When I was newly converted, as a young Christian I used to attend a bible study home group at the home of Mr Cuthbert “Rags” Tatters and his wife, whose Christian name I now cannot recall. Mrs Tatters left one lasting impression on me with a comment that she made one night. We were talking about shyness, and how some people were very outgoing, whilst others were introverted. Mrs Tatters said “You have to be true to your own nature.”
That night I felt affirmed for being the quiet, reflective, serious person I was. Thirty years hence, I am still fairly quiet and serious and reflective in personality, yet not lacking in confidence. I enjoy solitude as much as I like being in the company of others, and like many writers, my voice speaks loudest on paper.
It was with great enjoyment, then, that I read over the Christmas break a book entitled “Quiet, the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking.” by Susan Cain. In our western culture, Ms Cain claims, we champion extroverts and make false assumptions about their intelligence, capabilities and leadership potential. We create a climate which forces quiet people to act in ways contrary to their nature in order to be accepted, or otherwise ignores persons who may be far more valuable than we assume.
It’s an interesting read, especially when we consider contrasting attitudes in other cultures.
I believe that often the church in the western world is in danger of falling into the same trap, especially amongst our young people. Ms Cain does in fact provide a short synopsis of some attitudes found in a high profile American church community. In a culture of marketing, PR and psychology, the “church” sometimes revolves around the speaker. Leadership equals good talker.
Attend regular church meetings and the same folk will want the floor. Prayer time, invitations to share, bible study groups – there will be the same talkers, and the same listeners. I’ve known people who have left a bible study group because of the frustration of having to sit, unable to contribute a word, whilst one or two turned every session into a talkfest.
Like most things in this skewed world, what should naturally enhance communication and relationships is often out of balance. Some people talk incessantly, or hide behind a wall of words, or avoid intimacy or maintain control through speech. Others hide behind silences, or fear revealing themselves or lack the confidence to speak up. Sometimes a physical or cognitive disability may affect speech.
That’s where a good group leader or chairperson can graciously and respectfully curb the overly zealous talkers, and encourage the more reticent to participate. Persons who can do this are a great asset to any group.
When we look at the life of Jesus in the Bible, we see that Jesus surrounded himself with His group of disciples, and interacted with others frequently. Yet He also continually took Himself away from the group to spend time alone with His Father. Our mission as Christians is always to be reaching out to others; yet at the same time we need to spend time alone with God. Without this we cannot grow more deeply in relationship. Similarly we can question the nature of our highly programmed church services and wonder if there is a place for contemplation, silence and stillness.