The Problem of Negative Perceptions

Sam Rainer

October 8, 2007

Last week I opened what was obviously a medical bill, only to find that our insurance had denied coverage for a recent trip to the doctor’s office. The bill was high enough to cause me quite a bit of anxiety. Erin has learned to let me level off when I get high strung. So after I cooled down, she mentioned matter-of-fact that a conversation with the insurance company might solve the problem.

The following day she returned from work to inform me that the insurance company had our information wrong in their system, which was why we were denied coverage. What was humorous about the whole situation was that they had our relationship as father/daughter and not husband/wife. She did marry an older man, but I’m not that much older.

An interminable gap exists between perceptions and reality. As a pastor, I often find myself dealing with the perceptions of people, as opposed to the reality of a given situation. My perception of the medical bill was quite different from the reality – there was no reason to get all bent out of shape, but I did.

This study reveals a reality that is hard to swallow: only 16% of non-Christians in their late teens and 20s maintain a good impression of Christianity. Whether or not their perceptions are warranted, it is the reality that the church faces. While the 16% number shocked me (I would not have predicted such a low percentage), perhaps it sheds light on why this age group is so hard to reach for Christ. They have negative perceptions about what it means to be a follower of Christ.

I’m sure that these perceptions derive from myriad sources, but I cannot help but think that one place from which they emanate might be a little closer to home…the church itself. We can be cynical about the direction of the church instead of being part of the solution. We decry denominational politics instead of maintaining a balanced and humble perspective. Perhaps we talk only about the negative aspects of culture instead of reaching out to that culture. We tend to read and focus more on negative religious news than celebrating the successes of other churches.

While we cannot neglect honest and open discussions about areas in need of attention, we must not become mired in our own dirt. We need more eternal optimists in the church – people willing to look beyond the current state of the church to a brighter future. We need more leaders like Haggai, those with faith beyond the rubble – pastors and lay leaders who will help rebuild broken perceptions to create a revival that is very real indeed.

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