I live in a community with a bad reputation. We are considered by the rest of Nashville to be a community with a “gang problem,” a community with high crime rates, a community which is in great decline.
The problem is that this reputation is not deserved. In fact, the overall crime rate in our community is down from last year, and there isn’t as much of a gang problem as believed, and while businesses are indeed closing, there is still a lot of vitality and room for growth.
Such if the difference between perception and reality, and in the end, perception almost always wins.
Antioch, the area I serve and live in, suffers from a perception problem. It isn’t based in reality, in fact, much of the perception is probably based in latent racism in a diverse community. But it doesn’t matter if it is true or not, for perceptions often are much more successful at shaping reality than reality is at changing perceptions.
The issue of perception, and what I would call “perceptual intuition” is a huge issue for church leaders, and one that I think often gets missed. Again and again I will hear some church leader in trouble with his or her congregation based in a wrong perception that has been transformed into reality along the way. Again and again I have seen my colleagues in ministry do stupid stuff because they never considered how their acts would be perceived.
Perceptual intuition does two things: it asks “what if,” and it attempts to get into the head of others so that we might anticipate their reaction to what we are telling them.
We have some work to do to overcome this in our community, but I am convinced that it is possible if we will take care to sharpen our perceptual chops and listen closely.