The Introverted Church


Ok I’ll make a confession I have an introverted streak, not quite a mile wide, but it’s a substantial part of my personality. I enjoy being on my own for at least some of the time. I like reading and thinking in my own company and I probably enjoy riding my motorbike so much because I don’t have to share the experience with someone twittering in my ear.

My problem is that Jesus won’t seem to leave me alone in my introversion. At times he seems happy for me to retreat, emotionally, spiritually and physically. When you think about it he couldn’t really do anything else after all, he did the whole retreat thing himself. Yet after his mornings alone and other times away from the crowd Jesus returned to his band of apprentices he was trying to shape into a revolutionary movement and a world full of need. He never allowed himself to become compulsively introverted maybe because when we as humans do that we stray into sin by making ourselves the centre of our universe.

I am beginning to suspect that life in the Kingdom of God is the very opposite, it’s compulsively or perhaps more accurately, inherently, interdependent. We cannot live the life of the Kingdom of God without realising and living out the reality that we are dependent on others and they are dependent on us. I think that was the point Paul was underlining by using the body as a metaphor for the church, all our organs are interconnected and largely interdependent and so must I be with my fellow believers.

Life in the Kingdom forbids me from retreating into myself and being consumed by myself, my needs, my likes and dislikes. Jesus left me, and you for that matter, in no doubt that if we are to do any more than pay lip service to the reality of the Kingdom we must look beyond myself to the needs of others. … Matthew 25: 34″Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ 37″Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 40″The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’” He commended the Samaritan who look beyond his own safety to the need of a battered traveller. In case you don’t remember the religious introverts didn’t come out of that particular story by Jesus covered in glory.

To be honest this causes me some discomfort which at times moves into the realm of sacrifice. Moving from my instinctive self-focused love to outwardly focused love doesn’t come naturally to me. Yet I think this outwardly focused love is the very essence of holiness. I don’t fully understand the mystery of the Trinity and I am cool with that, I enjoy awe, but what I do know is that deep within God his love has always been outwardly focused. For all of eternity the love of Father has been flowing out to the Son, the Love of the Son has been flowing out to Father and the love of Spirit has been flowing outwardly connecting Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Scripture tells the story of how this outwardly focused love spilled out from the heart of the Trinity in creation and redemption. Amazingly, at least to me, Paul tells us that this same love is poured into our hearts as disciples of Jesus. “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” Romans 5:5 This love is poured into our hearts not so it can remain there and give us a warm fuzzy for own pleasure but so it can spill outwardly from us into the church and world.

As a recovering introvert I know one when I see one and I see introversion regularly not so much in individuals but in communities, in congregations. I see so many churches which are self-focused and self-consumed. Their whole existence and every service they run is designed primarily to cater to their own likes and preferences. Any change is run through the filter of whether the people in the church will like it rather than whether it will allow God’s love to flow outwardly to those beyond the church. Most churches spend the VAST majority of their finances on themselves and run the VAST majority of their activities so cater for themselves. There is not even a sense of interdependence among the Christ followers within the congregation. Those who protect introverted church see church as an event they attend. Church services become the event at which individuals gather to have personal spiritual experiences on their own terms but under the same roof. It’s all a far cry from the Body of Christ. This introversion inoculates the church against vulnerability and compassion which are the building blocks of authentic community in the Kingdom of God.

Introversion to me is the most dangerous spiritual diseases to currently infect the Church in Scotland. It’s pernicious because it emasculates the Gospel. Introversion reduces the Church to a group of loosely connected individuals who believe the same things rather than a revolutionary movement whose aim is to embody, serve and extend the Kingdom of God. I think it was Augustine who said that the essence of sin was a heart turned in on itself, self-consuming, self-focused, self-interested and self-serving love. It gives me no pleasure to say it but far too many churches are precisely that, self-consumed, self-focused, self-interested and self-serving. The outwardly focused and self-sacrificing love of God, the very Holiness of God, will always be in short supply in introverted church even if they dare to call themselves Holiness Churches.

So how do we turn the church inside out? How do we wean the church from compulsive introversion? To be frank I have no idea. I suspect that the starting place must be for the Holy Spirit to pour that outwardly focused, self-sacrificing love of God into the heart of the church again. That’s something I can pray for and maybe you could join me on my knees?

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