A little over two years ago I joined a service organization, the local Lions Club. For some reason, last summer they made me the club president. I didn’t have a clue what I was supposed to do. I still don’t. (Fortunately, the club runs itself.) So when I heard about a “Guiding Lions” training taking place in Windom yesterday, I signed up for the class. I told them I’d be late because I had a long drive and couldn’t leave church early since I was the pastor.
The instant I walked into the room, I knew I was an outsider. For starters, I was the only person in the room wearing a Lions Club vest. I immediately began to scheme how I could slip it off and take it out to the car.
Sixteen people there huddled around two round tables. There were no empty seats. I experienced an awkward moment of uncertainty where to sit until they expanded a circle around one table and squeezed me in. They were very friendly and welcomed me warmly. Every one of them shook my hand and told me their name, followed by their title. High positions. Well up the organizational food chain.
Uh, oh. Now I knew I wasn’t only an outsider. I also was in the wrong place. I wanted to turn around and leave, but I figured it would be rude to walk out. Besides, I had driven a hundred miles to get there. So I decided to make the best of it and learn what I could.
It was quickly apparent that all the people there were lifers. Most appeared to be in their 60s and 70s. Perhaps a few in their 50s. They knew one another very well. They participated freely and openly. They talked about what they did in their clubs 40 years ago. They were feeling right at home. I was not feeling at home, even though they were friendly and near my age. I still didn’t know what in the world we were doing there.
The purpose of the meeting, it turned out, was to learn how to plant a new Lions Club or help a struggling club and train new officers, people like me. They emphasized instructing newbies on their duties. They didn’t say much about what those responsibilities are. It wasn’t necessary because they already know them. Unfortunately, I don’t. Not knowing what they knew made me feel like an outsider.
They talked about a Lions Club constitution and Roberts Rules of Order. They talked about resolving conflict. They talked about service projects. They talked about recruiting new members. They talked about how to run a good meeting.
Gradually, it dawned on me: This is just like the institutional church!
I heard statements like:
“Millennials are different…. They’re a different animal.”
“You have to get them out of the club environment because if they walk into a meeting and see all the gray heads… [they’ll run]”
If you shut down their ideas, you’ll lose them.”
“We need young blood.”
“We have to get older Lions to let go.”
“Young people want meaningful service projects, not ceremonies and protocol and awards.”
It seems the Lions are trying to reinvent themselves from being more of a fraternity organization to more of a service organization in order to reach young people. That would be closer to their founding ideals. Apparently historical drift isn’t limited to the church.
As an outsider, it took courage and determination to hang around with a group of insiders for three hours on Sunday afternoon. That’s from a pastor who’s accustomed to meeting new people in strange environments.
How much harder is it for outsiders to hang around with a group of insiders for three hours on Sunday morning?
Outsiders don’t know where to park. (I parked on the wrong side of the building and had go back to my car and drive to the other side to get to the right door.) Outsiders don’t know what to wear. They don’t know what positional titles mean. They don’t know their way around the Bible. Most importantly, outsiders don’t even know why they’re there. They may quickly conclude they don’t belong in the church.
If the church is just a fraternal organization–a potluck and fellowship congregation, we don’t have a chance with outsiders who think they’re in the wrong place. Just being friendly won’t cut it. We can welcome outsiders, but they’re still outsiders and we’re still insiders. We know what the conversation is about and they don’t. Awkward! Somehow we have to help outsiders become insiders. The church exists for those who are on the outside, not for ourselves.
Nobody models this better than Jesus did. Jesus was the consummate insider with God. But he left the comfortable fellowship of heaven, emptied himself of his inside status, and entered our world as the consummate outsider in a manger in Bethlehem. Jesus ministered as an outsider to all people. When Pilate asked him if he was a king (an insider), Jesus answered, in effect, that he was a political outsider. He did not grasp for power. He even allowed himself to be nailed to a cross. Jesus became an outsider so we could become insiders with God. Then he called his followers to work as outsiders, too, so everyone else could become insiders.
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Philippians 2:5-8
The church is called to labor as outsiders, not as insiders. That’s a hard challenge for lifers, who gravitate toward becoming total insiders.
Ironically, last Sunday I could have filled out a course completion form and been certified as a trained Guiding Lion, ready to mentor new officers. But I really wasn’t ready to help others because I’ve still never even seen a job description for my position. For now, it’s enjoyable just being with the other members, especially when we’re doing service projects. They know how to run the club. That’s enough for now. It works for me to be an outsider there, even as president. Eventually, I’ll figure it out. Probably I learn what the president should do about the time I leave office. But I’m not sure I ever want to be an insider.