Picture this scenario, one you’ve encountered hundreds of times in your life. You are meeting someone for the first time–a roommate, a friend’s friend, a co-worker, the auditor from the IRS (just got my taxes done yesterday, so I have residual IRS thoughts). You get through the pleasantries–hi, how are you, my name is, your name is–and now there’s the first brief moment of silence. What do you ask? Or if they’re quicker on the proverbial draw, what do they ask you? With just a handful of exceptions the question tends to be, so….what do you do? And as soon as they tell you their occupation and you tell them yours you both start to form opinions of each other. Because we all have at least some general thoughts about what teachers are like, or architects, or doctors, or pastors. So we begin to decide some things about this new person based purely on the work they do. With time and a growing relationship these impressions can fade, but I find it interesting that we go there to begin with. We self-identify and judge others based on function.
“When asked to identify themselves today, people commonly refer to their career, job title, employer, or educational achievements. This response illustrates how the culture of modernity roots a person’s identity in one’s achievements and place in the social order, especially the economic social order. What identifies people is their function–what they do rather than their character or their personal qualities.” Missional Church, p. 28
While we have launched headlong into postmodernity, we still maintain a great deal of residue from our four hundred year stay in modernity. One of the things we’ve retained is this propensity for identifying ourselves and others based on function and achievement. I see whispers of moving away from this, but I think it’s something we should work hard to accelerate. It’s not wrong to share our job or achievements, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if we identified ourselves and sought to know others for who they are instead of what they do? This is important on a personal level, and for followers of Christ it is important on a communal level as well.
“By this all people will know you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Jesus
Too many times churches, if they are known at all, are known for what they do–their function. They are known for having a huge building, for entertaining the kids well, for having great music, for a good speaker, and on and on. And despite all these things, study after study says people who are not Christians know churches as judgmental, cold, indifferent, hypocritical. We need to be known for our character, and in particular for the way we love. This will never come from a building or a program. These can be tools we use, but if all the focus is placed on growing the physical manifestation of the church and it’s bill of services, we neglect the thing our founder called us to be known for–our character.
So I suggest that individually and communally we all seek to be known for who we really are, rather than what we’ve done in the past or what we do now. This will be a deeper and truer way of understanding and impacting each other.