By Joel Jackson & Kyle Somerfeldt
The contrast is always striking. Even after a long, exhausting day, Janet loves to spend her evenings around people. Whether she is with friends or people she just met, she is energized by interacting with and serving others. Janet is an extrovert. Thomas, on the other hand, is an introvert. He likes spending time with people. But after a long day of work he prefers to have some alone time to recharge. Thomas serves best when he has created space in his schedule to be by himself.
While in college, Thomas spent two summers working at church camps. He worked hard both summers. He led groups, counseled campers, and cleaned up after events. But Thomas was completely mentally exhausted after the first summer of service. The second summer, he knew that something had to be different. Thomas discovered that he needed to spend a half hour alone each day to recover. Thomas served energetically both summers and worked hard. But at the end of the second summer, he was still going strong. Understanding how he recharged allowed Thomas to serve in a sustainable way.
Janet becoming a stay-at-home mom after their newborn arrived had been the culmination of a lot of planning and hard work for her and Thomas. But several months in, Janet started to realize she was emotionally exhausted. She felt she had not connected with other adults in weeks. Thomas arranged a special evening for her to enjoy dinner with her friends. As she ate, talked, and laughed, Janet realized she had been starved for time around people. By scheduling regular time to recharge with friends, Janet was able to better serve those around her.
Are you an introvert or an extrovert? Do you build mental energy around people or in solitude? Exploring how God wired you empowers you to care for others. Many people have discovered that God designed them to recharge when they are alone. Others find new life by coming out of their shell and being around people. God made us all different. The process of embracing our differences is essential to serving and worshipping God and taking care of people. Just like Thomas and Janet, we cannot serve in a sustainable manner if we don’t acknowledge our own needs. We will quickly run out of energy to get anything done.
Jesus: Introvert or Extrovert?
What about Jesus? Was he an introvert or an extrovert? He seems to have been a little of both. The Gospels contain many stories describing when Jesus specifically joined groups of people. On the other hand, particularly in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus spent a good chunk of time away from crowds. Scripture does not say whether Jesus was an extrovert or an introvert. What is clear, however, is how Jesus submitted his personal preferences to his love for God.
In Matthew 9:35-38 Jesus began traveling in Israel. He taught in synagogues, he preached about God’s kingdom, and healed sickness and disease. He spent a lot of time with large crowds. In Mark 2:15-17 with Levi and in Luke 19:1-10 with Zacchaeus, Jesus intentionally enjoyed group meals with people. Through his presence Jesus showed those attending that the kingdom of God is open to everyone. The Pharisees were concerned that Jesus was acting irresponsibly. Jesus countered by telling them that his mission was focused on people—especially people who acknowledged that they were not perfect. Jesus made a point of spending time with large groups.
On the other hand, we also see passages which highlight Christ seeking time alone. In Mark 1:35 Jesus prioritized solitude. He woke up while it was still dark in order to separate himself from the crowds. Many introverts, in need of time alone to recharge, will often rearrange their schedules to find such privacy. According to Luke 5:16, this kind of activity was not unusual for Christ. As much time as Jesus spent with people, it is clear that he also made a concerted effort to spend time on his own.
Serving Despite Preferences
Regardless of how much Christ tried to either separate himself from or connect with others, it is abundantly clear that he never used either preference as an excuse not to serve.
Both Mark 5:21-43 and Luke 8:40-56 tell about a specific instance when Jesus was surrounded by a large crowd. If you are an extrovert, this sounds ideal. Being with all these people is exactly what you need to recharge. Jairus, a loving father, started pressing through the crowd. When Jairus asked Jesus to leave the crowd and heal his daughter, Jesus did not say, “I’m sorry, I really need this time with people.” Instead, Jesus demonstrated his openness to serving God. Jesus left the crowd and went with Jairus. Even if Jesus was an extrovert, he still chose to say yes to leaving the crowd behind.
There were other times when Jesus just wanted to get away from everyone. If you are an introvert, you know how difficult it can often be to truly separate yourself from people in order to recharge. In Luke 9:10, 11 Jesus sought to spend time alone with his disciples. When a crowd showed up, we would expect Jesus to either hide from the people or reprimand them. But that isn’t what Jesus did. He didn’t hide. He didn’t rebuke. He didn’t even say something reasonable like, “Can you come back in an hour?” Instead, Christ welcomed them. Verse 11 says that Jesus, even when trying to find solitude with God, spent time teaching about the kingdom of Heaven. Christ made a plan to have time to himself and ended up spending that time doing the opposite.
When Jairus asked him to leave the crowd, Jesus responded. When a crowd interrupted him, Jesus responded. What stands out is the fact that Christ never let any innate introversion or extroversion get in the way of loving and welcoming people. That is the most important lesson we can learn, both for the introvert and the extrovert. As we grow to be like Jesus, we serve both in ways that are comfortable and in ways that stretch us. That means after some particularly difficult days, it can still be good for introverts to spend time with others. This means that it can be beneficial for extroverts to serve one person privately, even turning down larger social situations. Christ made it clear that even if he had a tendency toward introversion or extroversion, he always put people first because of his love for God.
It’s crucial to discover the best way for you to recharge. No one can serve sustainably without learning how to rest. Jesus clearly valued this; he intentionally spent time surrounded by people, while also prioritizing time alone with God. But Jesus refused to allow his personal preference to become an excuse. When people asked for his time, Jesus served them. That is what we can truly learn from Christ’s example: the importance of balance. Get your private time. Get your people time. Get your rest, however you get it best. But also stretch outside your comfort zone in order to love people where they are, just as Jesus did.
An introvert who is learning to welcome people into his life, Joel Jackson hosts groups in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Doing his best to balance compassion and introspection, Kyle Somerfeldt serves the kingdom in Westerville, Ohio.