This weekend I watched a TED talk by author Susan Cain. It was the title of her talk, The Power of Introverts, that caught my attention. Growing up I was the kid who loved being by myself. Let me pick between a crowd of people, and a good book or some baseball cards by myself, I was picking solitude every time. Of course, that ends up getting you branded as shy, quiet, stand-offish, aloof…or just a little strange.

As an adult, learning more about Myers-Briggs (I’m an INTJ), and tools like it, have made life a lot easier. I don’t need to work on becoming an extrovert. It wouldn’t work anyways. I could still work at being a bit less socially awkward, but I will never be the life of the party, and I’m good with that.

But even as an adult, you still find an extrovert bias. Early on in my Vineyard days, I kept hearing that if you walk into a room and look at who has the crowd of people around them, you’ll find the leader. And while that might be true, you more likely found the most extroverted person in the room. Even better, I was researching online a few years ago, and on a site of a well known Christian author, and the point was made that you should not overlook introverts when looking for people to serve in your church, because there is a lot they can do…(this seemed promising)…for example, they can fold the bulletins. Ugh.

So with a title like, The Power of Introverts, I was interested in hearing what Cain had to say. And while the talk was quite good, and I’m planning on giving her book, “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” a read soon, what really stuck out to me, was a shift she describes in the history of our country. Cain states that in the early days of our country, there was a “culture of character.” We valued people for their inner selves and moral rectitude. She makes the point that the self-help books at the time had titles like, “Character, the Grandest Thing in the World,” and celebrated people like Abraham Lincoln.

According to Cain, a shift happened at the start of the 20th century as we shifted from an agricultural economy to a “big business” economy, and from a “culture of character,” to a “Culture of Personality.” As people moved from their farms, and villages to the big cities, you were no longer able to stand out based on who you were as a person. It was now far less likely that you were able to be known by the person you were working alongside, so you know needed to be able to stand out in a crowd of people. And so suddenly, magnetism & charisma became crucial. Even the self-help books began to change, with titles like “How to Win Friends, and Influence People,” moving to the forefront. And the new heroes of this genre were salesmen.

Let me state as clearly as I can…Character and Charisma are not exclusive. A person can be very charismatic and have incredible character. I could list names of well-known leaders who have both, but I’m sure you have a list that you can think of as well. At the same time, I don’t think we need to even mention people with no character & no charisma. The truth is, we all have some level of character and some level of charisma. The issue is how “what is important,” has shifted from character to personality. And while everyone would say, “of course character is more important,” often people rise very high, based in large part on their charismatic personality (to stay focused on Cain’s point, let’s assume an equal amount of ability to do the job, as well as other key factors).

What Cain’s discussion got me thinking about was the “culture of personality” within the larger evangelical church. (It may be in other parts of the church as well, but I just want to mention the group that I’m part of since it’s the one I know best.) I mentioned “rock star” pastors in a post last week, and I think that is simply one of the symptoms of our culture of personality. I’d love to think that the church was not as susceptible to the celebrity culture that the rest of our country is…but it is.

Although I was in and out of the church as a teenager, it was during my college years that I really reconnected with Jesus and began to pay a bit more attention to the larger evangelical church that I was now part of. And it was during my senior year when the whole scandal with Jimmy Swaggart broke. Since I was attending an Assembly of God campus fellowship and church at that point, it had a huge impact on some of my friends, I remember one of my friends sobbing because she loved Swaggart.

It would be great to write that since then, things have been quiet on the big-name pastor/Christian leader scandal front…but, they haven’t. And many of the stories have been national news. In my own denomination, the Vineyard, we’ve also had high-level leaders who just aren’t around anymore because of moral/character issues. You not only hurt for them, and for their families, but for the churches and organizations they led. It hurts for the body of Christ. It is simply awful on so many levels.

hacOne of the saddest statements on the state of the church is when you reading an article about a Christian leader who is stepping down from their role (at a church, seminary, organization), and the author feels compelled to include, “that this decision was not because of any moral failings.” Sadly, we’ve come to the point where that is our initial assumption, and we have to cite this person almost as the exception.

Of course, in those times when we are told that the reason they are stepping down has nothing to do with moral/character issues and we learn later it did…that breaks down trust even more and casts doubt on all of us who are leaders.

Another thing Cain (who is Jewish) talked about, was how almost all major religions place an extreme value on solitude. The importance of leaving the crowds (even if…actually, especially if the crowds are adoring) to go to the wilderness. To listen in the midst of silence.

If someone has an incredible personality and God is using it to further His Kingdom…awesome. But when the personality becomes a substitute for actually spending time alone with the Father…it probably shouldn’t surprise us when the foundation crumbles and the whole thing comes tumbling down.

One of the things I’m thankful for is that over the past few years I’ve crossed paths with a number of leaders who’ve placed a high value on silence & solitude…also that I’m part of a local community that has in many ways embraced these practices.

Again, this stuff wasn’t the main thrust of Cain’s talk, but this is what is stirred up in me and I wanted to write it down, and hopefully, you’ve found it worth thinking about. If you get a chance to watch it, I’d love to hear if it brings up anything for you.