Rethinking easy assumptions in the life of the church
If you frequent this blog, you are probably not content to know God by merely making assumptions about Him. God has commanded you to love Him with your mind. Thus, you’ve given yourself to studying the Bible so you can know God as He has revealed Himself. To make assumptions about God is to love Him poorly.
Yet all too often, we make assumptions about the people God has placed in our congregations. Bob likes to keep to himself. Jane rubs everyone the wrong way. Mr. Smith is “just that way”. These assumptions are often wrong. As a result, we love people inadequately. While you may strive to avoid assumptions about God, do you make assumptions about those people God has commanded you to know and love? Perhaps we make assumptions because we’re mentally lazy. It’s easier to assume things about people than it is to know them. Or perhaps we’ve simply never stopped to think about the assumptions were making. If this is the case, let’s take a minute to re-think some of the common assumptions we make as we relate to others in the church.
Assumptions We Make
Of the many assumptions we make in the church, perhaps the following are a few of the most dangerous:
· Most people in my church “have it together.”
· If people in my church are hurting, they will ask for help.
· People don’t want to share the hard parts of their lives with others.
· I should “have it together.”
· I am burdening others if tell them what is really going on in my life. I can only share the good parts of my story with people in my congregation.
Why These Assumptions are Dangerous
When we make assumptions about those God has placed in our congregations, we ignore the story of what God has done and is doing in their lives. For example, that aloof child in Sunday school who you assume is “just really quiet today” might actually be wondering if her parents’ marriage will make it through another week. The woman who you assume “just needs a Sunday nap” might actually be suffering from complete exhaustion while her dose of thyroid medicine is being titrated to a target dose. Assumptions shape our perceptions, so wrong assumptions can blind us to reality. As a result:
· We don’t get to know our brothers and sisters in Christ.
· We miss the stories of those God has placed in our congregations. We miss being able to be a part of their stories and learn from what God is doing in their lives.
· We subtly adopt the mindset that we need to “have it all together.”
· We feel isolated in our own suffering.
· Others don’t get to be a part of and learn from the story of what God is doing in our lives.
Truth to Guide Our Thinking
Instead of making careless assumptions, gird your mind with biblical truth:
· At any given moment, most Christians are suffering in some capacity (2 Corinthians 4:16, 5:2).
· Sometimes Christians hide their suffering very well (Proverbs 14:10).
·Sometimes suffering manifests in very unattractive ways: annoying mannerisms, personality quirks, physical defects, etc. (Mark 5:25).
· Suffering may be the result of poor choices, but it may just be the result of living in a broken world (John 9:3).
· There is a story behind the suffering. Christians should not make hasty conclusions about someone’s suffering without hearing their story (Proverbs 18:13).
· God is doing a glorious work in the midst of suffering (John 9:3; 2 Corinthians 4:17).
· God often intends to use “individual” suffering for corporate edification (Philippians 1:14).
How should these thoughts guide your interactions with people in the church? I’m not suggesting it’s your God-given duty to know all the details of everyone’s life story. Some people are private people, and some stories should be shared only with much discretion in appropriate contexts. I’m merely saying that you should talk with people in your church. Get to know them well. Approach people with a kind understanding that allows them to share the good—and the hard—parts of their stories. Realize that a thoughtful question demonstrates love far better than a careless assumption.*
If you think that everyone else in your church appears to be doing just fine, you’re probably living in a dangerous delusion. If you think you have no responsibility to help shoulder the load of others’ burdens, this too is a delusion. Train yourself to observe people, ask good questions, and really listen. There is probably both more joy and more suffering in your church than you currently realize. Yet God is at work. His work in the lives of the people in your congregation is far more glorious than you ever imagined. Put away careless assumptions, love people well, and expect to behold a little more of this glory.
*It is beyond the scope of this article to address how to ask good questions. One book that has informed my thinking in this area is Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands by Paul Tripp.