EVERAL years ago, I got a call from my old friend Josh. He was passing through Sacramento, so we arranged to meet up for coffee. Back when we both lived in Fresno, I used to help Josh put on all-day seminars that taught people how to discuss—rather than angrily debate—the issue of abortion. Josh spent many hours training me to be one of his teachers and group leaders. (He now runs a fantastic pro-life organization in North Carolina called Equal Rights Institute.)
Josh wanted to hear all about my new job at St. Stephen’s. I told him how happy I was to be working with a large choir program, and how I was applying some of the skills I’d learned with him as I ran rehearsals and taught music classes. We talked about the gifts we’re all given, the ways in which we discover and develop these gifts, and the Parable of the Talents. We also reminisced about the work we had done together.
“Josh,” I finally said, “here’s what I don’t understand. I took all of that material you gave me and taught it in a huge room full of dozens of strangers. And I led breakout groups and coached people and everything. But that’s not me! I’m not a people person—I’m an introvert! How was I able to do that?”
He gave me a knowing smile. “Because you’re not an introvert—you’re an ambivert.”
I responded with a blank look. “What’s that?”
“It’s an introvert who has extrovert skills.”
And so began my journey of self-discovery. If you’re an introverted choir director who wonders how you manage to do your job—or if you’ve ever considered directing but assumed it wouldn’t be a good fit for your personality—I hope this article brings you some clarity.
Breaking Free from the Personality Spectrum
On the traditional personality spectrum, there are two extremes: extrovert and introvert. You’ll often hear people say, “Extroverts are talkative, whereas introverts are shy.” This isn’t entirely accurate. It’s not just external behavior that categorizes people as one or the other; it’s the internal motivation that counts. An extrovert seeks stimulation from external sources. An introvert, on the other hand, focuses more on his internal thoughts and feelings.
Most introverts and extroverts can function socially, in their own ways. But at the end of the evening, the extrovert is more likely to say, “Man, I wish we could have stayed later. The party was just getting going!” The introvert, on the other hand, might say, “That was a really nice evening—but I’m drained! And I need some time to process all those intense one-on-one conversations I had.”
Before Josh called me an ambivert, I had never heard the term. Perhaps you’ve just learned it in this article. All across the web, you’ll see the ambivert described as someone who’s in between the two extremes, who exhibits a combination of traits, or who only enjoys human contact up to a certain point. These descriptions are too broad to be helpful. Aren’t we all “in between”? Even an extreme extrovert may lock himself in his room sometimes, and even an avowed introvert may be highly talkative with her closest friends. These external behaviors don’t change our fundamental preference for either internal or external stimulation.
We don’t need a special term for the many extroverts who thrive at public speaking, or for the introverts who struggle to “go outside themselves” in these situations. But there are introverts who seem to “turn it on” when they need to, tapping into an energy that they can share with even a large group of students or colleagues.
I’m not a psychologist and neither is Josh. But “introvert with extrovert skills” resonates with me. The more I share Josh’s definition with the suspected ambiverts I know, the more I’m convinced he’s right.
What This All Means for Church Musicians
Now, what makes some people ambiverts? Is it because they have one highly extroverted parent and one very introverted parent (as I do)? Can one learn to be an ambivert? I’m not sure. I’m more interested in the implications for how God uses us.
Each of us is getting all the grace we need to work successfully as church musicians (or, for that matter, to defend the unborn). All we have to do is cooperate with it. The extent to which we stand in the way of that grace will be the extent to which we struggle.
One of the insidious ways in which we can block grace is by saying, “But I’m an introvert, so I can’t do X.” We all have God-given strengths and weaknesses. Let’s not forget to glory in the weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can dwell in us (2 Cor 12:9). In other words, sometimes we have to get out of the way so that we can let God surprise us with His generosity in giving us what we need to do our jobs.
Even if you’re an introvert, you may find yourself spontaneously coming up with the right words to explain a difficult concept at rehearsal. Or inventing a fun exercise to shake up a music class. Or explaining your teaching style to a new parishioner you just met in the parking lot. None of us deserves these unexpected gifts. Take them as they come, and never fail to give thanks.
Also, don’t be concerned about your apparent split personality—or get frustrated when your choir persona doesn’t carry over into the rest of your life. Your work brings out a different side of you and makes different graces available to you. That doesn’t make you weird; it just makes you an ambivert.