This blog is meant to be an encouragement to you as you journey through your day. If you have a question about the life of faith, please feel free to email me. I certainly don't have all the answers, but I welcome the conversation.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Extroverts, Introverts, and the First Week of College

I have enjoyed reading the Facebook updates from those young scholars who are starting the first year of college. Well, I’ve enjoyed reading some of them - those written by extroverts. Updates from introverts, if they write them at all, can be painful to read. You see, the first few weeks of college are paradise for extroverts. It’s all about meeting new groups of people, and participating in social activities designed to help you fit into a large group of other new people. It’s extrovert heaven, primarily because it is orchestrated by other extroverts - those college student development staff members and student government types who are in those roles and given this task because, well...they are “people persons.” In other words, they are extroverts. And all those new freshmen who write on Facebook about how wonderful college is and how much they love it ... after just 4 days: well, guess what - they love it because it hasn’t really started yet. 

These first few days of college life are completely divorced from what the academic side of higher education is all about. Oh sure, an occasional dean or provost tries to throw in a philosophical discussion here and there, but those are few and far between, and are always led by the most friendly and outgoing young professors and graduate assistants. They don’t let the majority of the faculty anywhere near the place and the faculty aren’t complaining.

In order to become a college professor, you have to spend thousands of hours working alone or in small groups, mostly in libraries and laboratories. You have to be comfortable focusing your attention on things most other people don’t care about - and you really only like to be around folks who are interested in exactly the same things you are interested in. You don’t like social gatherings where the goal is to meet as many new people as possible. You see, most college faculty are largely - in a much higher percentage than the population as a whole - introverts. And when they think back on their undergraduate experience, they remember that the first few weeks of their freshman year was the worst time of their entire college life.

So, if you are the parent of a new college student, and he or she is a bit overwhelmed by all the new people and by all the forced social interactions - and just the idea of walking into the dining hall is overwhelming - tell them to hang on. It gets better. In just a few days, they will settle into their classes, and the focus will not be on making friends, but on the intellectual tasks of the college experience. That is usually much more in the “sweet spot” of introverts. And they can find a few people who are interested in the deep conversations and activities in which introverts thrive.

Of course, walking into the dining hall will probably never be their favorite thing, and dorm life is not near as much fun for some as it is for others. But it gets better, especially if someone sends real mail,  and that mail includes brownies or an occasional check.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Fat Babies

I participate in several ongoing conversations with pastors from around the country. Most of the time we talk about spiritual blessings, sermon topics, theological complexities, and the practical aspects of pastoral ministry. The conversations, and the people, are a blessing.

And there are times when we share frustrations. One of the greatest, and one of the most common, pastoral frustration, is as old as the church itself. The Apostle Paul spoke of this frustration in 1Corinthians 3, and the author of Hebrews referred to it in Hebrews 5 - believers who continued in their immaturity, and who desired spiritual “milk” when they should have been ready for “meat.”

Should pastors respond to people at the point of their perceived need, ministering to them as the immature folks desire, which may in reality be encouraging and even enabling them (to use the popular psychological term)  to continue in their immaturity, or should they confront the immaturity and encourage them toward spiritual maturity - which could result in them leaving the church?

This answer seems simple - in the abstract. It’s like the parent who continues to treat the grown child as if they are still young, providing for all of their needs. What was appropriate and healthy parenting when the child was little is no longer healthy and appropriate - yet it can be difficult to stop. From the outside, for those who are not the parents, it seems simple - just stop enabling the immaturity and demand a change in behavior. But for those in the middle of it, it is more complicated. A fear of losing the child’s love and a broken relationship lead some families to continue in the dysfunction.

The immature believer - no  matter how long they have been in the church -  demands that everyone meet their needs. Every pastor is familiar with the person who constantly wants to be recognized, to be affirmed, who wants their needs met while not focusing on the needs of others. Parents who want the youth group to take care of THEIR kids, even to the exclusion of kids not in the church. Folks who keep score about how many times they are thanked, how many calls they get if they miss worship, how many times they are asked to lead. Folks who need a personal conversation with the pastor EVERY Sunday. And these folks let everyone know that their needs are not being met.

Pastors struggle with how to best address the increasing demands of needy people. When folks are new to the faith, new to the church, such needs are expected. When folks are at a difficult place in life’s journey, the church should come alongside them at their point of need. Yet when, as one pastor told me, a long-time member keeps track of how many people come over to greet her on Sunday morning, yet will not move to greet others, there is a spiritual maturity problem. And simply trying to do better next time to meet the wishes of this milk-drinking saint is a recipe for constant pastoral frustration.