I grew up feeling like an outsider. The first few years of my life were spent overseas, and when we came back to Australia, I felt different to the other kids. It didn’t help that my parents were from migrant families and had different cultural celebrations, or that we went to church when nobody else at school did. I felt like I didn’t “fit in”.
My strongest “outsider” experience came when I was 16 and went on exchange to Germany. I could hardly speak the language, and people treated me as if I was an idiot. They literally thought I was unintelligent, because I couldn’t express myself. I felt vulnerable, alone and misunderstood. It was an enormous insight into how newcomers feel in a new country, culture and language.
The truth is, we’ve all felt like outsiders at some point – and it’s not a nice place to be. We all want to “fit in”. We only feel truly alive when we are loved, and secure, and connected into accepting communities. We bend over backwards to be embraced by the crowd (if you don’t believe me, look at the absurd fashions young people have worn over the years, just to gain a sense of belonging). Humans are designed for relationships – and we suffer greatly when they break down. We all need to belong.
Jesus was a friend to outsiders. Wherever he went, he could pick out the most hurting, needy individual and meet their emotional need. He treated the Samaritan woman with dignity and answered her questions as an equal. He elevated Zaccheus’ social standing by inviting himself over in front of the crowds, and connected him back into his community by calling him “a son of Abraham”. He touched the “untouchable” man with leprosy. He refused to condemn the woman caught in adultery, turning the spotlight on her condemners. He spoke the delicious words to our aching hearts; “Come to me, you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28).
As followers of Jesus, our gatherings are to be places of welcome. Outsiders should feel loved, and embraced, and knitted into community. Hurting people should feel safe. Welcome isn’t all about a big smile and a handshake when they walk through the door (although that’s a good start), but about creating spaces for connection, and deep relationships, and actively placing value on others. Instead, many people report feeling unwelcome and judged by churches, and feeling they have to “jump through hoops”, change their behaviour and shift their value systems before they can be accepted in “Christian culture”.
Who are the outsiders in your local area? Where are the hurting people? Do they feel welcome and safe in your gatherings? If not, what can you change about the way you meet, so they know how important they are to you?