PLYMOUTH – People are different. I can hear your reactions right now: “Yeah, Duh! Real genius statement there Tim.” And yes, it is very obvious that each human being is as unique and varied as a snowflake. Different in appearance. Different in thought. Different in cultural conditioning and social bias. Different in ethnicity and race.
There are so many differences, yet for some reason we pastors and leaders fall into the erroneous mindset that everyone should think, perceive, and believe as we do, and view matters from our perspective. We so easily fall into the “trap” of believing this that we are of the opinion that the way we communicate will reach, be understood, and be accepted by all. That is why I must remind myself on a regular basis that PEOPLE ARE DIFFERENT.
A good example of this is me and my sweetheart Sabrina. When I first met Sabrina, I could see that she was “really different” and boy, did I like the difference! “Viva la difference’.” But it was not until we had been married for a few weeks that I began to understand how different we were. The full understanding of these differences has been and will continue to be a lifelong living and learning experience.
One example I have come to realize is that I want to get the full experience of situations, people and places, and Sabrina wants to get the exposure. Now that might not make much sense to you, so bear with me a moment and allow me to explain.
When we travel to different places and countries, I relish the idea of soaking in all the ambiance, culture, and the “moment”. I want to feel the temperature and atmosphere as well as take in the aromas, colors, sounds and uniqueness of a place. I actively seek out those experiences and try to implant them in my memory. I don’t want to get in a hurry and rush through something.
Sabrina loves photography and wants to capture an exposure of that place on her camera. That has been her quest since she began years ago using film to do this and now does so digitally. She wants the picture. Exposure. I want the Experience. Is one better than the other? No. They are just different. Each of us view things from a different perspective.
Sabrina tells me she doesn’t want to forget those places, so she captures them in a digital media. I don’t want to miss anything, so I use all my senses to help me remember. This is just one of our many differences.
This year I want to be keenly aware and sensitive to the unique and varying differences in each of us. I want to apply the principle of “seeking to understand before seeking to be understood” that I learned many decades ago but have somehow forgotten to consistently apply. It is a basic desire of all humanity to be heard and understood. All of us want to be truly seen and not just viewed.
If I am to be a true communicator of the Gospel, then I must be acutely aware of those to whom I speak. I must watch and carefully observe the person and not just look at the human. This will take hard work and practice. Patience will be needed in abundance. It may take an inordinate amount of time to truly get to know and understand someone, but the effort will be more than rewarding. It could very well make an eternal difference in their lives.
I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, and this is not one. This is a choice. It is a choice that every Believer could and should make. To seek to truly understand others in order that we may be better communicators of the Gospel. It is not a resolution, but it will take great resolve.
May this be a great New Year for you and the Gospel.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tim Patterson is Executive Director/Treasurer of the Baptist State Convention of Michigan. Elected unanimously in May of 2015, Patterson formerly served for 9 years as pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla. He also served as trustee chair and national mobilizer for the North American Mission Board.