Is Quakerism “Worship for Introverts?”

presence_in_the_midst_medIs Quakerism worship for introverts? A non-Quaker teacher I have at Fox was telling me that his daughter, also from another tradition, now attends a Quaker meeting of worship. He told me she loves it because she sees Quaker worship as worship designed for introverts. As an extroverted person, I am not as in tune with these themes she is sensing in her experience with Quaker worship. I suppose the intentional and prayerful choice of music, and the style it is presented in at her meeting may be a factor. Surely, the process of centering in open worship can lend itself to an introspection many introverts would appreciate in a Christian worship world that often tries to cram the worship time full of activity. Mainstream Christian culture seems to embrace a sense of urgency in the worship experience. Mainline denominations can seem to “enforce” a scripted liturgy that “must be finished” and surely the stripped down way in which Quakers—even programmed ones—worship might seem like a breath of fresh air to introverts who love to reflect and refocus on God’s Presence. However, to be fair, we all have our liturgies. No matter how “low church” you fancy yourself, if you try and change worship too much, people will make quite clear where the lines of liturgy are drawn. For all our talk of form and symbol, we Quakers still cling to our particular recipe of worship whether programmed, unprogrammed or “semi-programmed.”

To me this introversion theory sounds perfectly reasonable, yet is that all there is to it? Is the contemplative style of Quaker Christianity simply like our northwest coffee shop culture, where we gather socially to ignore one another in “community?” Do we just fancy a “safe environment” where we can see people, but not really have to deal with the pain of real relationship? I am of course not trying to say that introverts ignore one another per se, yet the coffee shop experience we embrace in this part of the world has a certain isolation/community balance that is all very hands off and consumeristic. The culture here is one of anonymity and privacy. We like the predictable shallowness of programmed responses like “how are you doing?”…”fine.” Silence surely does not have to be, but can easily become a barrier, a nice social buffer.

As an extrovert, I love the times of fellowship before and after our gathering. And frankly, I love the open worship time as well, and not just when a message of vocal ministry is brought. I love the silence and experiencing God there. It is a rich time for me, one I long for throughout the week when I am apart from my worshiping community. On the surface, I can see the introvert appeal, yet there is a great deal more going on in open worship than sheer navel gazing and intuitive creativity of expression. I do not see open worship as either an introverted or extroverted thing, but often those who share vocal ministry are more extroverted by nature. Does their willingness to talk free them more to bring God’s utterances, or do they just feel less comfortable with long periods of silence? Or, am I simply and shallowly making too much out of these modern pop-psychological distinctions?

At times, I wonder if I would get more out of open worship if I were more introverted. Do people of this orientation have a deeper connection with God because of this bent? Surely, some of the greatest spiritual masters through time have been introverts, people like Merton or Kelly. Another one of my professors, who is a big proponent of the MBTI personality typology, told me that one of the greatest weaknesses of introverted people is that they often aren’t very good listeners. This seems counter-intuitive because of their quiet nature. People assume that extroverts are terrible listeners because they do so much talking, but they actually make good listeners because they do not need to think as much about what they will say before they begin to say it. However, introverts do not listen as well because, while the other person is talking they are usually still formulating what they will say next when the opportunity arrives instead of actually listening, because they need time to reflect and have everything worked out in advance before they begin to speak.  I am sure we all do this to some extent, yet what does this mean in silence to an introvert, as they seek contact with God’s Presence. Over time have introverted Quakers remade worship in their own image, or is there something in the silence that transcends the ways in which people are energized or depleted in community?

While looking back on history, one can often simply project their own personality types or spiritual gifting into what they see, but what has been the role of extroverted people in our movement? James Naylor, William Penn, and John Woolman were most certainly extroverted in my reading of history. Yet I could be wrong. Was Fox the deep introverted mystic who experienced God in solitude, or was he the extroverted firebrand who stormed steeple houses and preached over the priest’s sermons there? Both I guess. How we see him and what we emphasize may be simply what we want to see in the end. We do need each other though. We all bring different strengths and gifting into the family of God. We are—introverted or extroverted— simply two sides of the same human face of God. Yet the question remains, is the Society of Friends just church for introverts? Do the different denominations really tend to attract certain personalities to themselves, with perhaps Pentecostalism being at the other end of the introverted/extroverted extreme? Or is it a crudely contrived generalization to think that Quakers might be more introverted than other groups just because we have historically frowned on things like dancing?

As an extroverted mystic, I have never thought much about these things, or what the experience of my opposite might be like. I am glad this girl has found a comfortable place to worship, a place she can be herself and grow in community. Yet I am now wondering what the effects of a possible “segregation by preference” might be robbing us of. Are we embracing “the testimony of equality” in its true fullness in our worship style, making room for the “other” to be comfortable as they grow in who God has created them to be? Or have we, like so many groups before us, simply grown exclusive, with a chorus of like-minded voices pushing us toward an extreme of preference?

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About jtower11

Hi there! I am James Tower: A husband, father, dreamer, visionary, thinker, poet, mystic, metal-worker, and scholar. A former atheist trying to find my way as a Quaker minister. A former drop-out trying to find my way through an M. Div program at George Fox. A former addict who, over twelve years ago had a life changing encounter with Jesus that has altered the course of my life forever. I am a creative person called to pastoral ministry, spiritual direction and discipleship. I love "conversations of consequence" with people who are willing to wrestle through the deeper truths and messiness of life. I have found God in my brokenness, and He has shown me how to use that personal knowledge to work toward healing and reconciliation with others. I love the outdoors, camping and recreation, an eclectic blend of music and arts, and creativity in general. I am passionate about expressing my faith in Jesus, and allowing God to transform every area of my life and every decision I make. Together with my wife Liz and daughters Sophie and Greta, we are on a journey to figure out where, when, and how to live out the call God has placed in our hearts. For more about me check out the "about" or "my story" pages. View all posts by jtower11

16 responses to “Is Quakerism “Worship for Introverts?”

