We were halfway through dinner, three roommates seated around a small table, discussing the family traditions of our growing up years. One roommate, in a forlorn kind of voice, said, “When we came home from school every day, whoever was home came out and greeted us, usually my mom. And in the mornings when anyone was leaving, the whole family went to the window to wave good-bye until the person was out of sight. I get so disappointed when I come into the apartment and no one comes out to greet me, or when I leave and nobody walks me to the door.”
The other roommate and I looked at each other with wide eyes.We were so surprised! Neither one of us had that kind of family experience. We had no expectations of being greeted or of greeting anyone other than a shout of “Hello—I’m home!” In my case, my mom was busy with other kids, so I would go to where she was to let her know I was home. My other roommate was active in sports and had a working mom, so coming home was also a different experience for her.
That one difference had created some real hurt among us. We inadvertently implied to the first roommate that she was not a part of the “family.” It was not her “normal.” We acted differently from her “normal family.” She felt rejected.
How do you define “normal”?
In most situations people define normal as what they are accustomed to, in this case, what they grew up with. Those practices are part of us; they are how we express value, closeness and belonging. They are different for each one of us.
Rev. Peter Scazzero, in The Emotionally Healthy Church, describes how our families lay the patterns for the ways we communicate, the ways we handle conflict or hurt, and the ways we signal belonging. They establish what is normal for us. When joining the family of God as new believers; we must be discipled into a “new normal,” in order to become spiritually mature and emotionally healthy disciples.
We mix it all up when we create ministry teams! Each of us comes with our own practices, values, and different maturity levels. Increasingly, teams around the world are a mix of people from different cultures and countries, ages and experience. Think of the challenges as each person on the team adjusts to the values and practices of the new team.
The Bible gives us a lot of food for thought for a new normal in the “one anothers.” That “new normal” means that we become aware, sometimes painfully, of ways we need to change.
The “old normal” may cause pain, just as I did to my roommate. Because of different experiences, values, and habits, a person can easily undermine team unity by holding on to a comfort zone.
What we learned as children helped us get what we wanted when we were kids. Those defense behaviors that worked well at age 12 or 15 are no longer productive or helpful in moving a team task forward. Neither are they respectful to others on the team:
- Passive-aggressive behavior*
- Dominating discussion
- Deflecting topics
- Topic jumpers
- The chronic objectors
In addition to these problem behaviors, there may be more subtle signals related to belonging or not belonging. In 1973, Mary Rowe, PhD., found that people in particular minorities (race or gender) were affected by subtle messages of devaluation that kept them from flourishing. These messages are called “microinequities.” Here are some examples:
- Constantly being interrupted
- Being excluded from discussions
- Not getting full attention from the listener (on cell phone, continuing to work while talking, etc.)
- Cutting down ideas before they can be entertained
- Mispronouncing or misspelling your name
- Change in voice pitch, rate or volume
- Change in body language
These kinds of behaviors over time can leave a person feeling devalued. They are a way to say “you don’t belong.” Part of the problem is that these behaviors may be unconscious behaviors, part of the “old normal” that we grew up with.
Jesus gives us specific instructions on how to deal with relational offenses or microinequities. They are the basis for our “new normal” in relationships. In Matthew 5 and Matthew 18, we are to go to someone when we become aware that he or she may have an issue with us, or that we have been hurt.
Our roommate did that—she took the initiative with us. She was the youngest of the three of us, so I don’t imagine it was easy for her. Even if there’s a remote possibility of a problem, it’s better to go and check it out, rather than to simmer in vain imaginations. In either case, offender or offended, we take the initiative to go to the other person.
If you recognize yourself in any of these behaviors, seek feedback from your teammates. Give them permission to let you know when you’re engaging in them. If you become aware of offending a teammate, repentance and seeking forgiveness are your first two steps. Take the initiative to go to the person. You know the rest! In practice, differences tend to divide. People tend to befriend those who are most like themselves.
As believers, our “new normal” is that we reach out to people who are different from us. Both Romans 12:13 and I Peter 4:9 tell us to practice hospitality, i.e. to love strangers, to make people feel “at home.” Interesting to note that in both passages, the commands to love and offer hospitality come in the context of differing gifts.
As members of His body, our differences are good and necessary (I Cor. 14). God instructs us to encourage, to build up, to be kind, to forgive, and to speak the truth in love. The research shows us that people respond to small acts of affirmation.
Dr Mary Rowe shares that micro-affirmations need to replace micro-inequities.
“Microaffirmations are tiny acts of opening doors to opportunity, gestures of inclusion and caring, and graceful acts of listening.Micro-affirmations lie in the practice of generosity, in consistently giving credit to others– in providing comfort and support when others are in distress, when there has been a failure at the bench, or an idea that did not work out, or a public attack. Microaffirmations include the myriad details of fair, specific, timely, consistent and clear feedback that help a person build on strength and correct weakness.”
She says it well. Inclusion, caring, listening, generosity, giving credit, comforting, feedback— hmmm, that sounds like love and hospitality to me.
Great teams require courageous people who pursue right relationships before the Lord. They are willing to look foolish or weak in order to be at peace with each other, forsaking their pride, so that Jesus is honored. They don’t let offenses build up. Team leaders need to pay attention, not only to the agenda or content of the meeting, but also to the small things, to the little ways we encourage or discourage each other. They have to pay attention to whether we are moving toward our “new normal.”
That night, with the three roommates around that dinner table, our differences resulted in hurt. Love and hospitality meant adopting a new practice at our home. Each of us was willing to change our “old normal” once we knew how left out our roommate felt. We developed our own “new normal.” That made all the difference on our home team!
What new practices have you learned to adopt to make someone feel valued on your team? How does your team express you are valuable to them?