Humans love stereotyping. We love to put everything in nice neat boxes, to fit everything into a stereotype. We want to make sure we don’t have to deal with anything icky or messy, anything we can’t easily and quickly define. We love blanket statements, says “well all (fill in the bank)’s are like that.” Especially when it comes to divisive issues like faith, political, gender, or ethnicity.
The guy in the picture above is a classic example of a stereotype popularly held about millennials. He would be labeled a hipster simply because of his appearance. Appearance is factored heavily into stereotypes, and it’s not always something that brings people closer together. Based on his appearance, I’m sure some would draw unfair conclusions about him. Some might associate him with words like “entitled” or even “lazy” (Check this out). I’m not sure how helpful that is to anyone.In fact, I would argue that stereotypes by and large are destructive, and devalue others. When we see fellow human beings as nothing more than an assigned label, what are we saying about how much we value them? Also, stereotypes often seem like excuses to be less than polite to a person.
In fact, I would argue that stereotypes by their very nature are destructive, and devalue others. When we see fellow human beings as nothing more than a label we assign them, what are we saying about how much we value them? Also, stereotypes often seem like excuses to be less than polite to a person.
As a young associate pastor, I got that a lot. I had shoulder-length hair and a full beard. I was called a hipster, a hippy, a “dirty” hippy or simply “hey girl” by some who seemed very offended by said hair length. I went through my ordination interview with my long dirty hipster-ific hippy hair. Some of those doing the interviewing clearly took exception to my hair. They would ask very pointed questions that seems hostile as if my presence offended them. I have had bosses call me a yuppy, parents of teens tell me I should be a better example and I was once told that my hair was ugly and I should cut it to make my mom happy.
I have had bosses call me a yuppy, parents of teens tell me I should be a better example and I was once told that my hair was ugly, that I should cut it to make my mom happy. Bible verses were used as well…
For the record, my mom didn’t have an issue with this:
I got a lot of crap for that look. Nowadays, If you haven’t see the homepage of this website, I keep it short. It’s easier that way. Not because I was tired of the negative feedback, but because I became a dad. My kids used to use my hair like a rope to climb up me. They would regularly rip handfuls of hair out of my scalp. I didn’t love that. I decided to choose regular haircuts over regular pain. Truthfully, the reason I had long hair in the first place was laziness. I just didn’t want to cut it. Eventually, I found a purpose for growing it long when I found out you could donate your locks. So that’s what I did.
Most of the grief I got was from the generations older than my own. The trend I experienced was the older a person was, the ruder their statement would be. It was very frustrating as I imagine it would be for anyone being stereotyped. Fortunately for me, I could change my circumstance, unlike some who are victims of stereotyping. I could go to the barber and get a haircut, instantly being transformed from dirty hippy to model citizen.
Now not all in the older generations treated me this way, many were kind and loving to me even if they didn;t get why I looked the way I did. I learned that many in that generation had a very clear and concise stereotype in their mind of what a pastor should look like. There was clearly a mold that a pastor was supposed fit in, and if they didn’t then they were suspect. It’s not just the older generations though, we will hear later this week from another millennial pastor who has experienced this as well only from some who were younger than he is. Everyone seems to have a picture in their head of what a Pastor looks like. You are picturing it in your head right now…
Let me tell you, I don’t fit that stereotype…
Every time I tell someone I am a pastor, almost without exception, there is a pause, a double take where they decide whether to believe me or not. I get a lot of “really?” and lots of “you don’t look like a pastor” as a follow-up. I even had someone tell me that they were surprised, that they would still hang out with me even after finding out I was, in fact, a pastor. “Your not like any pastor I have ever met,” they said. I hate to think of the picture they had in their head of what pastors were like, especially if they saw them as people to avoid. Discussions like this really inspired me to dream up the cover of the book.
I also have to regularly convince others that I am a lead pastor even though I am the age of a millennial. Even at conferences where everyone else is a pastor, other pastors have to reiterate “so you’re the lead pastor? Not the youth pastor?” I had a hilarious encounter with other youth pastors that assumed I was one of them. Once they figured out I wasn’t a youth pastor, they jokingly said they weren’t going to be able to hang out with me anymore. I was on the same level as their bosses because I was a lead pastor, so it was weird to be my friend. I know it was said in jest, but I can’t lie, it made me feel isolated and alone.
I’m at least a good 10-15 years younger than the other Pastors in church district. When we meet together I don’t have many who can relate to my situation. I don’t feel like one of the guys when everyone else is telling me about their grandkids and I’m sharing stories about taking my oldest to kindergarten.
We don’t like it
Millennials don’t like being labeled or stereotyped for the same reasons. We would rather focus on all the things that can bring us together. We see labels as isolating and divisive. See, I probably wouldn’t have minded so much if we just laughed at the incorrect assumption that I was a youth pastor, but when labels were implemented, I felt like lines were drawn that separated me from everyone else. Since I didn’t fit nice and neatly into any stereotype no one knew what to do with me.
Do me a favor, don’t stereotype. What good does it do? When you stereotype millennials it just makes us more bitter and resentful. I should add that this goes for us as well. We are just as guilty of stereotyping other generations the way they stereotype us. We regularly say less than polite things about older generations, making snide comments, and being generally unpleasant to them. It’s a sad truth to admit, but I don’t think this is how God wanted us to act.
Acts 2:17 In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your young will see visions.
Your elders will dream dreams.
The church, especially the church, should exemplify what it looks like to have unity despite diversity. The church should be a stereotype killer. Ideally, within the church, those with energy and passion should be able to take the wisdom and experience of the more seasoned individuals to make something beautiful happen! The church desperately needs very generation, all generations, to come and work together to do things only the church is capable of doing. If this doesn’t happen, then in-fighting and division will undermine the witness of the church, and we will continue to slip closer and closer to irrelevancy.
Let’s not allow that to happen… Let’s not be a stereotype ourselves… you know… the one where those outside the church think those inside “are all (fill in the blank…)*”
Until next time…
- If you google search “Why are Christians…” or “Why is the church…” you will see Google try to predict the rest of your search phrase. This prediction is based on the most popular searches that people use Google to look-up and let me tell you, they are less than flattering of Christians and the church.