When my coworker told her acquaintance I moved to the area to plant a church, her acquaintance made a remark that indicated a belief I would be stuffy and judgy.
Thankfully, my coworker was able to put her acquaintance’s mind at ease by communicating that I was cool, particularly because I was raised in New York state. Apparently, a New York girl has a harder time maintaining a stuffy demeanor. It probably has to do with our tendency to let out a few mildly inappropriate statements here and there. …I’m working on it.
When I was thinking about this conversation later, it made me sad. I was not sad that I had been stereotyped. I was sad the stereotype existed, but not for the reason you would think. My sadness was not that people are stereotyping “church people,” my emotion came because of the truth about some stereotypes.
You see, the sad fact about stereotypes (which no one wants to admit) is they are often formed because of an element of truth.
Many stereotypes exist because people experience a particular type of behavior frequently when interacting with specific people groups. That doesn’t mean all people in that group act in the same manner, but it does mean enough of them do to cause others to associate certain behaviors with that group.
There have been enough “church people” acting in a condemning and stuffy manner to create a stereotype. This truth breaks my heart.
It is time to take an honest look at ourselves.
You know who Jesus spent his time judging? The religious leaders. He was frustrated with the way they followed the rules but failed to love him and to love people.
I want our churches to err on the side of loving God and loving people. I want our churches to be a little messy and a little rough around the edges if that is what it takes to be places where all people can come to experience the love of God.
My husband frequently says, “People should know more about what you stand for than what you are against.” I like to think he is a genius, but he said he isn’t sure if that statement is original to him or someone else. If it is from someone else, I still think he is brilliant for living it out.
Beth Grant, the speaker at a conference I recently attended, said, “Sinners are not the enemy.” Thank goodness. If they were, I would be the enemy. Wouldn’t we all be the enemy?
My point is this: there have to be enough of us demonstrating true faith and Christianity for the stereotype to change. True Christianity doesn’t mean we never make mistakes; it means we strive to live pure lives because we are motivated by our love, not the rules.
I want the stereotype of the church to be that we love foolishly and with abandon. I want people to say, “Oh, she came to plant a church? She must really love people.”
It is time for the Church to lead the way by loving ALL people. We need to be the first to see people as people rather than as stereotypes. But, for Christ’s sake, if we are going to maintain stereotypes, let them be positive ones filled with love.
(See what I did there?.. tiptoeing on the edge of inappropriate… but it is for His sake. Maybe it’s the New York in me…. and, yes, I know that is a stereotype.)