Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

The Hippie and the Old Man

Written by: on March 7, 2023

Some of you may be familiar with the story, of the “Hippie and the Old Man.” The infamous tale has been used in many sermons over the years and become a staple illustration of God’s love for his people at their core. The message in the story is much more important than whether this event actually took place. This story provides a parabolic example of Christian leadership.

The Hippie and the Old Man[1]

There was a young, intelligent university student named Bill. Bill was what some people call a “free spirit” or “hippie.” He had wild long hair, and always wore the same torn T-shirt, jeans, and no shoes Across the street from the university campus was a conservative church. The people there were rich, older, and well-dressed. They wanted to help the university students nearby, but they did not know exactly how to do it.

One day Bill decided to go visit this church near his university. As usual, he went wearing his only jeans, his torn T-shirt, and dirty long hair. The church service had already started and was full, so Bill walked down the center aisle looking for a seat. People were getting more and more uncomfortable as they watched this wild-looking young man. Finally, Bill got to the front and saw there were no more empty seats, so he just sat down on the floor right in front of the preacher. No one had ever done that in this church before. By now, everyone was upset and distracted.

Then, a respected old church deacon got up and started toward the front. Everyone was thinking: “You can’t blame the deacon, he really should correct this disrespectful young man.” Everyone was watching. Even the preacher stopped his sermon when the old man finally got to the front. Then, they were all completely surprised to see the old deacon drop his walking stick and very slowly sit down on the floor next to this young man. He did not want this gentleman to sit alone and feel unaccepted. The people in the church were moved to tears. Finally, the preacher said: “What I am preaching about today you will probably never remember. But what you have just witnessed today, you will never forget!”

Sway: Unravelling Unconscious Bias

The book “Sway: Unraveling Unconscious Bias” by Pragya Agarwal is a crucial resource for Christian leaders seeking to comprehend and tackle unconscious bias within their organizations. This in-depth guide delves into the topic of unconscious bias, exploring its history and its effects on our lives today. It provides a framework to assist in identifying and managing biases that can negatively impact decision-making, or “stigmatic” processes within organizations.[2] The book also gives practical advice on how Christian leaders can use this understanding to create more inclusive environments where everyone feels valued and respected regardless of their gender, race, or other differences. By comprehending how our beliefs shape our perception of others, readers can better equip themselves with the necessary tools to create a more equitable workplace culture that allows for everyone’s voice to be heard without judgment or discrimination.

The Conscious “Bias” of Jesus

Agarwal unpacks unconscious bias, also referred to as implicit bias, as a form of social cognition that takes place when individuals make decisions or judgments unconsciously, based on their biases. She examines bias “from a multidisciplinary perspective to develop a more integrated framework for understanding and tackling it.”[3] It refers to the attitudes and stereotypes that we hold about certain groups unintentionally. She makes a point to note that these biases may not always be negative, but rather they reflect the values and beliefs held by society at large and expose stereotypes “that are deeply entrenched in society and the norms against which everyone is judged.”[4]

Although Sway does not use the Hippie and the Old Man in her book, I believe her goal is to recognize the unconscious perspective of the congregation. Even when the consensus is considered acceptable by many, the awareness and humbleness of the Spirit-led “old man” is the movement and behavior that is grounded in the same love and acceptance that we witness in the life of Jesus. He befriended and served the sinners, the weary, and the outcasts. His judgments were not based on appearance, profession, education, or past. He offered his Spirit to those who followed him and he offers each one of us the very same thing. “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” [5]

Christian Impact

As Christians, we strive to live out our faith in a way that honors God and brings glory to His name. We are called to love one another as ourselves, yet our unconscious biases can often lead us astray from this ideal. I think the book, Sway, provides an insightful look into how such biases can influence the beliefs and actions of Christian leaders in areas such as church leadership, mission work, discipleship, and acceptance; thus, impacting the entire Christian community at large.


[1] https://www.samoaobserver.ws/category/think_a_minute/25513

[2] Agarwal, Pragya, Sway, 42

[3] Agarwal, Pragya, Sway, 11

[4] Ibid

[5] Luke 5:32, ESV

About the Author

Michael O'Neill

Director of Operations / Executive Pastor at Kinergy, Inc. Federal 501c3 Non-Profit Organization. An experienced entrepreneur, leader, father, wellness professional, and owner of a multi-location medical practice with my wife, Nicole O'Neill, MD.

