Lessons from Jesus: Growing as Introverted Leaders
I have a little different perspective on leadership.
As an “outgoing introvert,” I find time with other folks encouraging but not really restful. I love meeting new people, connecting with others, and talking about Jesus, but it’s exhausting. I also worked with graduate students and faculty for 15 years. Many of them are very introverted and reserved, and some are more traditionally outgoing.
In our personality-driven world, it’s often those charismatic individuals who can “draw in” others who have the most visible ministries. We all know the type: the winsome, welcoming folks, the gregarious, larger-than-life speakers who can lead large group and do outreach as easily as breathing. These amazing folks have a winsome way of drawing others into their lives.
And then there’s the rest of us. Those who may struggle with words, who find small talk uncomfortable. Or others, like me, who tend to talk too much, overwhelming new acquaintances with our intensity.
Jesus Our Embodied Example
When we look at Jesus, we tend to see him as a leader among leaders—the perfect example of how to enthrall thousands and call new disciples. His reputation went before him almost everywhere he went. And there’s no doubt that he had a way with crowds, often almost getting crushed in the press of bodies in ancient city streets.
But when we look deeper into the specific habits and rhythms that served him well in his intense three years of ministry, we see a much more nuanced leadership style. I know we can’t peg Jesus’ personality type (although die-hard Enneagram or Myers-Briggs types might try!), but I do think his example offers comfort and encouragement to us introverted folks. Not only is our leadership valuable, but our Christian communities are at a loss without us.
We’ve often heard that Jesus withdrew to spend time praying to his heavenly Father (Lk 5:16; 6:12). But in our extrovert-focused culture, everyone tends to see this act through an extroverted lens: as though Jesus put God first but didn’t need this time away to stay healthy and well-rested. I think we all too often assume that Jesus was eager to dive back into ministry, that he was merely doing what it took to get back out there as soon as possible. But when we make that assumption, we do Jesus—and ourselves—a disservice.
The NIV translates Luke 5:16 as “But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” But here the NIV translation seems weighted toward a “deserted” (HCSB) or “wilderness” (NET) place as being “lonely,” that is, a negative thing. In the broader context, though, Jesus wasn’t feeling negative or sad when he withdrew. He wasn’t lonely; he was alone. He left ministry’s hustle and bustle to draw near to the Yahweh God who is always with us. Jesus shows us that solitude is not a bad thing but something to be valued and fostered.
Introverted leaders don’t have to feel pressure to be as “involved” or visible as their extroverted peers. Jesus’ example demonstrates that it’s not only a good option to withdraw and rest, but it’s a very important rhythm for life and ministry. Introverts who regularly rest in Jesus can be an inspiration and encouragement to others as we quietly but firmly prioritize our mental and spiritual health.
Diverse Community & Biblical Partnership
There’s also a significant aspect of how Jesus “went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God” before choosing his 12 apostles (Lk 6:12–13). Being rested in mind and the power of the Holy Spirit, he set out to choose a community for himself, which would give him encouragement and companionship. To the average introvert, 12 people might sound intimidating, but when we break it down, we realize that 10–12 people is an ideal small group size. And partnering with one or two other people to lead a small group can fit well with many introverts’ capacity for “people time.”
Introverts are an important part of any community but are often overlooked. Truly biblical community should have a variety of types of people from “every nation, tribe, people and language” (Rev 7:9). And introverts, with our unique perspectives, can help build these authentic, welcoming spaces. Jesus saw the marginalized in society for many reasons, especially given how the Law and the Prophets are full of commands to love those on the margins.
But it’s also true that Jesus saw those who others overlooked because he knew what it’s like to be left out. Jesus empathized with others, and he empathizes and equips introverts to serve from our own experiences and perspectives.
Our Humble & Listening Servant Leader
InIntroverts in the Church, Adam S. McHugh points to research that suggests “introverts, in fact, make for the most effective leaders in groups of more extroverted employees . . . ‘introverted leaders are more likely to listen’ [and] are able to create a collaborative environment in which people feel valued” (128).
And in our own experiences, we’ve seen this play out. While we may not draw large crowds, we have friends and family members who call us “good listeners,” or we’ve talked with folks, even in passing, who later said that the conversation was really encouraging. It’s no coincidence that another of McHugh’s books is titled The Listening Life: Embracing Attentiveness in a World of Distraction.
Indeed, Jesus is our ultimate example of what a servant leader looks like. He took time to speak to those society overlooked: the Syrophoenician woman, the grieving father, the bleeding woman. He was so attuned to others—through the power of the Holy Spirit—that he knew when power had gone out of him, and he understood the thoughts of others. While we certainly cannot expect to perform regular miracles like Jesus did, we have that same Holy Spirit of Christ in us. The God who speaks in both thunder and in a “gentle whisper” is the same God who empowers and equips us to lead (1 Kings 19:11–12).
While we can’t go so far as to say that Jesus was an introvert, we also shouldn’t assume that he was an extrovert either. What we know for certain was that he was and is a humble leader who relied on the Lord.
And that’s a precious word for all of us, whether we’re leading a small group, making announcements at large group, serving on the Leadership Team, welcoming new members, or in any other leadership role. And it’s a certainty that the Holy Spirit of God will empower us to rely on his leading as we serve others.
Chandra Crane (BS in Education, MA in Ministry) is the Multiethnic Initiatives Mixed Ministry Coordinator with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. She is the author of Mixed Blessing: Embracing the Fullness of Your Multiethnic Identity from InterVarsity Press (2020).