In this series as we examine 365 Faith Communities we will look at what makes each group unique and different. I read a study entitled Six Cultural Lenses will helped me see part of what makes each of the 365 Faith Communities unique; and why each group has chosen to exist separately from others. This study showed how nationality and culture can produce habits and worldviews which are totally opposite. In our world which is growing smaller, we come in contact with people different than us more and more often; and because of our differences we fail to understand why other people act in certain ways. If we understand our differences and display compassion in our interactions we can draw closer to each other and improve life for everyone in our communities.
Although we would like to believe we are all the same (isn’t everyone just like me), the fact is that we are all different . Although we would like to believe “my way” of doing things is always “the right way,” holding such a viewpoint without understanding does more harm than good. Sometimes to understand things from the other perspective helps us preempt problems before they happen.
Different customs and traditions are bred into us because of where we were born, which generation we were born into, the size of our family, and from birth order. Uniqueness also comes from our economic position, community, race or nationality, who we chose as our friends, educational level; and from crises we faced in our lives. The fact is each individual is unique and many of the things that make us unique are neither right nor wrong, we just do some things never realizing how they are inbred in us. We can allow the traditions of others to drive us crazy or bother us never realizing how some habits are woven into the fabric of our life.
The places we choose to assemble, especially when it comes to the practice of faith, tend to be people just like us. We bring our biases, our sets of beliefs, our personalities, and our preferences to a group. If the group is a fit, we join. If we are uncomfortable, we sooner or later will drift to another group. The lenses through which we see and live in our world are very important.
One of the most visible differences between people can be seen in the concept of time. Some people are always early, and other people are always late; and the people who are always late drive the people who are always early crazy. Many churches are known by their time lens; in other words do services start on time or do they generally start a few minutes late. Is it important everyone be present in a meeting before the event starts? Some churches and meetings in an organization with a high sense of time will even start meetings and activities early, saying anyone late should have known.
A second difference which is less apparent can be the need to possess tokens of status. Status can be conveyed through something as simple and unseen as who gets the keys to the building. Some people compete for positions of status (such as deacons or elders), and although they do not desire to accomplish the work associated with the position, they will seek and hold the position in order to gain status. In some churches ordained ministers (even a visitor who just dropped in if discovered) will always sit on the platform. When we meet people with the title of “Doctor” sometimes we have to ascertain if the title was earned or obtained. To some people tokens of status are important, while others who do equal work prefer not to stand out.
A third difference could be called the lens of identity. Some people enjoy standing out from the group, others find greatness by functioning as part of a team. In collective or team cultures people find honor by doing their part and celebrate as the team find success.
A fourth lens is the attitude toward rules. Some people believe the context of situation can allow a person to bend rules, others believe they must follow rules even if the rules will bring harm in their current situation. Within faith groups rules mean certain patterns must always be followed, even if a situation would call for something otherwise. Some groups fight over style of music rather than meaning of the words.
A fifth lens deals with activity. Some congregations are Sunday only, others have programs going 24-7 at their facility and around the community. Some people believe in low contact, while others want to be well connected with friends and busy all the time. It is important as we minister to people to know how much contact is needed in order to keep members active in the congregation.
A sixth lens deals with authority. Some churches are very hierarchical. They like things done from the top down. There are bishops, district superintendents, and others who hold authority which can make decisions for the church. Pastors like the title CEO. In other churches desire congregational rule, limiting the pastor’s authority to govern themselves. THese churches often have large committees with great authority.
Religious faith is part of our world view. There are many elements of worldview. Do we respect life or not. What kind of foods do we enjoy. Where do we stand on politics. What clothing is proper to wear and where. One size does not fit all, as God has made us each individuals.