Our congregation has been wrestling with the concept of missionality — that we, as the church, engage with God in God’s mission to redeem and restore our lives and our world. We don’t build God’s Kingdom, but we build for the Kingdom (to borrow from NT Wright). Acts of beauty, social justice, community service, kindness and evangelism are all missional activities.
Our congregants are fairly comfortable with community service and showing kindness to strangers, but, like many Presbyterians, they shy away from words like “evangelism.” In fact, when we talk about being missional as ”going out into the community into which God is sending you” or ”making disciples who make disciples” (never using the word evangelism),
I hear one of two responses:
1) I have a deep, paralyzing guilt that I’m not talking to my neighbors, or
2) I’m an introvert, I can’t be missional!
I have wrestled myself with these emotions and excuses. I am shy and struggle to talk to strangers. Even the act of calling the air conditioning repairman is a test of will for me. When I sit next to passengers on an airplane, I don’t talk with them, because I don’t have a clue what to say to start or keep the conversation going without feeling awkward. I’ve had to force myself to meet my neighbors and still don’t always know what to say when I greet them at the mailbox or while on an evening walk. So, when I read books challenging me to be in relationship with people outside of my church circle and to be unafraid to alert others to God’s Kingdom in my actions and my words, I feel guilty. I urge my congregation to talk with their neighbors, but I am fearful of doing the same.
This is not to say that all introverts are shy like me. Yet, I wonder if our leaders have unintentionally communicated that evangelism is the work of charismatic, outgoing people (and disconnected from relationships). Many of the introverts I know are not chatty; however, they are loyal, caring friends. I tend to listen up when the quiet ones speak in a meeting, because I know what they have to say has been carefully considered before spoken.
There is power in the willingness to take time to establish close friendships and allowing those friendships to demonstrate the Kingdom of God before talking about Jesus being the center of our lives. Evangelism doesn’t have to look a certain way. At its heart, it is an invitation to trust God with the pain of the world and participate in God’s work to heal it. People are free to accept or reject the invitation. If they reject the invitation, it doesn’t mean we reject the relationship. Choosing to love another person, no matter what, is a sign of God’s Kingdom. And surely extroverts and introverts alike can love.
The challenge for me, then, is to pay attention to where I’m seeking to make friends. It does take energy and courage for me to get outside the comfort zone of my church circle. But, the longer we live in Houston, the more opportunities for new friendships emerge, whether from a friendly neighbor or from the invitation to join a book club. We don’t have to be a certain way to be missional. We have the opportunity to be ourselves, outgoing or shy, chatty or quiet, as we go with God to engage our communitties with love, hope and faith.
RACHEL YOUNG is the associate pastor of spiritual formation at Clear Lake Presbyterian Church,in Houston, Texas.