The human brain wants to categorize. It’s a necessary function of how our brains accomplish the monumental task of filtering a flood of information into a narrative that makes sense–it’s cognitively efficient. But this high-level computational ability God created in our brains is not free from the perversion of sin in our world–as anyone who has been hurt by generalizations, stereotypes, and assumptions can confirm.
We want to be believers seeking obedience to the Great Commission, who prioritize the strategic and faithful testimony of our faith and the Good News. But do we sometimes tend, I wonder, to categorize the people we encounter: are they already in the club or are they lost? Are they people of peace or are they hostile to God? Are they in the book or are they backslidden? Are they a lost cause? Are they worth my time?
I’m sure it is not our conscious heart to deem people as farther from Jesus than they might actually be–often such categorizations may seem like good sense. Bob Goff tells in his book “Everybody, Always” about a witch doctor he prosecuted and sent to prison for a deeply evil deed. The witch doctor came to be converted and professed Jesus to the other prisoners, but he was also preaching a bevy of doctrine to his fellow prisoners that was wacky and mostly wrong. In calculating whether this guy’s faith was legit, Bob concludes, “There are plenty of people I don’t understand. God doesn’t see people the way I do, though. The fact is, what skews my view of people who are hard to be around is that God is working on different things in their lives than He is working on in mine.”
As a child, I assumed that people in certain categories (e.g., Democrats, Catholics, old ladies who said “God bless you” when you sneezed, and people who didn’t go to church every Sunday, etc.) were far from God. Even as an adult, I look at my clients and I find myself being kind to those I think are trying hard and dismissive of those I label as not trying. Instead of loving everybody, always, I put a lot of energy in attempting to discern if the object of my efforts is “open” and worth it. The accuracy of my judgments is irrelevant–making judgments and keeping categories substitutes my own arrogant assessment for a humble connection to Jesus. To be an effective evangelist, I need to focus on letting His love for me become my love for them.
In his book “Speaking of Jesus”, Carl Medeiros writes about a paradigm of evangelism that he terms “salvation insecurity”. He writes, “We want to measure, define, scrutinize, and secure our place on the ‘inside.’ And then, with that template in place, we go out into all the world to make other people nervous about whether or not they’re in the circle.” He proposes that perhaps a better way of evangelizing is not categorizing people according to their practices and beliefs–though certainly believers are called to mature in these things! But maybe instead, if our hearts are focused on intimacy with Jesus, that closeness will spill over and be a witness to all.
We meet together, and we worship and serve, and we pray and study, and we engage in various other spiritual disciplines because we know that connection to Jesus is our life-force, and this relationship (similarly to our earthly relationships!) needs regular tending to ensure we are consistently oriented towards and seeking more of our Sustainer, our Jesus. When we are connected to Him, we can say freely to others, let the one who desires take the water of life without price. (Revelation 22:17)