Perception is reality. At least that’s what I’ve been told, and I’ve said it to a number of people as well. As I’ve led a team over the past few years, one of the things that has often come up in conversation is perception. How we present ourselves in the world should look no different than how we present ourselves on the platform at church every weekend. At the same time, we need to be conscious of the image we put forth from the platform.

This past month, a new instagram account popped up and has nearly 110,000 followers at the writing this post. This account does nothing more than draw attention to certain popular preachers and the price of the fashion choices. I don’t think it matters what these preachers wear, but it got me thinking about the image I project to others

A couple years ago, I was looking to replace one of our family cars. At 270,000 miles, it was time to let it go. In my search, I found a used Audi that I really liked for only $6000. When I shared that with a friend of mine, he said it wouldn’t be a good idea, pointing to the perception that people would have. My mentor drives an Audi and I don’t see any problem with it. It would look entirely different to the people I am serving if I showed up in an Audi.

Although I drive a Honda that had an original sticker price higher than that Audi, it’s more acceptable to drive a Honda. The Tesla Model 3 has a sticker price higher than my Pilot, but driving a Tesla comes with portraying a new image.

Why Does it Matter What Others Think?

Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people?

Galatians 1:10 NIV

This verse comes from a longer passage about how people were changing the Gospel in order to appeal to others. Using The Gospel, or a twisted version of it for the sake of personal gain is never right. I refuse to speculate about other pastors, or the intentions of critics. Twisted versions of The Gospel should be called out for the lies that they are, but I can not judge the hearts of people.

I can and should, however, take inventory of my own life and how it affects those around me.

You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. It is written:

“‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,
‘every knee will bow before me;
every tongue will acknowledge God.’”

So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.

Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.

Romans 14:10-13 (NIV)

The impressions that others have of us matter because everything about us should point to Jesus Christ. In the age of social media and instant publicity, this becomes increasingly difficult. The same pair of shoes can give a person authority to speak with one crowd and make him look like a fraud to another. Only God can judge the heart.

My Own Struggles

I realize that this can come across as being judgmental about people who appear to be judging others. That’s why I intentionally did not mention the instagram account by name or link to it. Chances are good that you already know what I was referring to. I just wanted to open up and be honest about my own struggles that are similar.

You can generally see me using one of the newest MacBook Pros, and have multiple other Apple branded products. I wear designer jeans, and have my name on the title of three cars. These are things that crossed my mind when I learned about the whole pastoral shoes critique. The things I own and wear can be seen by some as living an unnecessarily extravagant lifestyle. To others, these things are just a part of living a regular life. My attitude towards these things is that they are simply tools that I use to reach more people and increase my productivity. They are not a part of who I am.

The problem I run into is that I find it hard to balance my attitude with how I see the perceptions of others about me. My word of the year is humility. I’ve shared this with the team I lead at church and made it our word for the team this year as well. It hurt a lot when I was told that I come across as prideful at times.

The things I own and wear are not an issue of humility for me, but the thoughts people have about me are. I might say that I don’t care what people think of me, but how people see me plays a bigger part in how I see myself than it should. I take pride in what people think of me. Since my word of the year is humility, I’ve even had a hard time taking ownership of some of the things I’ve created. There is a fine line between accomplishing something for God’s glory and taking pride in the accomplishment itself.

What I can lean on is God’s grace. He knows my heart even better than I know it myself. And His grace is more than sufficient. As I lean into His grace more and more, I can press forward with confidence because His message is so much more powerful than any message I might unintentionally project. It’s good to make a good impression, but there can also be an unhealthy focus on how others perceive us. Perception might be reality, but it’s not everything.