Tuesday, November 23, 2010

More Differences than Similarities?

Evidently in honor of Thanksgiving and anticipated family dinners, National Public Radio’s Morning Edition has been doing a series on why siblings differ from each other. In a story entitled “Siblings Share Genes, But Rarely Personalities,” researcher Robert Plomlin says, "Children in the same family are more similar than children taken at random from the population but not much more." The story goes on to report that, in terms of personality, we are similar to our siblings only about 20 percent of the time.

Three theories were presented for this, but one was particularly interesting to me. This is called “environment” but it is actually based on the idea of “non-shared environment.” This theory argues that although it may appear from the outside that siblings are growing up in the same family, in very important ways they really aren't. They are not experiencing the same thing.

"Children grow up in different families because most siblings differ in age, and so the timing with which you go through your family's [major events] is different," says Susan McHale, a researcher at Pennsylvania State University. "You know, a parent loses a job, parents get divorced. If you are three or five years behind your sibling, the experience of a 5-year-old whose parents get divorced is very different from the experience of a 9-year-old or a 10-year-old."

Also, McHale says, children in the same family are rarely treated the same by their parents, even if parents want to treat them the same. “Children have different needs," McHale says. "They have different interests. They have different personalities that are eliciting different treatment from parents."

This got me to thinking about church membership and the fact that, in reality, each of us belongs to a different church although we may be part of the same one! The experience of a thirty-year-old who has moved to the community and recently affiliated with downtown First Church is very different from that of the sixty-five year old who was on the cradle roll there and has never attended anywhere else. The experience of the single mother of four is very different from that of the father with a special needs child. Expectations differ as do the contributions that each member can or will make.

What does this mean for church leaders? We must never assume that we understand what an individual church member needs or wants. There are some commonalities shared by all members, but we might learn from the observation about siblings above: [They] are more similar than [individuals] taken at random from the population but not much more."

So what do we do? We ask questions, we listen, and we develop relationships. Only then will we have any idea about how we can walk alongside a believer in the journey of Christian growth and service.

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