As we take time this summer to plan for next year, I am going to write some articles on evangelism. Today’s is on judgment and welcome.
I was listening to a billionaire give a talk about homelessness a few years back. It was interesting, because unlike so many wealthy people, he did not tout his hard work, family connections, skills, or intellect. He started his speech by saying that the real difference between the rich and poor was that some people are lucky in life, and others are not. He said that the problem with poverty in our country is that we judge people as lesser because they have less stuff, and thus, we treat them that way! It was an interesting perspective, and probably right to the point.
For me, I think that one of the greatest problems in our society is the issue of judgment. Judgment, by definition, is concluding something, typically based on the information that is presented. This is part of our basic survival skills as human beings. Thus, it is ingrained in our psyche and part of who we are as people. But the problem, at the end of the day, is that the judgment that we make about others is always coming from our own understanding and not theirs. Because of this, we often jump to conclusions about people or situations that aren't true, because what we really know about someone or something is limited. It is funny. People always talk about the importance of first impressions, and they are important, but in my life, I cannot tell you the number of times where my first impression changed as I really got to know individuals or understand situations.
This means that as people of faith, we must start from a place that is counter to own instincts, and keep judgment in check. This is hard, because we are so trained to judge people by taking into account what they look like, what they sound like, and how they act. But when we judge people, a huge barrier comes up between you and the other person, because before you even talk to them, you have created your own expectations about who they are.
When we accept somebody first, we start from a place that recognizes that they are individuals in need of acceptance, and that is it! At that level, we make one very important connection, because we, too, are individuals in need of acceptance. Once we've accepted each other, we can get to know each other on a much deeper level without the barriers of judgment getting in the way. This means that instead of seeing somebody who is different, or somebody who we think might be exactly like us, we can really get to know them and hear them for who they are and how they see themselves, and then we can have a real relationship with them.
Once we have a relationship with them, then we can grow together as people of faith. This is essential for a growing healthy congregation. Dare I say, it’s even more important than the pastor! Because it is through sharing faith with one another where we begin to see the full scope of who God is in this world. This also means that as we come to understand the vastness of God, we are can be a more vital witness to God in the community!
Think about how much of a difference this makes in our work to evangelize to our community. Of those who do not come to church or have been turned off by church, when you listen to their stories, it is often because the first thing they have encountered is judgment. Being greeted by somebody thinking that they know all about you before getting to know you is not welcoming. Rather, it is extremely unwelcoming, because it communicates that you are not important as an individual, but are only important in the way they see you. This is blatant when the judgment expressed is derogatory, but it also happens when we try to be accepting and inadvertently assume a different reality for a person than what they know. So, in conclusion, when we do evangelism in this community, we must start with seeing everybody as a child of God, and accept them just for that.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen