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Monday, October 20, 2008

Assumptions and Appearance

Stereotypes exist.

And that's not a bad thing. Stereotypes allow us to quickly categorize the world, have a rough understanding of something, and know how we should interact in a particular situation. Without stereotypes we would have to rediscover social graces for each and every person, situation, or experience we have.

At the same time, stereotypes aren't a perfect picture of others. Our assumptions can be very wrong. And that is why people often urge us to not judge each other based on our appearance.

That's fair. But not judging by appearance carries a lot of dangers. There's a quote from the movie "Crash" that I found particularly fascinating: Two young African Americans are walking down a mildly busy street at night. One of them remarks to the other about how everyone seemed to be scared of them. "But why," he asks, "are we not afraid of them?"

"Because we're the only ones packing heat?" The other ventures.

"Exactly." And with that, they pull out their guns and steal another character's car.

If you dress like a hoodlum, you should not be surprised that people assume that you are. Just like the movies of old: If you're wearing black and a mask, you're the bad guy.

Similarly, if your garments match those of the homeschool stereotype, don't be surprised if people look at you like you're from Planet Homeschool. You are, and you're promoting it. The stereotype exists for a reason.

On the other hand, it's not totally accurate, which is why we often have people say, "You homeschool? But you seem so normal."

What got me on this train of thought?

I got an email from Jenny about an article in the Wall Street Journal. She also posted about the article on her blog. The article talks about how churches pay "mystery worshipers" to pose as first time guests and then write up reports about what was good, what was bad, and what was ugly--everything from how stocked the toilet paper was to the quality of the exegesis.

Jenny--hello, friend!--points out, with some disdain, that churches are dumping money into this kind of thing. She also takes issue with the guy who has a "cover story" [read: lie] just in case someone asks him what he's up to. But that's a topic for another day.

The fact that churches (the business entity) spends money on "market research" like this raises a question: How important is our appearance?

I know there are believers who feel that there shouldn't even be a church "entity" or building. On the other end of the spectrum, we have people who split their church over the color of the new carpeting.

For me, I guess I look at it from the perspective of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs:

Luke's Hierarchy of Needs

For a church to exist, it first needs believers who will gather. Then it needs a place to do so (be it a home, a field, a cave). After that, small groups and areas of involvement are needed so people can feel like they are an integral part of the congregation and can expand the reach of the ministry. And once you have all those things in place, then people can start to complain about burnt out light bulbs and the temperature of the room.

And, yes, it may be petty and not nearly as important as, say, what a newly founded church in India is struggling with, but...

...wait, scratch that.

Doesn't Maslow's Hierarchy tell us that, for those at the upper levels, those things are what's important?

In other words: Our appearance in the Western American church is super important.

Should it be?

I guess that depends on who you are trying to reach. But when was the last time you were happy to sit in a service that was freezing or burning hot? How well could you focus?

Even so, I do agree with Jenny: It would be nice if people got a servant's heart and a desire to love others so churches wouldn't have to pay someone to come tell them that they aren't. But, I don't know about your church, but for mine there are the few who do everything, and most everyone else merely shows up for the service, not to be of service.

So as you look at your appearance: How important is it?

~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Expectant Father

Sorry this was so long. Too many ideas spoil the post.


Jenny said...

Thanks for those ideas, Luke. Your post regarding churches and money was fresh on my mind when I read the WSJ article.

Part of the issue here is that in a very large church, people are not often able to see a need and take care of it. At my church of less than 100 members, I feel free to replace the roll of toilet paper. But in a large church? Where in the world do they KEEP the toilet paper? And there is no way I'd be changing a light bulb if it required a harness and mechanical lift. (We did have to do something called "Tom on a pole" in our sanctuary once, but that's a different story!)

As for image, the mystery worshipper in the article was posing as a visitor, so obviously the church wanted to know what visitors thought of them. What kind of visitors? Are we talking visitors who are part of the church invisible, or unregenerate visitors? Well...that opens a whole NEW discussion, doesn't it? LOL!

Happy Elf Mom (Christine) said...

Oh, next you will be writing that the church is hiring people to worship in the crowd to get the crowd excited or Amen-ing the sermon!!

Bet if everyone knew there were fake worshippers coming in posing as visitors and that they would get a grade, people would act differently.

I heard the story of one pastor called to speak at a church dressed like a bum, smelled like alcohol and hung out on the church steps to see how people would treat him. They got a sermon they won't soon forget.

Luke Holzmann said...

Jenny, large churches certainly bring their own set of troubles. You're absolutely right! And the focus/purpose of a churches ministry is a whole new can of worms. Maybe someday I'll tackle that one <smile>.

Mrs. C, I could see that happening, actually. And while it doesn't happen yet (to my knowledge) there are churches where that is the culture... and... well, I'm not sure there is a big difference between them in many cases--paying people to do it, or just making that the hype of the church.

I've heard the story of the "bum pastor" as well. It does give us pause.

There's another story that I'll share sometime that was pretty crazy, but I won't do it here <smile>.

Love ya both! Thanks for stopping by and sharing your take on this subject.


Jenny said...

If you tackle the subject of "seeker churches" I will be on it like Blue Bonnet.

After that you can move on to something like dispensationalism or supralapsarianism.

And I will stand by with the popcorn.


Enjoy your meetings. :-)

Luke Holzmann said...

Jenny, I'm not sure if/when I'll get to those topics, but it's good to know there's someone there to help me out <smile>.



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Luke Holzmann
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