My daughter is working on getting her driver’s license. This scares me to death as we live in a state in which most drivers apparently view pedestrians as targets, turn signals as useless and red lights merely as suggestions. Nonetheless, we are in the midst of dealing with the DMV of Texas. At one point, we attempted to call and set up an appointment and get a few questions answered. Not long into listening to the automated response, my daughter said, “Dad, I need your driver’s license number.” “Why?” I responded. “So I can talk to someone.”
At this point, I knew we were in trouble.
You see, I don’t assume that the DMV of the Lone Star State is any worse than other states, but starting off service with this simple expectation exposes a fatal flaw. The DMV system assumes a caller has a driver’s license; that is to say, the caller is already a “customer.” They have already established that it will be difficult for the person without ID to get service.
Of course, with how my mind works, I went immediately to the parallels this experience has with church life.
When my wife and I decided to become members of the Episcopal Church we were handed paperwork to fill out and asked to provide certain documentation. I looked at the lovely church lady handing this to me and said, “Um, my situation is a little complicated.”
My wife was baptized twice… I was baptized at a bachelor party… No kidding… I’ll have to tell you those stories another time.
My point here is that the look on the face of this dear woman was a look of frustration. I didn’t fit the mold. I didn’t come with the right paperwork. I was an outsider. Her face said, “What am I going to do with you? You’ve complicated things. You’re going to make me work harder. You don’t fit.”
It doesn’t require bachelor parties and doubling down on baptism and church membership to have such an experience as an outsider coming into the church—of any denomination. Our systems are too often set up to serve insiders. Just like my experience with the DMV, too many outsiders call in, they want to be a part of a faith community, and the response they get is, “What’s your ID number?” In other words, “Do you already belong to us? Because we’re really not set up to care about outsiders.”
People are not opposed to doing paperwork, taking classes and jumping through bureaucratic hoops when they know they are wanted. But they have no loyalty (and shouldn’t) to institutions with such expectations but do not care for the person. Churches that have set themselves up to receive outsiders do the extra work not in order to relieve the outsider from showing effort but to ensure the outsider knows they are wanted, that they matter.
The term “missional” works off this assumption that God is at work in world; within and also beyond the confines of our church buildings and in the lives of those outside of the church. If this be the case—if God is equally at work in the lives of outsiders and insiders, we insiders should be enthusiastic about getting to know those that live their lives outside of our circles. We should be even more enthusiastic when they show interest in our communities. Jesus told a story about a shepherd who celebrated finding the one lost sheep, prioritizing its safety over all of those already in the fold. May we have such enthusiasm.
This article originally appeared here.