I have a confession to make. I have spent my life in church. A preacher’s kid, then a seminary grad. Now, after seven years of house church ministry, my wife and I are embarking on a new chapter. We don’t even know what the chapter is. There is no invitation to another church, no greener pasture that we are making a break for. We have done this thing longer than the average pastor stays at a full-time church ministry.
What we do know is that making a transition, finding a new place, is going to be hard. We both feel like we have some odd angles, some characteristics that make it challenging for us to settle into a new place. She is a raving introvert, while I am an introvert who can act like an extrovert … sort of.
And what we find to be the case is that church is a decidedly extroverted place. A bunch of extroverts usually stand up front. By and large, modern worship, church life and leadership values extrovertism over characteristics such as contemplativeness.
And so, as we prepare to embark on a transition we are both kind of dreading, it makes me think of all of the churches I have visited, all of the places I have worshiped (or at least tried to worship). It makes me think of all the reasons that two pretty introverted people have kind of a tough time with church, even though we love it.
Three Things That Make Me Excessively Nervous in Church (in Order of How Nervous They Make Me)
1. Raising My Hands
This sounds so innocuous, perhaps it even sounds absurd to you, and yes, there are plenty of hand-raisers and many non-hand-raisers. But the gold standard of interactive Christian worship, the “hand raise,” is something that has never come easily to me. Now, I raised my hands thousands of times in school, often with passion and pleading for the teacher’s attention. But raising my hands in front of a group of adults at church still feels hard. I don’t want to draw that kind of attention to myself. But then, who is looking my way, wondering why I’m not raising my hands like everyone else.
I’ve got to be really relaxed to put my hand up for a couple of minutes during a song, so please don’t think I’m being a party pooper. Little social cues like hand-raising make worship really hard for introverts like me. I probably will not do it if I’m a first-time visitor.
2. Praying Aloud
Raising hands during singing is not that big a deal, but this is where the cold sweat starts to break out on my neck. And I know if an aversion to hand raising is odd, then this is anathema. How can a pastor be uncomfortable praying out loud?
The thing is, I have no problem praying when I am supposed to pray, when I am expected to pray, when I am the designated prayer leader. When I am supposed to pray, I can do so on the spot, the only problem being that I have probably been running one or two really good prayer lines through my head beforehand so I can sound good for everyone else, but then that begs the question: Did I already pray in my head, and if so, what am I saying out loud?
Yes, I can pray on cue. But when you put me in a group and we pray “as the Spirit leads,” suddenly I tense up. I wait for the Spirit to move someone else. I pray that someone will go ahead and pray and break this dreadful silence. (Silence is the most socially awkward form of prayer, isn’t it?) And the longer I wait, the harder it is to go ahead and speak up.
Oh, and forget the small group intercessory prayer. I dropped in on a church one Sunday night where, unbeknownst to me, they break into twos and threes and pray for each other. I am somewhat ashamed to admit that I avoided eye contact and quietly made my way to the door.
3. “Doing Life Together”
Didn’t we used to call “doing life together” just “being friends”? I cannot think of a more obtuse or grammatically dumb-sounding church phrase that is in greater need of being stricken from our vocabulary.
For one thing, what does this even mean? It conjures up in my mind thoughts of people living in a commune. At the very least, it gives me visions of never having quiet time or privacy because we have to “do life” with other people. At the very least, it insinuates that life is some kind of task that must be done or an expectation that must be met. I thought life was something that was lived.
I do sincerely understand that we Americans are socially deprived compared to other cultures where 50 people might live in a couple of huts. But there is one person whom I have committed to “doing life” with, and that’s my wife.
The problem with modern church life is that so much stuff, so many of the social cues and values, are external. We judge peoples’ souls by their social involvement. We judge the sincerity of their worship by what their bodies are doing. We live in a show-off generation of church-going. And until we change that, introverts like me are going to continue to get really nervous on Sunday mornings.