A church needs to foster a community that is united despite having diverse personalities, skills, and interests among its members.
Church Consulting and Leadership Coach Gavin Adams, in an article in Church Leaders, raised the need for Christians to stop making surface judgments of others, especially with their religious leaders.
Adams's statements echoed the St. Catherine University's 2018 study on perceptions, stereotypes, and leaders. The study highlighted that American society often has a negative perception of individuals who do not identify as religious or declare not having a religious affiliation. The university pointed out that religious affiliation often becomes a "public marker of" a person's "personal morals."
"With regard to leadership, this perception is important as morals play a significant role in establishing a leader as ethical and credible," St. Catherine said in the study's Introduction.
The study stressed that individuals who do not have a religious affiliation often experience stigma in their daily lives. Familial and societal pressures often force such individuals to associate with a religious organization. The pressure heightens when these people already have children, such that they "portray themselves as affiliated with a religion." This is in parallel, the study said, to a 2017 Pew Research Center report that a significant rise of Americans who report belief in God does not necessarily equate to being moral.
According to Adams, he arrived at his statements based on an experience he had with his 14-year-old daughter whom he brought to a tattoo shop for nose piercing. Adams particularly highlighted that despite this desire for nose piercing, which he and his wife had their daughter evaluate for a long time, their daughter often gets leadership awards at the end of the school year.
The consultant noted that his daughter and those in the shop were physically different from them in that they didn't bore tattoos. Yet, after looking around in the shop, Adams found similarities between the shop owner and him, particularly in their interests based on the display the shop had of skate stickers and skateboards that he too had in his office.
Adams also saw that the owner had Prismacolor pencils, which he had an entire pack of on his office table on days he is drawn to creative work. More importantly, the owner was similarly like him: an entrepreneur. He realized that despite the differences in the circumstances they grew up in, he was pretty much the same with the shop owner's core identity.
"My tattoo shop experience left me wondering how often we don't notice the exact people who could be perfect for our team, church, or organization simply because they don't look the part or dress the part. We too often make snap, external decisions without taking a moment to consider what may lay beyond the surface," Adams said.
Adams stressed that unless Christians start to intentionally develop skills that allow one to look beyond the physical appearances of people, many will miss the opportunities life offers. The author then provided the following four tips on how a Christian can start doing this: acknowledge you live with stereotypes; notice how you feel when people enter your world; take time to know, not assume; and reverse your assumptions.
1. Acknowledge Stereotypes Exist
Adams explained that it has become a common practice for people to associate with others based on being "comfortable" with what they see before taking the relationship deeper. He criticized the "default approach," which has turned people to be "relationally anemic" and self-isolating.
Adams pointed out that all individuals have a stereotypical perception that first requires being acknowledged before one can make an intentional commitment to eliminate it in their system. He raised the need to reflect on what stereotypes a person has and dig behind the reasons they were formed in the first place.
Sojourners, a publication that seeks to inspire transformation among individuals and churches, cited the stereotyping of women from having leadership roles in Christian organizations. Sojourners pointed out that variances in theological views on women in leadership within the church often spill over into the norms and behaviors of other faith-based organizations.
This is most true when stakeholders or board members of such organizations have a conservative view. It is an ironic reality amidst women are often encouraged to take on leadership positions amidst a "lack of tangible affirmation and support once they get there."
2. Check on your feelings toward "new people"
Adams once more cited his experience with the tattoo shop owner who he initially thought he had nothing in common based on his perceptions of his appearance. He stressed that this is the same way people size-up others. He said it would be good to check on one's typical reaction whenever someone new or who looks differently is near oneself.
3. Never Assume But Interact
Adams suggested that developing a set of questions one can use to get to know other people better would become handy. Possible questions to ask are what they love to do when not working, their dreams as a child, and desired vacation spots. The counselor said the answer to these questions would present common hopes and dreams. A point of reflection, he said, would be to identify how one intentionally learns about other people.
"We might perceive the path to our vision differently, but our landing point is likely similar," Adams stressed.
In line with these questions, Sojourners added that a review of the answers would be nicely done in a "heartfelt, sincere, and vulnerable time of sharing." The sharing may also be a moment of healing on one's past experiences that led one to have stereotypes.
The publication underscored the importance of affirming the truth of one's identity--of being "made in the image of the perfect One who calls" each one as a "beloved and favored child of the King"--as a means to overcome stereotyping others. This same identity, after all, holds with each human being.
In addition, having a safe place where people can process the sharing of one's experiences and the answer to such questions is also helpful.
4. Reverse Assumptions When Necessary
Being open to reversing one's assumptions is important, especially among leaders, Adams said. Church leaders are required to foster internal unity, which perceptions on differences often hinder. Engaging followers are necessary not only in the growth of one's church but also in one's growth as a person. Leaders must dig deeper to better understand their members whom they must relate with as one does to a child encouraged on their uniqueness by a parent.