What do people really think about you? (Perceptions, stereotypes and generalisations}

Have you ever wondered what people really think about you when they meet you? The fact is, we all start to judge people and form opinions and make conclusions about them very quickly.  We start to do this within the first thirty seconds of meeting them; most of this is based on their appearance initially. This is common knowledge today. Have you considered what people think about you when you witness for Christ?

People have often said to me that they think it is wrong and unfair how people judge them by the way they look. I always reply by saying, “That’s the same way we judge everyone else”.

“But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16: 7

There is a term in psychology which is known as person perception. It relates to the different mental processes we use to form impressions about other people. This includes not only how we do it, but also the way that we go about it, forming the different conclusions and opinions that we make about others. This is based on the impressions we make. It is also closely linked to stereotyping and character generalisations.

Consider how often we make these kinds of judgments every day. For example, when you meet a new colleague at work, you immediately begin to develop an initial impression of the person. When making a purchase from a shop, we will quickly make some conclusions about the checkout operator who serves us, even though we know hardly anything about them.

We make snap judgments and decisions that could lead to biased or stereotyped perceptions of other people. We all get it wrong from time to time. I know this from my own experience.

Jesus told us, “Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.” John 7: 24.

From that, we recognise the need to be careful not to use stereotyping or generalisations which might cause us to judge people incorrectly. This could mean that we could treat a person differently out of error, making sharing the Gospel more difficult.

Key Point: When people know that we are Christians they make conclusions about God based on what we say and what we do. 

The aspect I wish to cover in more detail, is with regards to the judgements and perceptions that people make about us. People form opinions about others in a very short period. That is a given.

The really vital point is, when people know we are Christians, they will make conclusions and impressions about God based on what we do and say, as well as on our appearance.

We must consider how we come across. When you mention the fact that you are a Christian to an unbeliever, the image they will often conjure up in their minds is of a boring meeting, in a big old church full of people looking miserable, sat on uncomfortable wooden pews. What did they do? They made a stereotype. There are possibly some churches which are like this, but I am sure most of them are not.

You have probably heard the term,”We are often the only bible that people read”. If that is the case, ask yourself this question. “What conclusions, perceptions, and opinions do people form about me”?

The Holy Spirit is our guide and helper and we need to rely upon Him as we witness. Jesus made use of similes (figures of speech which compared two things that are not the same) to give instruction to His disciples as He sent them out, cautioning them on how to act and behave in their ministry.

“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves”. Matthew 10: 16

Basically, when Jesus mentioned being wise as serpents, he was in all likelihood referring to shrewdness or wisdom as well as kindness and gentleness.  Hence it tells us we need to be aware of the perceptions and opinions we could be creating. After all, He did say, “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves”. Remember, wolves are predators and hostile.

I like the way the Message covers this scripture. It says, “Stay alert. This is hazardous work I’m assigning you. You’re going to be like sheep running through a wolf pack, so don’t call attention to yourselves. Be as cunning as a snake, inoffensive as a dove”.

As always, Jesus was correct. We need to be careful, intentional and prepared. We have all made errors forming incorrect perceptions when we meet a person. Only to discover later on that they are not like we first thought.

What do you believe goes on in people’s minds when they meet you? Are their perceptions going to open a door of opportunity for you to share the good news?

I believe that Jesus said exactly what He meant to say. Do you?

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About the author : Moray McGuffie

Moray McGuffie

I am an evangelist and author hoping to challenge and inspire Christians to share the Gospel through strategies that are simple, effective and above all Biblical. I have written two books, the first of which "A Fall From The Top" covers my journey to faith from being born into a showbiz family where my father was a violent alcoholic. In my teenage years I discovered martial arts and went on to become a professional instructor. Injury led me into the world of financial services where I climbed the corporate ladder only to fall from the top after traumatic period in business. My second book, "One to one witnessing for Christ ... made easy" cover simple and easy strategies that can be used to share the message of the Gospel. All are scripture based and have proven to a great benefit to readers. I travel the UK and internationally, preaching, teaching and sharing my testimony of Gods grace upon my life. He is amazing!

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