Why Christian Leaders Need To Be Honest About Elitism
“Do I have to be a hipster to intern for you?” A student asked me a few years ago.
“No!” I quickly answered, my heart sinking as I felt the sting of his question. It wasn’t even about him asking me. I was hurting because my actions were somehow conveying the message that I was exclusive. While “hipster” doesn’t outright mean exclusive, the implications of being identified with pretension and trends wasn’t exactly my heart. Unintentionally, I had been putting out vibes to onlookers that I interact with people based on a certain criteria. I knew it wasn’t true, but it bothered me that others were experiencing me in this way.
I decided I would examine my life. I knew that people could feel like outsiders for reasons beyond my control. I just wanted everything in my control to point towards inclusion and qualification.
I asked myself:
Did I ignore certain people?
Did I seek friendship for the wrong reasons?
Did I only talk to certain types of people?
Did I smile?
Did I start conversations or always wait?
What does my nonverbal communication look like?
When I began to take an honest look at my life, I found that my actions and inactions could often miscommunicate my heart. If I didn’t make it clear that my intents were to include, I would inadvertently communicate that I was exclusive.
I wanted the “anyone can join my team” vibe.
It reminded me of when the disciples tried to tell Jesus about other people casting out demons. They wanted permission from Jesus to stop them. It was their gig–what they were known for–but Jesus hits this thing hard. Real hard.
“If they’re not against us they’re for us.”
When Jesus told them this, he made exclusion against Him their choice. He gave such permission that onlookers and strangers felt invited to join the ranks. Jesus killed the elitism among the disciples. He didn’t let the movement become a hierarchy of status or exclusivity. It wasn’t a club of unapproachable people. It was the gospel of inclusion.
That year I began a new initiative in my life, something that gave onlookers an invitation. I knew I wouldn’t be perfect for everyone and I didn’t want to change the things I love, the people I love and how I loved them. I just wanted to embrace new ways of communicating.
I hoped to make myself more approachable to anyone. I would deliberately smile because my relaxed face was (is) scary. I would say hello first and start the conversation. I started to change my tone and, at times, my intensity. I made sure I was having conversations with a diverse range of people so that false stereotypes like “hipster” weren’t being reinforced into my reputation as a Christ-follower. I attempted to address anything that could make me appear elitist. If someone was going to be against me I wanted it to be their choice as much as possible.
My heart has always been humble and I deeply love all people but it was my communication skills that were challenged and ultimately needed to be changed. I didn’t want to use “being me” as an excuse to not change. What I wanted was the inside to be known because I knew that was the truest me.
As leaders, we may feel it isn’t our responsibility to be completely understood by others, but it’s important for us to smooth our proverbial edges. We are to be like fathers and mothers–approachable and filled with love. Our journey is that of sharpening our leadership while remaining soft in heart so we can ultimately be as effective as possible. Join me on this journey of communicating inclusion.