The Principle of Perceptions

I am in South Africa with a team of teacher/facilitators from our ministry, teaching “Five Principles of Unity” in churches there.  Look here for our schedule and how you can be praying for us.  Here is some of what we are teaching:

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Romans 12:17-18

The Principle of Perceptions: I have responsibility for how others perceive me.

I consulted with a traditional, small town First Baptist Church who was in severe conflict.  There was a variety of issues, but the primary problem was broken relationships.  So we spent some time addressing those relationships.  One of the personalities involved was a young, dynamic high school teacher who had a fantastic presence with the teenagers.  He truly loved the Lord and brought teenagers to the Lord (and to the church) by the busloads.  Literally hundreds of them.  He was a bit eccentric, which is why the teenagers were so attracted to him.  He shaved his head, wore old blue jeans and a “Jesus Freak” tee-shirt to church, even on Sunday mornings.  His theology was solid, his teaching was wonderful, he loved his family (wife and three kids), and they loved him.  As I met with him, I remember thinking to myself, “I wish my own teenagers could meet this guy.”

But as wonderful as he was, the jeans and tee-shirt were a bit of a problem in the eyes of some of the older folks in the church.  Actually, as things got increasingly tense, it became a problem with quite a few of them.  But in his mind, that was their problem, not his.  He told me, “When I come to worship, God isn’t concerned with what’s on the outside, He’s concerned with my heart.”  True enough.  And you certainly couldn’t argue with the results of his ministry.  Obviously, God was using him powerfully in the lives of the youth.

But at the same time, his choices in attire were carving out an entire section of the congregation and saying “I don’t care what they think about me…I don’t want to be a Godly influence in their lives.”  Wasn’t this a major theme in Paul’s letter to the Roman church?  In chapter 12 and again in chapter 14, he dealt with this attitude among some of the gentile Christians toward some of the more traditional Jewish Christians.  Paul would say to them, “Let us stop passing judgment on one another…Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way…if your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love.” Romans 14:13-15 (selections).  Likewise, I think Paul would say to this dear teacher, “If those older folks are small-minded and cannot see the bigger picture, so be it…it is who they are for now…do not ruin your testimony in their eyes just for sake of being right.”

At least that’s what I think Paul would say.  And it’s what I said.  And it is what the Principle of Perceptions is all about.  If I am to have influence in someone’s life, I really do have to care what he or she thinks about my choices.

And so, the principle of perceptions sets up a two-pronged test for the choices I make: (1) what does God think about my choices, and (2) what does my church think about my choices?  You don’t HAVE to ask yourself these questions.  Only if Godly leadership is something to which you aspire.

© Blake Coffee

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