I was reading Adam S. McHugh’s book Introverts in the Church and ran across this paragraph:
“An introverted college student I worked with, Trevor, encountered several reactions when he chose to step outside of his community after two years of consistent participation. Extroverted leaders chided him for his lack of commitment and were convinced his pulling back was indicative of a larger spiritual problem infecting his heart. The pastor of the community arranged meetings with him to understand what was happening and what was the source of his dissatisfaction with the group. These efforts, as well intentioned as the were, only pushed him further away instead of drawing him back into his previous level of commitment.”
This paragraph struck me because of how often people would rather make assumptions about others rather than actually asking what the issue was. It is so easy to do this. After all, getting to know people and know the issues that underlie the decisions people make takes time and effort. It doesn’t take much time to make an assumption and roll with it.
While it may not take much time to make these assumptions, it can be rather damaging. As the example from above points out. The people who assumed the stepping back was a spiritual problem infecting his heart or dissatisfaction with the group were actually doing more damage than good. It could even be that this reaction to these assumptions just served to fuel the idea that these assumptions were true.
It’s not enjoyable being in a situation where people make assumptions about your spiritual life or your emotional life without any idea of who you are. There may have been other times this has happened to me, but the experience I remember most clearly happened while I was trying to get accredited with the denomination I had been affiliated with since becoming a Christian.
I was hoping to a be a pastor in this particular denomination, I had finished seminary and now needed to be accredited. To do this I needed to go through an interview, and from what I had heard it wasn’t going to be a particularly difficult experience. It wound up going rather terribly. Mainly due to views on end times and alcohol.
We spent about half of the interview talking about views on the end times. My view is that I don’t really have a horse in the race. I’m not big on the idea of a rapture, but beyond that I’m not really one hundred percent sold on amillennialism, pre-millennialism, or whatever other millennialism you want to adhere to.
In my many years in the denomination it had never been a big point in sermons or in terms of membership, and I talked with pastors who weren’t entirely sure how it was all going to turn out in that regards. However, there seemed to be some agitation that I wasn’t fully committed to pre-millennialism. I was okay with that view, but wasn’t okay with trying to make it as the one true way.
The other issue was alcohol. The denomination I was trying to get into doesn’t allow their pastors to drink alcohol. While I was okay with doing this, and even somewhat understood their position, I also wanted to note that I didn’t really agree with it entirely. I would follow it, but I didn’t think it had a whole lot of support from the Bible itself. A view like this that wouldn’t allow Jesus to be a pastor of that denomination appeared a bit problematic to me. This view didn’t go over that well either.
Now as you can expect, I didn’t get accredited from that interview. Now if they came back and simply said that your views just don’t really line up with the denomination’s views that would have stung, but I think I would have understood. It would have been honest and wouldn’t have had to resort to any kind of assumptions about me.
No, instead the three men came into the room and made up some idea that they think I’ve been hurt by authority or have some kind of issue with authority in general. It wasn’t entirely clear to me which it was, maybe it was even both. The only thing was, this wasn’t really true, at least until this incident.
I tend to be a rule follower, almost to a detriment. I was always liked by teachers and other parents because I was a good or nice or whatever. I don’t really remember being hurt by authority, even by authority figures that I didn’t particularly like or respect. I wasn’t exactly one who would have been considered a rebel or anti-authority figure, at least by anyone who knew me.
I didn’t like questioning things, and it took a lot out of me to just be honest with these men and talk to them about issues that I didn’t necessarily agree with. To be honest I didn’t really expect the disagreement over the end times to be so significant, but the alcohol issue didn’t surprise me. Even with that though I was still willing to abstain from alcohol, which wouldn’t really be too much different than what I normally do anyhow. I just wanted to be honest with where I was coming from.
Yet what came back was this assumption that didn’t have much of a foothold on reality. To be honest it was this exchange with authority that has hurt and scarred me the most in all of my years. The incorrect assumption hurt more than a simple admitting that our views didn’t line up ever would have.
Incorrect assumptions can push people away, hurt people, and even scar them for some time. I know that we’ll all make assumptions. I’ve probably made assumptions about others around me and hurt them. However, be willing to be wrong in those assumptions, particularly if we have little to base them off of. Be willing to change your mind and not just double down ignoring any signs that our assumptions are incorrect. I don’t know the motivations and intricacies of my own heart most of the time, why should I or anyone else assume that we can understand the motives in the heart of another?