“Now go out and encourage your men. I swear by the LORD that if you don’t go out, not a man will be left with you by nightfall.” Secretary of Defense Joab, to King David, in II Samuel 19:7
“Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest – I would flee far away and stay in the desert…” David in Psalm 55
Today’s subject is a sensitive one. As I’ve said at the beginning of a number of sermons over the years: “Today I’m going to speak very carefully and I want to ask you to listen very carefully. If you’re going to get mad at me, I want you to be mad about what I actually said and meant, not what you mistakenly thought I said or meant.”
Leaders – and this includes pastors – are expected, by most, to act like raving extroverts, most of the time: Energetic, enthusiastic, socially active, gregarious, smiley, encouraging, the center of attention.
This is relatively easy for some of us who are naturally, extroverted, energetic people.
For those of us who are low-energy introverts and seriously melancholy types, some aspects of this description are pretty difficult for us, even on our best days.
Many of us have learned that in order to be effective at leadership, we must transcend our temperaments to a degree, and act more like extroverts than we actually are. (I wrote several posts on this subject a few months back.)
Our best and most savvy followers understand our challenge and appreciate our willingness to stretch ourselves, for the sake of a cause which is so much greater than our own personalities.
But what are we to make of – what I call – the turn inward?
- The pastor seems to be avoiding people before and after services, instead of shaking as many hands as possible, as he used to do.
- While he used to be “out and about,” visible and smiling, he seems to have withdrawn to the safety of his home and family.
- The formerly “available” pastor is now studying at home, or locking himself up in a dark, secluded office.
I think you get the picture, so let’s get right to three levels of turning inward:
The Good – Some extroverted pastors are too busy, too available, too active, too gregarious. They’re not as serious about studying the Bible as they should be. They don’t prioritize time alone with God in prayer and meditation as they should. When these individuals make a reasonable turn inward, some are confused, but everyone benefits. Their sermons become richer, their leadership stronger, their relationships deeper.
Do you – or does a pastor you love – need to make a good turn inward?
The Bad – The turn inward is anything but good when it is driven by discouragement, fear, doubt, bitterness, resentment or even depression. At such times we typically stop leading, stop encouraging and stop sharing our faith. Our lack of enthusiasm and joy is palpable.
I should add: most pastors experience at least short term “introverted seasons.” They’re neither fatal nor final. If we run from people to God we find the strength, the solace, the love and acceptance that we need and return to the spiritual battlefield refreshed and re-calibrated.
Have you – or has a pastor you love – made an unhealthy turn inward that you need God’s help with right now?
Do you have a plan for getting the help you need from God so you can return to the fray?
The Ugly – This is the kind of turn inward that can have serious consequences for our own lives as well as the ministries and lives that are dependent upon us. I’ve seen suffering, inward-facing pastors:
- Giving up on outreach and evangelism
- Like the grieving King David, neglecting desperately needed leadership in a time of chaos
- Hiding in their offices with the windows covered up and the lights off
- Changing their theology to reflect their newfound pessimism
- Declaring that their church problems were caused by having too many new converts
- Leading their ministries into an almost paranoid, “hunkered down,” victim mentality
If you’ve made a significant turn inward, was it based on sound “self-leadership” and/or sound theology, or was it based on discouragement, bitterness or even depression?
If you’ve made a significant turn inward, have you talked and prayed this through carefully with healthy advisors/mentors, or have you turned only to other pastors who have also turned inward?