Part of the training that my wife are I are doing to prepare for our lives as missionaries is reading as much as possible. One of the books I am currently reading is Cross-Cultural Servanthood: Serving the World in Christlike Humility by Duane Elmer. The premise of the book is this: we all want to be servants, but our understanding of what servanthood looks like is based upon our own culture. Servanthood many times looks very different in other cultures. For example, in Jesus’s culture, a servant would wash someone’s feet. Try that today when someone comes to visit you in your home. So servanthood does not always translate from one culture to another, and this book is written to help us understand this concept and overcome it.
Mr. Elmer says that one of the steps to becoming a servant is openness. This is actually the first step and he defines it as such: “Openness is the ability to welcome people into your presence and make them feel safe.” The first skill he lists in being open is suspending judgment.
The problem is that we quickly and unconsciously think and attribute negative things to people that are new to us. They look, speak, smell, or act differently than we do and we almost automatically develop an idea of who they are and what they are like. That preconceived idea, most of the time, is not positive. This is called judging, and it is wrong. (See John 7:24)
It hurts our potential influence on others by:
- Causing us to accept as fact our assumptions about someone, which makes it more difficult to change our minds later on.
- Causing us to close ourselves off to this individual.
- Causing us to act unjustly towards a person when our conclusions are wrong about them.
- Causing us to even push an individual away.
This problem has a broader effect than just the missionary who is living in a different country. It affects us all, we are quick to form conclusions about others that we see in the supermarket or who walk down the sidewalk in front of our house. Mr. Elmer says “not all judgments are wrong, but almost all prejudgments are.” So in order to suspend judgment on someone and maintain an openness with them follow these three things that will help each of us.
- Recognize you are making a negative judgment. Ask yourself, Am I jumping to a negative conclusion.
- Stop as soon as you recognize you have a negative thought, remark, or judgment about someone. Do you have enough information to be negative? Should you suspend judgment until you get more information?
- Does the observed behavior violate some clear mandate of Scripture or should it be labeled as a cultural difference?
Don’t burn a bridge with someone just because they are different than you are. How many oppurtunites for grace, healing, help, and hospitality have been wasted by our barring the door on someone because we would not suspend judgment?