Dr. Ken Boa has a name for a condition that people who are less than teachable and flexible endure. Boa calls this rigidity “hardening of the categories.” Some people tend to prematurely place others in categories. Sometimes we need a “relational stint” of some kind to open ourselves up to new ways of looking at things. Maybe this “flow” is something you need? I am not talking about flexibility regarding core theological issues as much as I am promoting a healthy understanding of one another’s perspectives on matters pertaining to life and love and living in this fallen world.
Here are some suggestions to overcoming a “hardening of the categories”:
- The church focuses on the cross, and rightly so. But, we can also accentuate cross-generational ministry. If our older generation could be more “childlike,” then our younger generations would be less childish. Older people need to listen to and share with our younger generation and ask a lot of genuine questions. We have too much of a generational divide (see Titus 2). Let’s lead by example.
- We should institute a new guideline in the church. If you don’t pray for our leaders (1 Timothy 2:1-2) then you can’t talk about them behind their backs. This goes for the locally elected dog catcher to the President of the United States.
- Whether we pray for people or not, we shouldn’t make a habit of talking behind people’s backs or arguing and complaining (Philippians 2:14-16). A diet of steady complaining leads to a “hardening of the categories.” We either respect the results of our democratic process in this Republic, or we don’t.
- Pursue an authentic understanding of another person’s starting point and the influences upon them in life before drawing any kind of conclusion regarding their intent or character (Galatians 6:2).
- Critically-spirited spouses, teachers, coaches, policemen, nations, associations, neighbors, etc. etc., are likely carrying internal pain around with them everywhere they go. They are exhausted from carrying that weight, and they need someone to help them lay it down (Matthew 11:28-30). Humble and teachable people are not threatened by critical people, and they reserve judgment and learn from another’s pain while providing help. Be sensitive towards such people; they may have a “hardening of the categories” that can prove to be fatal for their relationships and their dreams.
I encourage you to go deeper this week in your efforts to learn more about people and their context. Go low this week as opposed to high and mighty. Many questions lead to more learning. More learning and teachability leads to a greater appreciation and deeper opportunities for ministry. Just ponder for a moment how much we do not know and how much others will benefit from our genuine desire to know their personal story, pain, faith and victories.
Dr. Gary Hewins is the President of lifepoints.org, a coaching and consulting ministry to ministry leaders and preachers and the Senior Pastor of Community Bible Church in the picturesque mountains of Highlands, N.C.