Thursday, October 18, 2012

Introverts and Worship

I've been thinking a lot about church worship lately and trying to analyze why I've been so happy at the church I go to that has a very traditional worship service. (And no, that's not my church, that's George Herbert's church in Bemerton, England.) I've come to the conclusion that although I think there are some very good theological reasons for a worship service using a traditional order of worship (an order which most contemporary services don't follow--although they have their own sort of "liturgy" that is the same week after week), that's not the real reason why I don't know if I could transition to a contemporary styled service. After all, I could follow the same model of call to worship, confession, affirmation of the faith, service of the Word, response to God, etc. in my own home and view corporate worship as a chance to worship less formally. I think the real reason I feel uncomfortable in a contemporary styled service is that I am an introvert.

Introversion has been written about more in recent years, perhaps most notably here and here. The theory, as I understand it, is that introverts and extroverts process things differently in the brain, and therefore introverts get overstimulated in loud, people-full environments and need to get away by themselves to process. It seems to me like this idea has implications for worship. Could it be that I like a more reserved approach--without a worship leader and drums--not out of personal preference, but because I get overwhelmed and distracted from worshiping when something is too showy and noisy? Is it possible that my discomfort over someone too overtly expressing their worship with body swaying, hands raised over their heads, etc. is because I'm an introvert and prefer to not have someone so in my face with their internal thoughts? And, by the same token, if extroverts process their thoughts externally, do some extroverts need to sway, lift hands, etc. to feel like they have worshiped? Are they left cold and unmoved by the choral anthem that I find elevates my heart to worship far more deeply and easily than a contemporary chorus, however Biblical its words may be?

I don't know if I'm pegging this right, but it just seems to me that my discomfort in live contemporary worship settings is not a matter of taste. It's not like I'm trying to feel uncomfortable in such places--I'm trying to worship. I just find that I can't. Even if I know the songs and like to sing along when they come on the radio, somehow when they are sung in a roomful of people I start looking longingly at the nearest exit. So if my goal is to worship, and I know and like the songs, it seems like there must be some underlying cause to my discomfort--and my current theory is that it might have something to do with my being an introvert.

Even if I'm right in thinking that my preferences in worship have an underlying cause that is in some way biological, obviously the answer isn't that introverts and extroverts should have different worship services. We are all the same family, children of God, brothers and sisters in Christ. So we need to find some way to make it work. We all need to grow in our worship and learn from one another. But I do hope that the 75% majority of extroverts don't ignore the needs of some of us introverts for reserved, predictable worship services. The kind of places where we are not distracted from focusing on God by the worship leader's showmanship or personality being injected into the service. Where we can think and process and not be made uncomfortable by the unpredictability of what might happen next (are we going to sing the chorus again or end it now?). Where we can in some way be alone with our thoughts even as we are sharing a common worship experience.

1 comment:

  1. Nancy, there is a lot to be said on this subject. (And I see that at least some of it has been said on your FB post!) What I find troublesome are the settings where my introversion (and yes I am, archly, an introvert) is given no space. For me, that is generally not during the actual "service," but almost always before or after.

    I think this is as least as much of the reason some people, in traditional services such as you and I both enjoy, sit through the postlude at the end of the service. We need to absorb, to reflect in order to understand, feel, and then live out what we've just experienced in a room full of people.

    Let the extraverts move into the narthex, or the social hall, or wherever, and give the introverts a couple of minutes to process, why don't they?!