Conquering the shy gene – Jim Elliff

Jim Elliff
01 August, 2006 3 min read

Like it or not, much of church life and our impact on society depends on conversation. Do you do much of that? It is the responsibility of everybody in the church – including the shy people.
There may be a ‘shy gene’ somewhere in your make-up, but if it becomes an excuse to ignore others and be preoccupied with yourself, it is a natural characteristic gone awry. We’ve crossed the line into self-centredness, something God abhors. Perhaps shyness is inherited, but unfriendliness certainly is not. Unfriendliness is a choice – a refusal to make the efforts demanded by love.
Wrong focus
I once spoke at a church for three Sundays in succession. For the first two Sundays I did my best to engage individual teenagers in conversation. There were thirty of them. Not one of them would even say ‘hello’.

On the last Sunday I put a $20 bill in my pocket planning to give it to the first one who came up with an audible response to my greeting. I don’t think they were mad at me – they were just too focused on themselves to even notice me! Sadly, I took my $20 home again.

Excuse my forwardness (blame it on my genes) but preoccupation with ourselves is what God calls sin. The Bible is forever attacking it – even in those of us who think we have a genetic excuse for keeping ourselves to ourselves.

Some think that making conscious efforts at conversing is artificial. But premeditating in order to help yourself act does not make the act artificial. Rather, it may mean that you are being more than usually thoughtful towards others.

‘Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit’, said the apostle Paul, ‘but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests but also for the interests of others’ (Philippians 2:3-4). Is Paul speaking to you?

Even a shy person indwelt by the Spirit of God can choose to be considerate to others by talking to them! Here are a few suggestions. Who knows? After a while these actions could become second nature.

Don’t slither

• If possible, acknowledge every person who crosses your path. Don’t slither past people with your head down as you make your way to your personal pew – that ‘haven of rest’.

• Focus your eyes on the one you are talking to and concentrate on what he or she is saying.

• Remember names. Jot them down on a card or in a small notebook so that you won’t forget them. Use the name in conversation after first hearing – it will help fix it in your mind.

• Ask thoughtful questions.

• Enjoy the other person; people are interesting!

• Uncover the person’s true interests. Everybody knows something better than you do.

• Seek to help the person expand his or her world. ‘Have you ever thought bout…?’

• Smile. This is the default expression of the believer.

• Listen with energy that shows in your posture and your face. It will be obvious (and upsetting) to the other person if you let your attention wander.

• Improve word choices. Learn new words; it will make conversation easier and more attractive.

• Practise good manners – such as not interrupting, properly introducing new people into the conversation, being sensitive to others waiting, etc.

• Stay focused and never stare at the floor (it says, ‘This floor is more ­interesting than you are!’)

• Venture out and create additional opportunities to converse – a priority God promotes.

Love regardless

The above list is not exhaustive but it might help get you started. I knew someone who carried around a list of engaging questions to stimulate conversation. On the sly, she would skim over them. She really wanted to serve people and I respect her for it. She was a naturally reserved woman who was determined not to hide behind her shy gene. It was an act of love of the highest sort – and it worked.

Finally, don’t ever become one of those persons who grunts, ‘I’ll be friendly to others when they start talking to me’. Don’t love people ‘if’ – love people regardless!

Now – the test! The next time you go to church, resolve that you will show love to others by engaging several people in conversation. Move around. Don’t sit down until you have to. Seek out people to talk to.

A good place to start is with those who are just like you used to be – the ones sitting there waiting for friendliness to’happen’.

Copyright © Jim Elliff. The author is president of Christian Communicators Worldwide (

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