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Charismatic or Contemplative? Both.

It was a Friday night at college, and my pals banged on the door. “Dude, we’re going to the party. Let’s go!” Something inside me recoiled. No, I thought. Nothing sounded worse after a long week than going out to a party. I said apologetically, “Actually, guys, I’m just going to stay back and read.” They looked at me like I was an alien. Who had abducted their friend? They left, closed the door, and I had the solitude I craved. Yet I was hit in that moment with an insecurity, a question that would take years to resolve: What the heck is wrong with me, choosing solitude over “fun”?


This was the first experience I can remember as a young adult that would lead to the discovery that I’m wired by God as an introvert. When I take Meyers Briggs tests, I usually get pegged as an E(xtrovert) instead of an I(ntrovert), and that’s because I’m not shy and am rather loud. But I know the truth about myself. Long stretches of solitude and silence aren’t just my preference. They’re mandatory for me, like an unseen spine keeping my spirit upright. I’d be a puddle without them.


During college I went to Mars Hill Church for about a year, before it went bust, and one time I asked Mark Driscoll: “So, Mark, I think I’m supposed to be a pastor, but I have a problem. Pastors are supposed to love people, right? I don’t even like people! I love books. What should I do?” He laughed, said I was fine, and then the following week used my “I don’t even like people, I love books” line from the pulpit. That's fine. We all plagiarize a bit, I suppose.


What puzzled me early on about my quiet streak, though, was that I also loved big, loud church services. In fact, I was often part of the noise, playing guitar and keys in worship bands. I was a “crank it up” guy! But in my early twenties, I began to experiment with a new way of connecting with God and myself—the way of silence, the way of being alone. And I’m glad I did.


I began spending time at monasteries, and once even spent a full week at a Trappist Abbey in rural Oregon. And you know what I found? I’m a terrible monk! Not only am I restless by nature, I also crave worship contexts that flood my senses with the grandeur of God. For me, I experience God equally with rock worship as I do sitting alone on a rock in the woods, listening to the wind. I’m charismatic and contemplative, and want to be part of a church that sees the need for both.


The diversity of personality profiles, along with the diversity of the biblical witness, pushes us in this direction. The “turn it up” crowd points to the crashing instruments and wild dancing in Psalm 150, while the “let’s be quiet” crowd points to Psalm 62, which begins this way: “For God alone my soul waits in silence.” These things are not contradictory, but different aspects of relating to God: the crash of electric guitars and the crunch of boots walking alone down a path.


We have to resist the temptation as church leaders to create an implicit spiritual hierarchy based on our own idiosyncratic temperaments. We must find ways, from institutional programming down to personal discipleship, for both the charismatic and contemplative impulses to thrive. The touchstone of spiritual health cannot be construed as either ecstatic hand-raising or private meditation; there will always be those who connect more one way or another, and that is as it should be.


As Christians grow older and more mature, however, there is often a shift away from the external hype of arena rock, towards the quiet solidity of simple prayers. We inheritors of the church growth movement make a mistake if we do not make space for elements of the contemplative and the liturgical in our services and our wider rhythms of life, since what we will build if we invest in the charismatic alone is not a well-rounded church, but a crowd of extroverts who are mostly spiritual novices. Our best people will feel they must “graduate out” of Sunday services in order to keep growing. That would be a tragedy. People like John Ortberg and John Mark Comer are very helpful on this question.  


When my own path toward contemplation led me to the Middle East for three years, I loved taking hikes alone in the Negev Desert. I never wore camel skins and ate bugs, thank God, but let me tell you—this is no lie—the very rocks out there seem to preach at a pace no stenographer could match. I was blown away, and blown further inward. The entry to silence, I found in the desert, is the entry to a music that whispers in words and worlds without end.


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