We often don't think of having a relationship with complete strangers. But the truth of the matter is, we do. Someone may look different than us, have a different style, and we may have never said a word to them, but we have one thing in common: our Creator.
Today, I'm reflecting on some hard words. Yesterday at Church of Hope, we talked about "outsiders"—those who haven't experienced this incredible Hope we have in Christ. The conversation got me thinking about those who perhaps step into a church environment for the first time or the first time in a long time.
What are they thinking? Are they worried about what to expect? What to wear?
What are they expecting? A friend? Hope? Answers? Judgement?
I've been the new girl, the outsider, in plenty of situations ranging from schools to churches to work environments. The first time stepping foot in a new place in tough. Environments where people's eyes stare at you and don't offer a friendly smile is discouraging. On the flip-side, the environments I've stepped into where a friendly word has been extended and smile offered my way, I've felt welcomed and accepted...like I belong.
Church is a polarizing environment in our culture. While some experience the incredible community that the church was designed to be, others experience deep hurt, pain, rejection, and judgement. And I know this from personal experience. I've lived on both ends of that spectrum.
Hear my heart: let us never be a people who look at someone who comes to church for the very first time or the first time in a long time and say, "It's your responsibility to let me know you're new here." Ouch. Too often—and not just on Sundays—we walk past people sitting at cafe tables, standing off to the side alone, or sitting in a lone aisle, rushing quickly to grab coffee or say a quick hello to a friend before the worship gathering starts. Little do we know what that person is going through...or perhaps, what they have experienced in a church environment in the past. It's not their responsibility to announce the fact that they're a stranger. If we are followers of Christ, it's our responsibility to be aware. Following Jesus leads to outsiders.
We—and I'm speaking to myself here too!—get stuck in routines far too easily. I know that I walk past people searching desperately for Hope...people who are outsiders that could be insiders and experience the life-giving Hope we have in Christ...but these people will only experience it if I slow down enough to see.
Let's slow down. This week, keep your eyes open to those who are different than you...than me. Be flexible. Talk to people. Smile.
And if you're part of a church community, when you gather on Sunday, don't walk past people so quickly...especially people you don't know. Say hello. Stop for a minute. You just might be the difference in them moving from being an outsider to being an insider...discovering that they have Hope in Christ.
If you consider yourself an outsider to this thing called church, hear me clearly: I don't know your story and I don't know what you've experienced inside the walls of a church. I understand the pain, the heartache, the feeling of hopelessness. But I've found Hope. Church has hurt me too. But Jesus hasn't. Jesus Christ fills me in a way that people never can. Lasting Hope, fulfilling Hope, comes from Christ alone. I'm sorry for the pain you've experienced and if I could wipe it away, I would. But know that you're not alone. Risk stepping into that environment again. Risk being vulnerable and if you have to take that first step and say hello, do it. But in the midst of the sea of faces, keep your eyes on the true source of Hope—Jesus Christ.
Following Jesus leads to outsiders. If you're not meeting and embracing them, you're not following Jesus. Hard, but true words.