It is human to place people in categories. There is comfort in defining other people as “similar to us” or “different from us.” It then becomes easier to identify and associate with a particular group. Security arises when we surround ourselves with individuals like us. It breeds the familiar, the known. Equally so, it then becomes natural, if not comforting, to critique those different from us. It reinforces our beliefs and perspectives, as well as give rise to a sense of superiority.
Yet it also stunts our growth. It narrows our perspectives by interacting with individuals who only agree with us, not challenge our ideas and worldviews. Superficiality is created because we go through our daily lives inoculated from dissenting opinions or uncomfortable realities. For example, I have lived for years in the suburbs of Chicago with its white-collar problems. By limiting exposure to urban life, I avoid racial tension, gang violence, and declining school performance.
As believers, this tendency is visibly evident in our Christian fellowship. It is comfortable to worship with men and women who share identical beliefs, worship in predictable patterns, and understand the sermon in a specific light. Granted, it is important to settle into a local Christian community. Growth is not found in jumping from place-to-place. Furthermore, a spiritual nomadic life does not foster deep relationships. Yet, at times, it would benefit our souls if we mixed it up.
Our family has been in church transition for the past few months. In January, we stepped down from a church we served for close to two decades but we have yet to move to Lancaster, PA. This time created a unique challenge for us with respect to church attendance. Since we have been connected to one body for so many years, we decided to stretch our categories by intentionally visiting different traditions. Over the past couple of months, we have attended an Anglican, Presbyterian, Independent, African-American, Christian Reformed, and Charismatic Catholic church. Each worship style was uniquely different. Some experiences encouraged liturgical routine whereas others were open to spontaneous clapping, even dancing. While each church was evangelical, the sermons were diverse with some being theological-focused, others bent towards application. We enjoyed each worship experience. Most of all, we embraced the challenges to our preconceived frameworks for what worship is, what preaching is, what church is. It was good to worship as a minority. Quiet reflection in the service was at times refreshing; other times the ability to jump off our feet proved liberating. Our categories were disrupted, I believe for the better. It was good to be uncomfortable, even it was only for a season. In a month, we will settle into a church for an extended period of time. But, I will not forget these few months where we were stretched.
As leaders, we too become comfortable in our routines, perspectives, networks, and ideology. It is easy to associate only with those that think like us or read books on themes or beliefs comfortable to us. In doing so, we fossilize; we do not grow. Growth occurs when we break out of our routines, reflect on our boxes and for a moment step outside of them. Or we choose to lead in a different fashion, exercising creativity and stretching our leadership. And, in doing so, we continue to learn. And learning occurs best when we are uncomfortable.