I read an article yesterday about fellowship, and it made me smile. As an introvert, not much about fellowship does that. I thought fellowship was just about small talk in large groups, and I’m terrible at that, to the point where I’ve even questioned my Christianity. I mean, if it’s all about group functions, and I don’t like them, maybe I’m not who I think I am. But an alternate view made me think differently, and that makes me smile.
First, some quick definitions. Extraverts are those whose batteries are charged by people. They like to be surrounded by people, and it gives them energy and life. Introverts are charged internally. Give an introvert a few hours in his own head, and he’s happy. Stick him in a roomful of people, and regardless of how he loves the people, or how charming he is, when it’s over he needs time alone to recharge.
The church is set up for the extraverts. Probably because of our culture’s views on time, we want to pack life full to the brim, so group functions are king. And they can be rough for the introvert. On days when I absolutely don’t have the energy for small talk, I’ve been known to stay home from worship completely. I feel guilty, but I also know that a person who attends worship and then high-tails it home is considered a little snobby. And yes, vainly, I’d rather skip worship than be labeled a snob.
So what’s an introvert to do? Are we natural? Are we broken? Is it really a genetic condition, or is it a sinfulness we need to repent and turn from? And if we miss out on a lot of the group stuff, are we hurting the church? Are we hurting ourselves? How often do I need to attend a group thing before I’ve done enough?
I had no answers. I just know I try. I try to show up, and I try to smile and pretend all is good. Usually I don’t mingle like I should, instead happy to talk with some depth with one or two people, which is completely not how it’s to be done. The position of wallflower doesn’t bother me except I know I’m supposed to do something more.
Then I read something that said fellowship, used biblically, really doesn’t mean small talk over donuts. It’s much bigger, more intimate. And it can be done in a small group or one-on-one setting. It just means being in it together. The church is our family. We need to share burdens, sacrifice for one another, financially look out for each other. It means sometimes we do hard things together. We all have the same major goals, working toward the growth of the same kingdom.
The best visual of this definition is from the Lord of the Rings. Tolkien puts together the Fellowship of the Ring. They weren’t really the best at small talk, barely getting along at all. They didn’t have one potluck. Instead, the fellowship was about a mission. It was about sticking with each other for a bigger goal than their happiness or entertainment or even friendship. It was huge, and it mattered.
I like that idea. I want to fellowship like that, and I didn’t know I’d ever wanted to fellowship at all. I’m not broken. My wiring is fine if I can use all the skills given to me to work with my Christian family toward a common goal. For the sake of the extraverts, who need the big group functions sometimes to charge up, I will keep attending some of those. But that’s out of love for them, not the need to fellowship. Fellowship is bigger, and I’m glad it’s bigger. I’m glad to know I’m part of such an important mission, that I need to watch the backs of those on the journey with me, and they’ll look out for mine. It’s comforting. And honestly, I never thought I’d think of fellowship as comforting in any way.
So, if you’re an extravert, give the introverts a break and know they have your backs even if they miss the picnics or socials. And if you’re an introvert, try to help those extraverts recharge, but also know you’re valuable as you are. And then, focus on the mission. We’re not out to destroy a ring to save the world; we’re out to bring a message and usher in a kingdom to save the world. It’s huge and amazing and life changing. Donuts and small talk are optional.