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Spiritual Formation for Extraverts

December 31, 2011

I watched my friends wander by the lake, sitting with their backs to the trees, lying on the grass, looking up at the sky. Most had serene, angelic looks on their faces. I, however, wanted to explode.

Our leadership team was at a spiritual retreat, working on our own “spiritual formation”. There are many definitions of this concept, but most of them involve three ideas:

  • the work of changing the inner part of who we are
  • the process of conforming that inner being to look like Jesus
  • the outflow of this is to serve others.

We were spending the day in silence. We were encouraged to meditate, walk, read, think, pray; anything but talk. As far as I could tell, I was the only one about to have a fatal attack of the jitters (I later learned I was not the only one). I cannot go more than about an hour without wanting someone to talk to. I am an unashamed extravert. That means I can only live inside my head for a little while before I have to externalize my thoughts and interact with others. If I go too long without externalizing my thoughts to another person, I start to get morose, paranoid and even depressed. I need the rest of the world to help me keep my proper bearings.

When we gathered the twenty people together, we shared our experiences. I wanted to externalize my anguish, but I could quickly tell it would have gone against the stream. Several people were telling how this was a refreshing, renewing experience; they wanted to do this on a regular basis. I listened to their descriptions and decided I needed to get a deeper life with God before attempting this again. In the years since, I have certainly tried to spend hours in silence. I can do it, but I leave with no less anxiety and muddled head than I did years ago. I have also read many books on the subject of spiritual formation. These books fall into certain categories: Meditation, silence, Prayer, Scripture Reading, Listening to God, Confession of sins. The books are all saying things I completely agree with and try to practice. I have to say I do well at prayer, reading the Bible, listening to God. But recently, I noticed something about the practices of spiritual formation and the books that advocate these practices: They are written by introverts and are primarily designed for introverts. I have said this to many people and rarely do I find someone who disagrees with me.

Just as I have been critical of authors who write on outreach, evangelism and social justice from a strictly extravert point of view, so now I want to take to task those who neglect the extravert when it comes to Spiritual Formation. First, some definitions. I define an extravert in the classic Jungian framework: a person who gains energy by being around other people, who can think and feel more clearly if they use those thoughts and feelings to interact with others and who is not as comfortable living on the inside of themselves. An introvert is the opposite: Someone who gains energy by periodically getting alone, who can think more clearly and feel more confidently when by themselves or in a quiet place and who are not comfortable externalizing their life in front of others.

So, how can an extravert focus on the inner part of who they are when they are much more proficient in externalizing their thoughts and feelings?

For several years, I taught short seminars on spiritual formation for church planters. Generally, Church Planters are the entrepreneurs of church leaders. In order to get a church going from scratch, it takes people who are multi-relational, outgoing and interactive. Introverts can plant churches, but they have to take a more organic, one-on-one approach. Extraverts often get a church off the ground faster with more energy. Therefore, when I taught this course to extraverts, I noticed they were not terribly interested. I don’t blame them. I had approached the subject as if all of us were comfortable with reflecting deeply within. I now realize that is not how it works. An extravert will never be able to grow internally if they take an introvert’s approach. After getting polite but mundane response to my seminar, I revamped it with the extravert in mind. The first time I presented my Extraverted Version of Spiritual Formation, I witnessed a dramatic transformation. These church planters engaged immediately in the concepts. Even now, several years later, these church leaders come up and mention that seminar as foundational in their understanding of spiritual formation.

Here are the basic elements that form the fabric of a dynamic spiritual formation process for Extraverts:

  1. An extravert needs to have more times devoted to spiritual formation than an introvert, but they must be of much shorter duration. Rarely can an extravert concentrate on any inner discipline for more than a half hour.
  2. They need to have people in their life they can bounce ideas, decisions, thoughts and reflections off. These people must be instructed to know their role is to interact –  they don’t have to agree or disagree on principle. It actually works better if extraverts can have several other extraverts they speak to every week and possibly every day about the spiritual truths they are learning.
  3. An extravert should seek to pass on what they are learning through mentoring, teaching, writing or music as soon as possible after coming to an understanding of a new truth.
  4. Every truth has a corresponding action associated with it. An extravert should learn they must do something with what they are becoming and learning and not just accept new ideas as philosophical concepts.
  5. An extravert desperately needs to have safe people they can talk with concerning the things they want to eliminate from their lives. These people should not be judgmental in nature, but neither can they be soft. They must challenge the extravert to new patterns of living based on the way God is changing them on the inside.

I am researching these things and may develop this teaching into a series of articles. At the very least, these five principles can change an extravert from the core outward. For instance, let’s talk about intercessory prayer. It is too difficult for me to spend hours praying on my own. However, if I can gather two or three other people to join me in prayer, the things Holy Spirit says to me often blends beautifully with what the others are praying. What they say often jibes perfectly with my thoughts and propels me into a new thought pattern altogether. If I sat for two hours trying to pray for someone, I would out-think myself and second guess my inner thoughts. But as soon as they come out of my mouth, I am often surprised at what I just prayed. In this regard, it is helpful when I am alone to pray out loud. Even if no one else is there, I can externalize my thoughts and listen to them as if someone else was praying. It helps.

Stay tuned…I am forming these thoughts as I grow.

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2 comments

  1. I Love This!!!! Thank you, Mike. I have never looked at the spiritual formation discussion from this perspective and I think this is so important for leaders to understand. Keep growing and sharing!!!


  2. Wendy, this is a subject I am going to spend a lot of time delving into during 2012. I think the extravert world needs more help in going deeper into the Life in the Spirit. Have a great New Year.



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