to broaden the Myers-Briggs discussion, quite a Sensory/Feeling engagement - which as an iNtuitive/Thinker I struggle with...

I was in the Bristol Oxfam bookshop yesterday, and picked up a copy of 'Knowing Me, Knowing You' by Malcolm Goldsmith and Martin Wharton. It's a book with a number of 'Ah-Haaaaa' (Alan Partridge) moments (!) (sorry). Here's some of them as they apply to me (it's my blog, after all...):

'Extraverts... often feel that they are unable to pray, and they feel uneasy when prayer is being discussed... and they probably need help in realizing that their thinking and action might well be a form of prayer... Retreats and Quiet Days can leave them feeling 'outsider', and somehow 'second class' when it comes to spirituality.' (p.158)

On iNtuitive spirituality, they comment:

'INtuitives are often energized by the world, for it is within the world with all its complexities and ambiguities and challenges that they meet with God, and the believe that God speaks to them in a multitude of different ways and through a vast variety of people and situations... They therefore tend to dislike fixed patterns and established procedures, would rather be exploring different methods, and they are always open to change.' (p. 162)

And on Thinking spirituality:

'Thinking spirituality tends to be logical and rational, concerned with matters of truth and justice. The demands of the conscience are very important. The approachc to worship and prayer is objective, perhaps even impersonal, and Ts can be alienated by overt shows of friendliness or emotion... Thinking spirituality is cerebral and objective; it inevitably finds itself being rather defensive... It will never be a popular form, and it will often be misunderstood and disparaged...' (pp. 163-4)

simon said...

fabulous stuff, Simon.

One of the things we've started doing in our evening services is scheduling time to talk to and pray with one another.

It's partly because it's good to do in and of itself. But also because I think a lot of the people who come to our evening gathering are folk who are energised by being with others and intimidated when it's suggested they go away and process things on their own.

So we always a time of talking to each other about the teaching material and praying about our reactions to it or about stuff going on in our lives (at whatever depth people want to).

I think evangelical spirituality - for all evangelicalism's activist tendencies - has always been solitary - the Quiet Time. And
I've always struggled with it, frequently getting to the end of a structured programme of some kind, saying to myself 'so what?' What I need is someone there with me to bounce ideas off.

I haven't a clue what my Myers Briggs profile is - it's so long since I did the test and I'm not sure I understood the questions when I did it!

However, I feel that, though I am shy in company, I am extrovert if understood in terms of where I get my energy from. I need to bounce ideas of people and get very energetic when entering into diologue when preaching. Indeed, one of my favourite ways of teaching is through question and answer with a congregation. I'm often buzzing after that!

However - and there's always a but - I do find saying the Northumbria Office every morning really helpful in getting my mind and spirit (and body) focused on the day and on God's presence with me in it. But I find it just as easy to say it as I'm walking up the road looking around me, smiling at passers-by (who view me suspiciously) as in my study.

I think the idea of using blogging as a sort of public journal where people can dialogue with one another very interesting. I'd love to know what others think about that.

Ian B said...


We've just set up a Connect Life group at church to encourage spiritual growth in our "upper youth" age group (there was contention over the use of "middle aged") with the thought that it is easier to develop in spiritually and faith when coming together over a cup of coffee.

I will be recommending your blog as a resource as well so expect some traffic from the Risca area.


Ian B.

Unknown said...

Sorry to gate crash the party but as per usual you've made a great point and wanted to give my 2pence worth.
As someone who was brought up Baptist and now is an evangelical (denoting my denomination not saying baptist don't evangelise) I cetainly agree that there is an extreme emphasis on the quiet time, and likewise with being an extrovert agree that quiet times can be a chore. However, instead of seeing quiet times as something one must do is it not valid to say of the extovert that interaction with 'the world' and with christians drives one to thier knees in prayer and reading? In my experience I find that I discover more about God through the bible because of the interactions and therefore discipling myself to read daily and pray means that what I have gleamed during the day is concreted or discared as appropriate.
I suppose it depends on your view of the Bible. If one holds that the Bible is infallible and contains all we need to know then checking our thoughts against it regularly makes sense.
Also, as has been mentioned I don't think we are alone in approaching God in this manner. Its been a common experience since Christianity began. The Key being I suppose that we worship God in the way he made us, in community.
Thanks again Simon!
In Christ,

Simon Woodman said...

Simon: I think exploring 'interaction' as part of the worship on Sundays, rather than saving it for the coffee afterwards, has much to commend it! I'm interested to know how it's received... I tried this (after a fashion) at my last church by preaching short, open-ended sermons, and then allowing discussion and feedback. Some loved it, some *really* hated it... One particularly annoyed church member had a stand-up confrontation with me and then stormed out, his point being that he came to church to encounter God, not other people.

Ian B: Good to hear from you - any comments from Risca will be gratefully received!

Peter: Welcome to the party (!) I agree about the importance of quiet, and study. I guess I'm wanting to explore interaction *as* spirituality, rather than as that which drives us to it...

Simon Woodman said...

Update to the Emerging Manifesto:

When Christ is encountered, tell someone about it.

Craig Gardiner said...

There is a great deal to be learned from Myers Briggs stuff and Jung's thought, but one thing that isn't explored half enough in my opinion is the shadow side to the dominant personalities ... this too needs to be understood and nurtured ... this is something worth further conversation but as an extrovert too, I still find blogging quite difficult and need the physical presence of other person/ people. Must pop in the the college for a chat.

But just to say for now, that it is only in encountering others (and the Christ within themn) that we discover the borders of our ego and how our hearts have turned in upon itself.

Simon Woodman said...

Craig - I entirely agree about the importance of 'dancing with your shadow'. It just seems to me that the weight of 'spirituality' material that I encounter is weighted towards helping the E encounter their shadow I...

Simon Woodman said...

Update to the emerging manifesto:

Seek the forgiveness of others, because it is often there that my own forgiveness by Christ will be encountered

Pay attention to what is encountered in the other, because it is often there that I find my inner self

Lee Lee Dart said...

I am getting my Masters Degree in Soul Care and Christian Formation. I am doing a project on Extrovert/Introvert Spirituality. I am trying to see what spiritual disciplines help extroverts "hear" God. In January I am wanting to get 5 extroverts and 5 introverts and come up with a 10 week experiment with some spiritual disciplines for them to assess. Does anyone have any good ideas or good resources I could find. I am also intrigued by the "shadow" concept. If God made us to experience Him in the unique way he made us, why is it so important to do the "hard work" of going against our personality. Can we not be formed otherwise? Is it impossible to grow as a Christian if we do not go out of our comfort zone? I would love input!

Simon Woodman said...

Hi Lee Lee Dart,
I'm sure you're alread aware of the usual MBTI-Spirituality material that's out there e.g. - I like the stuff by Malcolm Goldsmith.
I know what you mean about the shadow side, but I guess the rationale for it is that we are all seeking 'balance' in our personality types, and therefore learning to access that which is normally hidden is a growth area. My frustration (as an E) is that when doing reading on 'spirituality' it always seemed to be me doing the hard work having to access the 'spiritual' I, whilst my natural E was denigrated as 'unspiritual'.
I wish you all the best with the project. Do drop by again and let us know how it's going!