Whenever I am speaking to a group of business owners or corporate leaders I will encounter several kinds of stories of how their team members behave in a negative ways. I hear from managers and supervisors about poor time management, illicit use of funds, angry outbursts, false documentation, inappropriate behavior, and the list goes on. But one story that I am finding more common is how people of faith are behaving – or in most cases, how they are offensive and sometimes downright rude.
As a person of faith and a former pastor I know this balance all too well. There have been plenty of times when my over-zealous, eager attitude to convert my friends has taken over as I make my stand for what I believe (or in most cases, what I stand against). In an effort to make my first impression strong – I have turned people away.
I remember one instance where I was so “out-loud” with my faith that I pushed my friend away only to hear her final words of, “I hope your god is happy with the way you live… you certainly know how to hurt people”.
To make matters worse, I couldn’t even see it until a mentor came to me and asked me a question about how I was treating people. I think he considered locking me up in a basement, but he cared enough to confront me. “Do you really believe that your passion for your faith is worth beating people up”? This trusted friend encouraged me to take a few days to have a personal encounter with God prayerfully consider how I handle the people in my life. His caring approach and questions led me to a revised view of interpersonal relationships.
Peter Mead wrote, “just because we feel strongly about our faith message doesn’t mean we should strong-arm our listeners, friends, or co-workers”. I was certainly doing that – and worse – I didn’t care.
From my prayer journal I recall these 3 questions that came as a result of my time with God that day. Take this simple quiz to see if your faith message is toxic in your relationships:
1. When you share your faith are you aggressive and offending? How you are coming across will send your listeners closer or send them running. Carefully consider your words and your tone. Prayerfully ask questions with intent to listen. As you post on social media, be sensitive to what others might feel. Maybe you and I can be bolder about what we believe instead of what we are so strongly against.
2. When you are with others, do you become loud and obnoxious? It’s so tempting for some personalities to raise their voice when they encounter enthusiasm. Becoming full of conviction is not wrong just as long as we don’t become “shouty” in the process. Peter Mead says, “being known as the shouting preacher won’t help you on several levels”. As you work among other faiths, non-faith folks, and all kinds of people different than you, take the golden rule into effect: treat people with respect and genuine care.
3. Are you focused on your faith or is your faith focused? You might think these are one in the same but they are not. Focused on your faith is a presentation. This “putting on a show” attitude could be hurtful on several levels, especially in the work place where people around you may or may not know your whole personality. Are you faith focused? This is where faith drives a person to be quick to listen, slow to speak. Faith focused people first engage God to seek guidance on how to live their life. It is the mentality of “Lord, where do I go… send me” attitude.
After my mentor encouraged me to seek God about my relationships, I was changed. I felt as if I were a pain to be around; distracting people with my intensity, and not being loving and respectful. I felt specifically impressed to meet with each of my team members, neighbors, and friends to seek forgiveness in how I was treating them. I apologized with transparency and genuine care for the way I had made my faith seem over-zealous.
It would be great if everything turned out, but it didn’t. Sure, there were folks who were accepting and forgiving. But I lost a few connections too. My faith mismanagement created enemies and people who have kept me at a distance. I’m saddened by this and prayerfully hopeful for reconciliation at some point. It also makes me mindful of the principle of initial engagements: you only have one chance to make a good impression.