In the last post, I talked about where people get their ideas on church and what some of those perceptions are. If you’ve lived in America for very long, I doubt the perceptions about Christianity would surprise you. The reactions to Christianity are widely divergent. People readily admit their emotional and intellectual barriers go up when they are around Christians. Those perceptions can prevent them from seeing or acknowledging the Christians who embody service, compassion, humility, forgiveness, patience, kindness, peace, joy, goodness, and love.
It is easy to believe those perceptions are not justified or simply wrong. They are often wrong because they paint all Christians with the same brush, in the same way some people believe all politicians are crooked because of the actions of a few. But because every person matters to God, every person matters to us, regardless of how entrenched those perceptions may be.
If we are interested in communicating and expressing Christ to present and future generations, we must understand the intensity with which they hold these views. As Christians, we cannot just throw up our hands, and relegate these people to God’s care. We have a responsibility to our friends and neighbors to have a clear-headed, reasonable understanding of their perspectives and then try to change them.
What people think about Christians influences how they respond to us. What people think about the church and Christians helps us be objective because it causes us to make continual, honest evaluations of ourselves so that we can uncover the ways in which our lives do not accurately reflect what we profess. And if we have image problems today, we need to take the opportunity today to change those perceptions for tomorrow.
There are two kinds of churches. One says, “You can come to us, learn our language, learn our interests, meet our needs.” The other says, “We will come to you, learn your language, learn your interests, meet your needs.” We want to be the second kind of church, using Christ as our motivation and our model.
To shift our reputation, whether it is deserved or not, we must learn to respond to people in the way Jesus did. We have to see people, addressing their needs and their criticism, just as Jesus did. We have to be defined by our service and sacrifice, by lives that exude humility and grace.
I would like to give you a few things to consider to accurately represent Jesus to friends, relatives, co-workers, neighbors or even people you have met for the first time when the opportunities present themselves.
Try your best to respond as Jesus would have responded, that being with the right perspective. Yes, I know we are not Jesus, but the Bible gives the blueprint on how Jesus responded. Jesus did not seem to be bothered by critics the way we are. We need to redefine the debate back to the core messages as Jesus did, rather than engaging in heated discussion on criticism.
Build relationships with people. Jesus influenced his disciples primarily through relationships and friendships. I believe most perceptions or negative images of the church and Christianity can be overcome through meaningful, trusting relationships.
As much as possible, try to be creative. Jesus attracted people who were unaccustomed to his style, ability, and message and connected with them in creative ways. He made difficult concepts easy to understand and used the language of common people to help point them toward spiritual depth. In the same way we can help connect people to God’s heart by cutting through the clutter.
And lastly, it is hard to be critical of someone who is serving you. To change people’s image of Christ followers we must have the concern and sensitivity for others that Jesus did. To look more like Christ followers, we must cultivate deep concern and sensitivity to outsiders. One of the best ways to shift negative perception is to serve others. That means being compassionate, soft -hearted, and kind to people who are different from us, even hostile toward us.
In Part 4, I will tie all this together.