Labels. Society has them everywhere: Liberal, Chav, fundamentalist, working class, conservative, disabled, asylum seeker, gypsy…etc Those are only some labels the media throws out…

And labels can be a way of defining things and they can also be unhelpful. I was watching an interesting twitter conversation where someone mentioned that they belonged to a certain group of churches and that the label of this church was often unhelpful because it doesn’t define them.

Do labels define people? Or do we define labels?

It made me think about this. When we mention certain groups within Christianity there is a label attached to it and often we have made our mind up about that person before getting to know them.

I wonder what you might think if someone said to you that they were/or were from:

Anglican, Baptist, Calvinist, Catholic, Arminian, Newfrontiers, vineyard, soul survivor, Mars Hill…etc

Sure you may say that these labels are attached to many different kinds of people. But I reckon there are so many other labels and stigmas that stick to these ones above, depending which one you are coming from, which one you have had experience from and which one you have had negative experience from. And those things stick and make us look at those people differently. We all look at things through the lenses of our experience, the challenge is putting the Gospel in front of that to change the lens.

It has challenged me to think about how I treat people when thinking of people who may belong or say they are something from the labels above because I am not sure that really defines them. People are complicated and messy and every single person is different and just because they are a part of some label, doesn’t mean they embody everything you liked/disliked about that said label.

For example. I work with UCCF. Now that label there may bring about different reactions depending on your experience or what you have heard. You may like or dislike UCCF. You may think I am a clone of UCCF and somehow embody all that is UCCF. I got a bit of opposition from some people when I wanted to do Relay and then the hope of staff work. One of the reasons being was the fear that I would somehow morph into a clone of a UCCF worker…except there is a huge problem with that, for anyone that has worked with UCCF will have noticed that UCCF is made up of many different, strange, wonderful amazing people… all different.

UCCF is made up of Anglicans, new frontiers, Baptists, tea drinkers, ballroom dancers, lovers of blogging, haters of blogging, lovers of good ale, single, married, have families, female speakers, male speakers, female evangelists, male evangelists, musicians, gardeners, bike riders, surfers, Lady Ga Ga fans, Mozart fans, grew up in a christian family, grew up in an atheist family, a footballers wife, authors, poets, artists, illustrators, photographers, philosophers, enjoys flag waving in worship, enjoys hymns, theologians (male and female), dancers, coffee drinkers, agree with women speakers in church, don’t agree with women speakers in church, computer geeks, sci-fi fanatics, Man U supporters, Kath Kidson fans and so much more.

I am afraid I don’t embody nearly half of that and its wonderful. It’s so great working with such diverse and talented people. The one thing we agree on is that Jesus and the Cross is central and students at university need to hear about him.

I have no doubt that this is the case for those labels above. Newfrontiers people are all different and don’t always think the same thing on every issue. Same with Anglicans. I have some wonderful Anglican friends, and its great to support them and get to know them.

I guess the challenge for myself and maybe you – is not to always judge someone by their label. But get to know them individually first. They might surprise you. They might not be what you expect. Enjoy getting to know them.