Sharon’s Sabbatical Reflections September 4, 2014
Well, you will note that my speed of reading has declined substantially with Quiet. This is a book that demands slow consumption.
I just completed a chapter devoted to the apparent affirmation of our culture for extroversion. Cain begins by describing her experience as a participant in a Tony Robbins workshop in Atlanta. Robbins is a hugely successful motivational speaker and entrepreneur who attracts thousands of faithful followers to his events. It seemed to Cain that much of time was spent learning the merit of being outgoing, action-oriented and high energy.
She then moved to Harvard Business School where she found students were encouraged to speak out, take the lead, be part of the team! HBS uses the case study method to teach many of its courses and places students in teams to work through the case studies. Cain found that those who spoke up and offered ideas were considered better students even if their suggestions would not bring the best results.
Finally, she visited the huge Saddleback Church community founded by Robert Warren in California. There she encountered an evangelical Christian culture built around worship for extroverts—lots of loud music, movement, interaction with the people sitting around you, and preaching that spoke a lot about being successful.
In each of these settings, Cain met with participants who identified themselves as introverts and explored with them how they fit in. These examples caused a flood of memories for me. I recalled a conference I attended in DC several years ago for ministers from large churches. The host was from a megachurch in Oklahoma City who extolled us on the ‘blessings’ of his congregation. He clearly valued the size of the building, its coffee bar, state of the art AV technology, huge budget and large staff all perched and ready to grow the place. At another event in Louisville a few years earlier I was part of a group of clergy who had received a study grant to do congregational research. What struck me there were the number of ministers whose vision of their church seemed more like a CEO presenting to the Board of Directors. Bigger, better, louder=more successful. That was the message I took away.
Cain’s conversations with the introverts raised the hard questions about where those who are quiet, not quick with a pithy retort, seek solitude and peace and value a sense of ‘just enough’ fit in to our modern world. Curiously, when I visited HBS on my previous sabbatical, I met with professors there who were addressing these issues particularly in response to the Enron crisis. In a culture that values success and extroversion, where do you build and sustain values?
All of this serves as a reminder that no church can survive long term around the personality of the minister, no matter what attributes that individual possesses. No church can be healthy if its programs are aimed at only one group or type of people. No church will be successful if you only measure it by membership and budget. This is why so many large churches have adopted small groups to bring intimacy to the encounter of faith. It is why we have evening prayer services and the late Christmas Eve service for those who like silence in the midst of worship. For the same reason we have study groups for those who need time for slow reflection and one on one conversation.
Cain’s point, I think, is to remind us that life is not one big sales opportunity. Suggesting, even indirectly, that introverts need to learn to be extroverts in order to succeed is naïve at best. Leadership can be charismatic but it can also be built on wisdom. This is good food for thought as we look at our lives but also as we consider our expectations for our children. Are we pushing people to be something they’re not? Are we at risk of missing the greatest talents because we have been sidetracked by the loud and popular?
What does this say to our church as we plan for the future?
I leave this with you to think about.