May 18 2017
Let’s do a thought experiment. Think for a minute about a time when you were the outsider. It’s not a pleasant feeling. Hopefully reading the rest of this article won’t make you feel the same way.
The truth is that we can all think of times when we were on the outside looking in. We know how it feels. We know the discomfort and the awkwardness. We know the uncertainty of not knowing if or when we’d fulfill whatever criteria others had for our inclusion.
When I was a kid, I felt like the outsider a lot. I was the social outcast; the one who got picked last for the schoolyard games, even after the pylons and sports equipment. I longed for someone to make the effort to bring me into the inside group, but, because it was elementary and junior high, the social stakes were too high for anyone to take that chance.
Here’s part two of the thought experiment: now think of a time when you were the insider.
Not as easy to do, is it?
But I’m fairly certain that each of us has been in that position a number of times. I don’t have hard data to back this up, but I think those times are hard to remember because we’re more likely to recall negative emotions than positive ones. And being on the inside makes us feel positive. And powerful. And important.
And if we’re not careful, we can get to the point where we feel a sense of entitlement about our insider position. We can resent the outsiders because we worry that if everyone was an insider then being on the inside wouldn’t be as special as it is, and we love to feel special.
The thing is that most of us don’t mean to do this. In fact, those moments when we’re the outsider stoke our sense of justice, and we say things to ourselves like, “I’m going to make sure I never make anyone feel this way.” But inevitably that’s what we do.
Churches are sometimes places where people feel like outsiders. They walk into a new environment full of expectations, but before long they feel like they don’t belong—like everyone else knows some kind of secret language and behavioural code that they need to figure out.
Most churches, like most people, don’t mean to do this, and they’re mortified to know that others feel that way. But I’ve seen churches that are quite satisfied to keep “undesirable” people away because they feel like those people will compromise their holiness and pollute the purity of the people.
The Pharisees felt that way in Jesus’ day. They were the special people—the ones who did everything right and followed all the rules, even the ones they made up. And they wanted to keep the gates locked so that the “undesirable” people wouldn’t come in and ruin everything they’d worked so hard to build.
And then Jesus came along. He invited the most wretched sinners into his kingdom. He broke the artificial barriers that people had created from their sense of entitlement and self-satisfaction, and he did so in fairly extreme ways.
Here’s the point: as followers of Jesus, our job is to expand the tent of his kingdom, widening it so that everyone—from the greatest to the least—can come and experience him. It’s not easy and it’s often unpleasant, but it’s the call of authentic discipleship.
This week at Parkland, we’ll be looking at this idea as we continue to explore Luke’s gospel. We’ll talk about the ways in which we create barriers, the reason we do it, and how we can identify and destroy them for God’s glory and the sake of his kingdom.
I hope to see you there.