8 responses to “The Hippie and the Old Man”

  1. mm Chad McSwain says:

    “The Hippie and the Old Man” is a fun illustration. You know, I’ve never heard it before, but I love it! The parable just might pop up in a sermon in the near future. It is a fun and inviting way to challenge the biases we all have unless we are intentional to unlearn them. I’m curious how you have seen “The Hippie and Old Man” parable play out in your church or life. When have your own biases been challenged?

    • Michael O'Neill says:

      Thanks, Chad. The story isn’t mine but even if it were, you would be welcome to it. I do see it play out though. Some unintentionally and some, perhaps, intentionally. I’m challenged regularly, I see some kids walking in our fitness center, and I immediately double-check their memberships, and can’t help but keep an eye out for a moment when they are training to make sure they are not abusing anything. I try to assume the best but our youth group at our church has damaged so many things, I can’t help but have a bias toward the youth in our building. I’m working on it…

  2. mm David Beavis says:

    Hey Michael,

    Thank you for your post! I was reading Becca’s post before getting to yours, and she quoted the following from Agarwal:

    “The more positive contact we have with people from different ethnic groups, the less likely we are to form the notion of threat associated with unfamiliar faces, and the less likely we are to imbibe the stereotypical messages that we receive from words and images in the media around us. Diversity therefore becomes critical, especially for our children, to normalise the multicultural world that we live in.”

    It makes me wish the Church could be at the forefront, the vanguard, of having people with their unconscious biases be in community with people different from them and, in so doing through this “positive contact,” have their harmful unconscious biases brought to light and replaced with truth. Do you have thoughts on what next steps we, as church leaders, could do to make this a reality?

    • Michael O'Neill says:

      This is a great point and topic that I wish I had the answers to. For the large Church, it would take everyone making a huge effort. I agree the Church should be at the forefront of this but unfortunately, organizations and individuals have biased, consciously and unconsciously. The problem lies in agendas, leadership, demographics, and many environmental influences. I guess a good place to start would be to pray and communicate the goal to the congregation. At the very least, that body would be aware and could start making conscious efforts for diversity inclusion which could organically spread. I’m not a big fan of creating programs or equal opportunity boundaries because, for someone, it’s not equal. But if we love like Christ and have the true “equal family mentality” of the Body of Christ, this shouldn’t even be an issue. I wish I had a better answer. I think these issues work themselves out when the Church is strong and connected to the Spirit.

  3. Tonette Kellett says:


    The hippie and the old man is a wonderful illustration. I’ve heard it before, but it’s been a while. Thank you for sharing it here – it fits well. I love how you ended your post. I think as Christians, we ought to love one another as Christ has loved us. Great post!

    • Michael O'Neill says:

      Thank you, Tonette. It continues to amaze me how great Christ’s love for us is. Also, we keep reading and learning about the qualities of a great leader and all of these qualities Jesus already showed us. In many ways, the more we become better leaders, the more we are like Christ.

  4. Alana Hayes says:

    How can Christian leaders use the understanding of unconscious bias to create more inclusive workplaces where everyone can be respected and heard?

    Is this where servant leadership comes into play? What is something that you have found allows you to be a leader in this manner…..?

  5. Michael O'Neill says:

    As far as inclusivity goes, I think it is to love everyone like God loves us, unconditionally. This does not mean we bend the rules, modify the text, or create a comfortable or convenient environment at all times. But it does mean to love above all else.

    Servant leadership is key. And it just feels good! It’s so weird but I like it so much that I would rather help someone else before helping myself sometimes. Some of this admittedly is procrastination, but a genuine act of service feels better than any worldly blessing. I try to spend individual time with each one on my team. It’s not easy and there is not really a system to it but I don’t go too long with out connecting one-on-one and serving them in someway if possible. Usually, something will come up when I take the time. I have spent too many years rushing by and there is just no point. Life is right here in front of us and we’ll miss it if we race through it and miss the connections God is putting right in front of us.

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