Youth Ministry and the Myth of Extroversion

Problem solving fortune cookie (c) Tomasz Stasiuk

This morning on my rounds around the blogosphere, I saw a blog post with a title that made me stop and look: “Help! I’m an introvert and a youth worker!” It's not terrible. But I’m here to tell you that, as an introvert and a former youth worker, it is not an article I can recommend.

First of all, and I realize this is a sensitive spot with me, it annoys me when extroverts explain how introverts can do…whatever it is. It feels like a little pat on the head: “I know it’s hard for you, but you can still do something.” I would humbly request that extroverts refrain from explaining to introverts about what they can do and how they can do it. Introverts have taken part in every kind of human endeavor, including the performing arts, teaching, politics, business, and, of course, ministry. We have been able to do these things quite nicely all along, thank you. You might not even guess that some of us are introverts, what with us being able to talk to new people or venture into crowds without difficulty.

Now, to youth ministry in particular. Before I entered youth ministry, I too bought into the stereotype that youth ministers needed to be extroverted as well as young, energetic, with a certain type of outgoing personality. But what I quickly learned was that this is a myth – and a dangerous one.

Youth ministry is ministry, and youth are people. Youth ministry, as with any other ministry, required a lot of time for research, planning, scheduling, budgeting, training, communications, evaluation, and follow up. Most of my time as a youth minister was not spent working directly with youth. In fact, the vast majority of my time was spent in solitary activities, either preparing for activities with youth or reflecting on the time I spent with youth. It was the time I spent in preparation and reflection that made the programs and activities we offered what they were. Just as it would with, say, a program for adults.

And I loved the time I spent with youth. When a program went well, when I saw youth sharing deeply or discovering something new about God or about themselves, that was a rich and wonderful experience. Just as it would be with, say, a group of adults.

Introversion or extroversion has absolutely nothing to do with whether one should or should not be a youth minister. Here’s what’s important: Can you be authentically yourself with youth? Can you listen without fear to what they have to say? Are you willing to hear tough questions and not be anxious if you don’t have an answer? Will you take the experiences of youth seriously? Will you honor their gifts and contributions?  Will you respect their considered decisions and perspectives, even if you disagree? Will you be their advocate with others who may dismiss them because of their age? Will you recognize them as individual people and not as a cohort or an extension of their parents? If you can, you may be called to do youth ministry.

Do the answers to any of these questions relate to whether one is an introvert or an extrovert? No? Then I guess that’s irrelevant.