My name is Brad. I am a youth worker and I am an introvert.
People are often surprised when I confess to them I am an introvert, usually responding with some form of, “But, but, how can you be an introvert when all you do is hang out with people?” Or, “You aren’t an introvert! Look at how you love running around at youth group and do so much public speaking. You’re even good at it! You aren’t an introvert…”
Oh, but I am. And not simply in an “I like to relax with a good book” sort of way. My reality as an introvert is much more in the vein of “nearly-constant headaches after a day of sustained human interaction that even occasionally leaves me curled up on the bathroom floor vomiting.” (OK, that’s only happened twice, but it’s totally happened!)
I often find myself frustrated at my introversion, especially when my job is one that demands both recurring face to face interaction in addition to the hours spent with those lovable, energetic, noisy, brilliant, hilarious, energy sucking leeches that are apparently the reason I have a job in the first place!
In the worst moments, usually when I see pictures or hear stories of the stereotypical extroverted youth worker seemingly excelling at their job in ways foreign to me, I feel like a youth ministry unicorn. A creature so rare that it is simply known to be a myth. Except maybe unicorns are far too joyous and vibrant to be an apt metaphor for an introvert. In those moments I feel far more like a youth ministry Eeyore. Still mythical, but far more well… Eeyore-ish.
But the truth is that I’m far from the only introvert in youth ministry, and my personality rarely is anything like Eeyore’s. Some recent studies have even put the percentage of introverted adults in our population at around 40%. I’m sure the percentage of introverted youth workers out there is a bit lower than that, but I know you are out there!
Anne Lamott famously said, “The most powerful sermon in the world are the words ‘me too.’” I love my job. I am even pretty dang good at it! I am passionate about it dream of being the old guy in a wheelchair still playing dodge ball surrounded by high school kids. But sometimes it’s nice to have someone say, “me too.” So here’s to you, my fellow introverted youth workers:
- Have you ever let your emails or text messages sit unanswered for days because even a simple reply of “sure, see you then” felt impossibly hard? Me too.
- Were you aware of a student who really wanted to hang out and talk—but you just. did. that. yesterday and two days in a row seems impossible? Me too.
- Have you ever ditched brainstorming meetings and instead gathered information through guided journaling and reflection and had it turn out far better? Me too.
- Do you secretly look forward to Monday mornings where a chance to simply sit quietly in your office and catch up on administrative stuff is both necessary and expected? Me too.
- Have you ever hung out with a student and had it be incredibly life giving and sacred and wonderful, inspiring you to do it more often—then woken up the next day to find the simple thought of more human interaction made it hard to leave your house? Me too.
- Do you find that sometimes the you were able to actually listen to the Holy Spirit during a time of solitude and realize you just stumbled upon the most amazing ministry idea ever? Me too.
- Do you have endless energy and pure joy and appreciation for your time spent at youth group, and then need to unwind by yourself for hours sucking your thumb in the fetal position afterward? Me too.
- Ever text a kid to hang out hoping they’ll already be busy? But, hey, at least you tried!? Me too
- Have you ever spent the morning after youth group just laying around doing as little as possible because the idea of setting foot back in the church, or running into another human, before noon sounds like probably, definitely, the worst thing that could possibly happen to you? Me too.
- Have you ever let a voice message hang out in your office phone for days before you even listen to it, since you know it’s only either a sales pitch or an unhappy parent? Me too.
- Ever spent the hours leading up to youth group fantasizing about an excuse, or an illness, so you could just go home and watch Netflix instead? Me too.
- Do you know you are called to this job filled with human interaction and wouldn’t change a thing? Me too. Me too.
Feel free to add your own “me too” statements in the comment section!
Brad Hauge is a lifelong resident of the great Pacific Northwest and has survived this youth ministry thing for 13 years in spite of crippling introversion. He is currently the Director of High School Ministry at First Presbyterian Church in Spokane, WA and is part of the team that brings the Youth Cartel’s VIVA! curriculum to life each month. You can follow his ministry and baseball thoughts on Twitter @bhauge