First impressions aren’t infallible. We all know it, yet we all tend to live like they are.

What’s the first thing a pastor might think when he sees his church membership dropping? “Invite more people,” of course. What if the numbers aren’t going down from a lack of invitations, but from a lack of substance? Barna research suggests a perception among non-Christians that church-goers are only interested in numbers, not depth. Are we Christians shallow, only caring about attendance figures? Do we truly want to glue apples to unfruitful trees? Or is our mistake that we are letting “first impressions” dictate solutions? Evangelism is wasted when reduced to a “first impression-solution” to empty pews. It should remain part of our ongoing charge to fulfill the Great Commission: making disciples.

Remember the bible studies we’d go to as a youth? We’d open to a passage, we’d all shared our thoughts. How did we come to understand what the Bible meant? Not from any objective standard of “how to interpret Biblical literature,” but: consensus. If we all agree, that’s what it means. My father called it, “..the blind leading the stupid.”

How many high schoolers accepted Jesus at a youth conference, read something in a Bible passage that “lept” off the page at them, then went home and busted their CDs.. only to wish they had some of them back two years later?

First impressions aren’t infallible.

Missionaries are trained: “When in Rome, do as Rome.” Applied to Asia: “Don’t be direct with what you say to people.” That’s an easy “first impression.” Having lived in Taiwan for over a year and a half, however, I’ve concluded that there are two kinds of “indirect” communication: skillful and fearful. Most of the time it is just plain “fear of people.” Being “indirect” in the same way many Asians are, will only encourage more people to be afraid of each other—and you certainly won’t be able to preach from James, “God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and sound mind.” Ministers in Asia don’t simply need to be “indirect,” they need to use “skillful indirection.” First impressions don’t make such distinctions, they only assume with a broad brush.

First impressions make dogs run from fireworks. First impressions make the monkey think, “If I let go of the peanut and escape from the hunter’s trap, I will starve to death.” First impressions rule the mind of a person with a “hot temper.” First impressions are an animal-like instinct.

To survive the predators ahead and to have victory with our task, we Christians will need to think smarter than conventional first impressions. We will need the ability to listen.

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