"Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth."
- Mike Tyson
Relax. Almost no churches punch you in the mouth. The quote is instructive because catching hands with Iron Mike is a fearful undertaking. But his opponents bolstered their confidence with a good plan and stepped into the ring. Some even won.
For us introverts, social interaction is fatiguing and sometimes a little scary. To avoid these feelings, we often isolate ourselves and contribute greatly to today's Loneliness Crisis. Our fear is as real as what Tyson's opponents felt, and for some, just as intense.
Don't believe me? Show of hands... "Tyson wants to fight you in Vegas this Sunday. Guaranteed 10 million. That's 5 mil for the taxman (Matthew 22:21), 1 mil to the church (Genesis 14:19:20), and 4 mil for you and your family (Timothy 3:4-5). You'll wake up on both ends of the spectrum, set for life with just 90 seconds of work. OR... you could lead tomorrow's worship service.... only 400+ people, same money, and it's on the Internet forever." Given that choice, introverts think Tyson's a punk who gets his haircut at a pet shop.
You can put your hands down.
We have a plan. This whole series has been a plan and we're almost done. Not yet, but close.
According to highly effective Narrative Therapy, there's nothing wrong with introversion and episodic shyness.
But there's a whole lot wrong with the stories we play in a constant loop in our brains. We must use language to objectively identify and deconstruct the wrong stories we continually tell ourselves.
We're going to do that with some wrong stories people tell themselves about going to (or having gone) to church. (Spoiler: Say your story out loud, and then logically debunk it, adding Biblical truths as needed.)
Wrong Story #1: "I've Got to Get My Act Together Before I Can Be Seen in A Church" Your inner narrative is using a microscope instead of a telescope. Hyper-focused on your own flaws and sins, it has convinced you to not look beyond yourself and conceive of a loving God who is just dying to forgive you. Oh, wait. HE DID THAT (John 3:16). Jesus came to heal sinners: the bigger, the better, and all according to a plan. In Timothy 1:15-17, murderer, saved sinner, and later apostle Paul wrote:
"...Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life."
Your inner narrative is lying to you when it says you are the worst sinner in the world. And even if you were, your turning to Jesus would only glorify Him more. Your sin is nothing He hasn't dealt with before. Repeat this verse to yourself when your thoughts say there's something you must do before Going In. Nah, fam. Just Go In.
Wrong Story #2: "I Don't Have Anything Nice to Wear and People Will Judge Me."
Repeat after me: "THERE IS NO EFFING DRESS CODE".
Yeah, that fits perfectly on a bumper sticker or a meme, but James 2:2 says it better. There we learn Jesus was never big on fashion:
"For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
Anything not indecent and you're good. Don't overthink it. Remember this verse (you can paraphrase) to build the neural connections that tell those wrong stories to take a hike. You're Going In.
Wrong Story #3: "I'll Have to Make Small Talk with High-Pressure Church Members."
Your internal narrative has taken away your agency. Take it back and... forgive them. They don't know you're uncomfortable.
Welcome Team is a hard job. These kind, equally screwed-up people are scared to death they'll come off judgmental and cold, or pushy and hovering. And it's different with each person they talk to ...for only 20 seconds. YIKES. Compare Going In to walking into a car dealership. At least with the church, the greeters care about your soul, you're out in an hour and nobody charges you a bogus "Market Adjustment Fee" for doing absolutely Jack Squat. Yeah, there's a voluntary tithe, but in Malachi 3:10 God challenges you to test him on it:
"Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need."
And God has a 100% track record (btw, banning Market Adjustment Fees is rumored to be the lost 11th commandment).
Wrong Story #4: I Don't Have Anyone to Sit With
Your mental narrative keeps trying to return you to the high school cafeteria. This is church, and people are impressed you showed up at all. Especially if you catch the early service. So just tell yourself "God will be right next to me". Because Matthew 18:20 says He will be:
For where two or three are gathered in My name, there am I among them.
So arrive late (Matthew 20:16), sit in the back, and you're golden. Odds are the lights are off because the band is singing. People will make room if needed, but there's usually a spot or two open. And if you look around when they hit the lights, you'll see a lot of people doing exactly what you're doing.
Wrong Story #5: I Can't Sing
Don't worry. Half the band can't sing so they took up an instrument*. Plus, God never asked you to be good at singing. Psalm 100 tells us to:
"... make a joyful noise, all the earth to the Lord. Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing!"
No perfect pitch, key, or harmony is required. Just joyful NOISE. So, if you're off-key and out of time, you're technically doing it better than the band. Plus, nobody's hearing you over those Line Array speakers driven by amps that go to 11.
This verse is your debunking thought / mental mantra to say "I'm covered in grace and in volume" when you Go In.
* I'm gonna get looks from the band for that instruments joke, so you better like it.
Wrong Story #5: I Don't Know the Words
Don't be so hard on yourself! Most people don't. That never stopped you from singing REM songs. Projectors and hymnals cost money and they exist for a reason- lots of people need them. All God wants is a joyful noise. So Go In Feel the Noise.
Wrong Story #6: People Will Look at Me, And I Hate That
Not if you're not looking at them looking at you. Your mental narrative keeps telling you that people are hyper-interested in you and your faults. Truth is, people are too egocentric for that and focus much more on themselves than others. I also have two Lifehacks that help:
Lifehack 1: Bring a notebook. Write down the key passages during the sermon. It helps you focus on the message, and you'll forget all about the people around you. Pen and paper or a tablet PC work great.
Lifehack 2: If you do find a gawker, scratch your cheek while looking them directly in the eye. They'll think they have something on their face and -poof- they'll mind their own business (which should be on God's business, anyway).
Wrong Story #7: It's Wrong to Reward Yourself for Going to Church
Thorndike's Law of Effect says that if you feel good after doing something, you'll do it again. How he got a Law named after himself for that blinding flash of the obvious, I don't know. Helps if you do it in a lab, I guess.
Anyhoo, when Go In you deserve a reward so you will do it again. And God gives you that reward. You've got permission to binge Netflix, play video games, or nap indulgently. The lawn can -and should- wait. It's called the Sabbath, and it's the 4th Commandment:
"Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it."
So, no work for you! If you feel guilty, just say "It's Sunday". After a few times Going In, you'll see the Sabbath as its own reward from a God who loves you. But you can still take that nap if you want. See, I told you there'd be plenty of time to lie down!
A Final Word It's up to you now. Please Go In.
I hope these few verses help you debunk wrong stories about church, identifying and deconstructing the loops in your head saying don't Go In. Say the debunking verses as often as you need to counter wrong stories. Anything keeping you from God's house is likely a distraction not worth your time.
Please Go In.
You are the captain of your soul. It is beautiful to God. It's time to right your ship, even if it is leaking and carrying more baggage than a Kardashian. Your tattered boat will look fine docked next to mine, or anybody else's there. You are not the worst sinner in the world.
Please Go In.
I pray that you will visit a church somewhere, but if you're in DFW you can sit by me at City On A Hill Church DFW . We'll skip the small talk. Just ask for the introverted guy, and somebody will know. We can set something up.
Next Time: Something Different. Probably snarky (my first language).
During Covid, the author rediscovered cityonahilldfw.com. Post-vaccination he snuck into a service and felt zero social pressure. He's a member now and everyone knows he sucks at small talk. They don't care: it ain't that kind of church.