I’ve been thinking recently about stereotypes: a stereotype being a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing.

In my role as a pastor I am often confronted with facing people’s stereotypical and commonly held view of what a pastor and especially a woman pastor is and should be like. It’s amazing how many people have a viewpoint of what you will in their minds talk, look, dress, believe and behave like. Add to that the loud and often surprised exclamation of  “What! “You’ve got six kids”.

These views and expectations have often carried over to the stereotypical views and prejudice my six children have faced being pastors kids and the jokes, snide comments and teasing they’ve experienced. All this quickly enables one to see why stereotypes can be rather unhelpful.

I guess stereotypes eventuated because it can make people feel safe or more in control if they place people in boxes. Then they can feel like they know how to relate to people who are different from them or who are unknown to their experience or social circle.

However when we are too hasty to put people in our stereotypical box we can very easily fail to ever get to know them properly, or at all. Someone walks into the room and we subconsciously will be sizing them up and judging who and what they are by the way they look, dress, move and talk like. We can even make a judgement call by the company they keep or the family, job, home and area they come from.

Some stereotypes may be in fact quite accurate, but if we don’t, on making these estimations of a person, then leave the door open to really get to know them, we can easily dismiss or categorize people without giving ourselves the opportunity to know who they truly are. Plus if we meet someone and they have suffered under and from stereotypes all their lives you can be fairly sure they are going to be on the defensive and be protecting their true selves from criticism,; yours or others veiled comments and judgements.

Jesus however is a great example of someone who refused to label anyone. He saw their humanity; who they truly were and who they could also become. In contrast the religious leaders simply saw sinners; lowly tax collectors, prostitutes, the poor, sick, and forgotten.

No one dared be friends or visit a tax collectors house, yet Jesus invited them into his inner circle. (Luke 19:1-10)

When Simon the Pharisee was hosting a party that Jesus was attending a prostitute crashed their gathering and Jesus took the time to speak with her. Simon was horrified but Jesus asks Simon ,”Simon do you see this woman?” All Simon could see was a prostitute. What he thought he knew about her prevented him from seeing and knowing her at all. If he’d taken the time to get to know her maybe he would have understood what had led her to the life she lived and perhaps he would have been more compassionate and begun to see her as a fellow human being.

Jesus because of his refusal to stereotype people was actually able to “see” this woman. He saw her as a person, her worth, who she was created to be and he loved her, which led to her open display of pouring perfume upon Jesus” feet and washing and drying them with her tears and hair.

All of us desire to be known and to allow ourselves to get to know others without the stereotypes, expectations or judgements. Because when we do it makes room for us to love and be loved in such a way that brings freedom, changes lives and encourages people to step into their destiny.

Drop the stereotypes today. If you struggle under the weight of what others have thought or think of you then I encourage you to break open the box, shake the stereotypes off and ask God to help you peel back the layers and freely let who you really are and want to be shine forth.

If you’ve been guilty; as we all no doubt from time to time are, of making judgement calls and comments; of having expectations and failing to really take the time to get to know someone and who and why they are the way they are, then I recommend following Jesus” example. Forgo the comments, mindsets and failure to understand and perhaps imagine walking in that person in front of you”s shoes for a moment.

Then take the time to listen instead of talking, be compassionate instead of opinionated – always thinking you know it all and who everyone is, and instead ask God to help you “see” who is actually right in front of you and often has been all along.

Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring to God”. (Roman’s 15:7)

Prayer: Lord forgive me when I have been opinionated and made judgements about people without taking time to see them. Help me to break off stereotypes from my life and also not to place them on others. In Jesus name Amen.