  • speakpeacealways

    This is the first time I have read anything about ‘Quaker worship’… if there can be such a thing as that, because after we are all His children with our own ways of expressing our love to our Father not matter what form it takes. But I gather from your article that the Quakers spend time in silence corporately, focusing on God and listening to Him speak? I think that is awesome. I think that too much of the time we are busy talking AT God, rather than talking WITH Him. Talking WITH Him would involve us shutting up so we can listen to what He has to say. I have come across just a few snippets here and there written by Quakers, and most of the writings reveal a depth of understanding of the grace and heart of God. 🙂 Silence does have its values, it seems.

    • jtower11

      Hello speakpeacealways! Yes Quaker worship is marked by its use of silence to better hear God together. Some worship groups, usually called meetings were historically all silent, unless someone felt moved to share something from the Spirit for the group. During the time of westward expansion here in America, some meetings began to adopt worship elements from other traditions, things like a pastoral system, Sunday school, and worship music, because they felt these things would better serve their groups. Mostly silent meetings are called unprogrammed meetings, while some like mine that make use of formal preaching are called programmed meetings. Most programmed meetings I have been to still keep a time of silence within the worship time. I wrote a blog post about this silent worship a while back. Here is a link to that post: http://wp.me/p2La5Z-1o

      • speakpeacealways

        Thank you for taking the time to reply. Your blogs have been most informative, and inspiring. Reminds me of “But the LORD is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him.” Hab 2:20 KJV

  • Howard

    James, having attended unprogrammed worship for nearly 30 years, I have met both introverts and extroverts among unprogrammed Quakers. I think the worship style appeals to all and any personality types if they are so inclined to value silent waiting upon God as a meaningful and transforming experience.

    • jtower11

      Thanks Howard, always a pleasure to gain your perspective. While I am an extrovert and have found open worship very appealing, I am not sure my take on it is universal. Of course, I am from a programmed meeting, where there may be more opportunities for extroverted Friends in that setting. I know that for some, open worship is a struggle. I have not really thought about whether those who struggled the most with it are the extroverted among us… very interesting thought!

  • Chris Nugent

    A few years ago at our meeting retreat we took a mini MBTI quiz and turned out to be about 90% introverts. I agree that the silence is quite active, but as an introvert I feel much calmer in m4w because in the silence we share a common goal and experience. At its best for me Quaker worship makes God’s presence so palpable I no longer worry about relating to others, although, paradoxically I never feel closer to them. It feels like a natural experience of my introversion. Perhaps an extrovert might experience the same phenomenon from the other direction, finding the group unexpectedly less important.

    • jtower11

      Hey Chris. Now that is interesting that your meeting actually attempted to chart this! I can relate to your experience of those worshiping around me kind of melting away as an extrovert! At the same time being gathered together does also make us seem closer together than ever. It seems clear to me that you feel your introversion naturally complements Quaker worship style. Do you think a 90% ratio might be a common one among Friends meetings you have visited? Do you see more extroverted Friends having a harder time being gathered with the introverted majority? Thank you for sharing your experience!

  • Chris Nugent

    My current meeting only has about 10 active members and only one is slightly extraverted. Hardly a scientific sampling. I would imagine committee work would be more difficult than m4w as differences in communication style would be more evident.

  • Mark

    Great words to contemplate. I am a member of an unprogrammed Quaker Meeting. There are both types of personalities in our Meeting. I believe that I am more of an introvert, I think some that know me think otherwise. typically, in this unprogrammed Meeting, we sit in silence, worshiping as we see fit. This article has prompted me to ponder this topic, thanks.

  • barbarakay1

    Unprogammed Meetings have at most someone who greets newcomers at the door with a pamphlet explaining our practice of waiting worship. Those of us who provide beverages after Meeting also provide an outlet for Extroverts or more Extroverted Introverts to mingle. I may post more after I digest this a while.

  • karenjtibbals

    Last year, at Friends General Conference Gathering, there was a book discussion group for the book Quiet, about introverts. It was the consensus of the group (all from unprogrammed meetings) that their meetings are filled with introverts. There was also a discussion that the teaching methods in Quaker schools are slanted towards rewarding extraversion, and thus may be making children be less comfortable with silent worship.

  • Jane Touhey

    I am an attender at an unprogrammed Quaker meeting for about 3 years. The meeting I attend is fairly large and long-standing. I am an introvert, without a doubt – an introvert with an active spiritual life. My impression is that there are extroverts and introverts in the usual distribution. The beauty of that balance is that pressure to speak, or minister, is less as there are enough who find it easy, or even inevitable! In time, the quieter people find need to speak on occasion. Our ministry is different perhaps, not necessarily vocal. Our relationships are slower to develop but very strong and deep.
    I think that silence is a necessity to introverts, not just something they are able to live with. It gives the ‘space’ necessary to be comfortable. I am fascinated by the connectedness of the gathered meeting and cannot imagine it happening in a programmed meeting.

    • jtower11

      Hey Jane, thank you for your wonderful insights. I think the gathering happens, it just happens through a different method. You might be interested in some of my other posts about open worship, silence and vocal ministry. I appreciate your taking the time to comment. Where is your Meeting?

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