The church is not supposed to cater to "insiders". With our inside jokes and Christian subculture, it's easy to forget to be sensitive to people that don't "get it". I love when people talk about how they hate seekers churches because it's unbiblical. They say it's because "no one seeks after God" based on Romans 3. Ok, if we want to play these semantics, I'll concede and give you the word: "seeker". Instead, I'll use words like people are "searching for truth", "looking for God", and "hungry spiritually"...because they are. You can tell them they're not based on a couple verses, but you have to be blind to not see the people who are investigating the faith and exploring the claims of Christ. I don't know how you can do that without seeking, but whatever. The point is that people on the outside need to be interacted with "wisely". Even if you're not into being "seeker sensitive", you have to be "outsider wise".
Paul wasn't just about preaching...he was about reaching. His heart to proclaim truth clearly, act wisely, seize opportunities with outsiders, and converse gracefully (with a salty seasoning) is impacting to me. I want to be this way with the world:
“Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” – Colossians 4:2-4
I’ve always been an “Insider”. I was born into a wonderful Christian family. We had morning devotions and evening prayers. We had a family night filled with games, Bible stories, and singing around the piano. My mother would tickle the ivories and we would break into four part harmony like little cherubs. We went to church early for Sunday School, attended Junior church, and finally were promoted to “Big” church. We attended Sunday nights which were generally a lamer version of Sunday morning with less preparation and more spontaneity. Then there was Wed. night prayer meeting which was about 10% of the congregation gathering to give various requests and concerns with an occasional “unspoken” prayer request thrown in for good measure. I never understood those, but they always said God did and that was all that mattered.
At age five, I packed my bags and headed to the smallest Christian school imaginable, though I didn’t know that at the time. I attended there for thirteen years and graduated with two other guys, one a lifer, like me, the other came in mid stream and never really got his oars in the water if you know what I mean. My other buddy and I were lifers, insiders, and we knew the ropes. I loved being an insider.
I listened primarily to sacred music, with an occasional song that had that demonic syncopated rhythm, you know, the kind that makes plants shrivel and die. I played Christian basketball and Christian soccer, and went to Christian arts competitions. I ran in Christian marathons and sang in Christian cantatas. I went to chapel once a week to sing and listen to another preacher share another message. (that’s four messages a week not counting Bible class) I memorized half the New Testament. Our school would take a whole book and polish it off bit by bit throughout a school year. What makes that even more astounding is that I memorized it in the King James Version. Sure, there were times I didn’t know what I was saying, but the point is that I was getting the Word in me and “It won’t return void”, at least that’s what they kept telling me.
I graduated from a Christian High School and quickly transplanted to a conservative Christian Bible College, Baptist even. Lord knows that I couldn’t handle being out of the bubble too long before encountering shortness of breath and unspeakable temptation. I attended there four years and acquired a degree in Youth Ministry. I went from there right into the youth pastorate and have been doing full time ministry ever since. Other than working at a Fruit Farm during the summers, I was pretty much quarantined from the contagious virus of secular society for the last 31 years.
I’m not saying that I didn’t go to the mall or hear rock music in the grocery store on occasion, but the bulk of my time has been spent in the cocoon of Christianity. It has protected me from much harm to be sure, but it has also bred in me a mindset that is very destructive. I tended to be suspicious of outsiders. I was taught to fear them and flee them. They were guilty until proven innocent. That tends to infect you with a critical eye and cautious heart in their presence…I think they can smell it, too.
This verse has deconstructed so many harmful patterns I’ve developed over the years. I no longer have the “break the door down” approach to evangelism. I want for God to “open doors”, and he regularly does, especially when I pray for it like this verse suggests. I also have become more comfortable with the gospel being a mystery. No longer do I have to “dumb down” the gospel in order for people to “understand” it. I think one of the most compelling facets of my new found faith is the texture that mystery has added to a, once, bland understanding of God. I love sharing with people the mind bending nature of God and leaving them awed at the unexplainable, yet undeniable beauty of the mystery of His heart.
It’s a paradox, however, because this verse bids us to present the mystery “clearly”. But this is not unnerving to me anymore, because along with mystery, I’ve cleared out some space in my heart for “paradox” as well. Somehow, I don’t have to sugar coat God, but I also need to make sure I’m taking great pains to present him purely and accurately. I don’t want people to walk away from me with a distorted and diseased idea of God, I’m responsible to clearly communicate his mysterious love.
This is the part of love, “be wise in the way you act toward outsiders”. I get that. We have our inside jokes and our inside language and our inside friendships. The problem with outsiders is that have an outlook. And their outlook is vastly different from an insiders “inlook”. When we don’t take that into consideration, seeking wisdom in our relationship with those who don’t have the same outlook, we get cocky and snooty. We tend to expect the world to be wise in the way they act toward us. We wait for them to get a clue and meet us where we’re at in our understanding. The Bible is clear, it is our responsibility to act with wisdom in our relationships with the world, not vice versa. We are the ones who must adjust our conversations and adapt our interests and alter our agendas to meet them where they’re at instead of forcing them to climb up into our ivory tower of understanding.
I want my conversations to be flavored with a submissive spirit toward the world. I am their servant. I am seeking to understand them first. I am listening to their views first. I am going to their world first. There is nothing quite so beautiful as the feet of one who moves toward the world in humble love. God, teach me this virtue.