Back before Facebook when blogs were the self-expression of choice, a lady called Diane asked an interesting question on her blog, Crossroads (now defunct).
Are a lack of social skills in churches hindering outreach?
Initially I wondered whether she was being a little snobby...
...but as I read on I realised that she was talking about the importance of social graces in a mature person.
Mature Christians have social graces.
Mature personhood certainly does mean people are able to relate to others more easily. Quite apart from what their parents taught them, when a person is able to consistently know God's love for them and therefore love God and others, inevitably there will be an ability to relate to others with respect and social grace.
A lack of social skills is actually an indication that a person is immature.
Many evangelical Christians do not have social graces.
The ironic thing is that Diane pointed out many non-Christians and liberal Christians have far more social skills than evangelical Christians.
My take on this was that evangelical Christians are expected to be perfect in every way and this actually prevents maturity. In fact, an unspoken pressure for perfection and the resulting self-criticism produces an unnatural and false veneer. Non-Christians and liberal Christians, on the other hand, are far more accepting of imperfection and actually expect everyone to have strong and weak points and to be happy about them.
How do we address lack of social graces in churches?
Does this have an impact on "outreach"? For sure. God does use the weak things of the world to fool the strong, but I still believe social graces (or the lack of) in Churches points to a need that should be addressed, but not by ettiquite classes. I think that in a Church where the grace of God in Jesus Christ is continually pointed to and where you are accepted and acceptable as you are, the love of Jesus through the Spirit will enable us to be secure in ourselves and show true love for others.
Why does every Christian article on same-sex marriage discuss social graces?
I don't know if you've noticed, but virtually everything written about how we address same-sex marriage begins with warnings or instructions about treating gay people with fairness, love and respect. For example, see here, here, and even in the up-coming transgender discussions here). It appears that most writers think Christians don't know how to treat non-Christians with fairness, love and respect. This was the point a lady named Tania made on my blog a few years ago:
Thinking aloud here, but in less liberal churches you probably have more conformity of belief among your church friends and family. (This is an assumption on my part, and I’m using a general “you”).
If you’re not used to interacting with people who have very different beliefs, maybe they could seem a little threatening when they turn up? Maybe you start off ill-at-ease or feeling a little defensive until you find some common ground?
It’s pretty easy to tell if someone is trying to build or defend an image as they speak to you, or if they are genuinely seeking to know and understand you. When I think back on churches I have been part of and churches I have visited, I can think of people within each congregation who were genuinely interested in getting to know me as another human being, and people who seemed to put on a sort of customer service mask.
I think it comes down to our motivations (why am I talking to this person? Doorperson duty? Got trapped in the foyer corner and accidentally made eye contact? Actually really interested in what brought them here today?) and our fears of navigating a conversation with someone who might be very different from us.
And perhaps that's correct. I'd like to think, however, that real life intrudes in the lives of most Christians and that such exhortations are unnecessary.
But perhaps they aren't.