In many ways, I’ve been on the outside most of my life. Moving from town to town, I would imagine what it would like to have always been there where people know you, they know your parents, they know your grandparents, your aunts and uncles, your cousins. But, that wasn’t me. I never lived anywhere long enough to be on the inside. Even my “hometown” of Byers, Colorado where I graduated high school and lived for two and a half years, I was on the outside.
My best friends there were on the outside too. I suppose that’s why we gravitated to each other, we wanted to be on some inside. It seemed that since my grandpa didn’t grow up there, I didn’t matter. I was on the outside. I was reminded of this recently when we created a facebook group to plan a 30 year class reunion. One of the first comments by someone was a comment about how many of them were in our class from K-12, as if that was what really mattered. Immediately, I was pushed to the outside.
When I first started attending church after I met Jesus, I felt like I was on the outside. Not relationally–I felt like God gave me a new family, but historically. I didn’t know the bible. I didn’t know their customs. I didn’t know their culture. I was on the outside. Over time and acceptance, I gained much of that, but since I don’t see things the way most church people do, I can still feel a bit on the outside when it comes to church.
In my own family growing up, my visions, my dreams, my desires for life seemed to clash. I was different. I didn’t drink. I didn’t smoke. I didn’t want to live in a small town. I wanted something different, something more. I wanted to leave, to escape, to live big. I was on the outside, of even my own family.
I spent ten years serving as a youth pastor in that very church culture that changed from me being an outsider to an insider. I worked feverishly to help other outsiders feel like insiders. At the end of that time, I had become an insider. I had helped many others become insiders. Then I changed careers. We started a house church where I was to volunteer and I had to fund my family from a normal job. I used my clerical work experience as an Admin Clerk in the USMC and Wright State University to become a secretary at our local career tech high school.
I was back on the outside. I was working a role, not typically expected of a man. I was new to working in K-12 public education. I was a secretary. This school was a completely new culture to me. I was back on the outside. Eventually, though I was honored by so many there for my hard work and became an insider.
Then, over a couple of years, I went back to school to become a school counselor and our house church network dissolved. I finished my degree and returned to attending church in a church building. I started my new career as a school counselor, and I was back on the outside. I started a new career in an inner city school district where people didn’t look quite like me. I was back on the outside.
Church life was all new to me. We even returned to my home church, but it was different. How does a pastor return to becoming an attender? How do you return to a place where you were one of those leaders that did your best to help others feel like insiders and then feel like an outsider yourself? Half of the people who attended were new to me. My lack of a role was new to me. The leaders were all new. I was on the outside trying to figure out how to return to the inside. I never did.
I found a new job at a closer inner city high school that was a bit more diverse, yet because I was so new to my role as a school counselor, I still felt on the outside. Two years later–a new academy and a new boss changed and suddenly I felt like I was on the inside at my job. I felt like I had arrived. Then leadership changed again a few years later and I felt like I was on the outside again. No matter what I had done in the past and what I was doing day to day, I felt like I was on the outside.
We found a new church where I hoped to become an insider, where I hoped to find my place to serve. Yet, after nearly three years, I still feel like I am on the outside. I serve. I’ve been a small group leader. I’ve led others through ten week one-to-one discipleship experiences. I’ve attended leadership meetings and trainings, yet I feel like an outsider.
What do you do when you are on the outside?
Remember where you are not on the outside.
Remember where you are an insider.
First, I’m connected to God. I’m His child. I’m his beloved and He is mine. I know that He is always with me and is just a short prayer away. My God is always with me. He is always there for me. His presence is real and immediate. As His child, I am also an insider in His family. Regardless of my feelings of disconnect at church relationally or role of serving, those whose life God has changed are my family. We are family. We are insiders with each other. I am connected to my spiritual family.
Second, I’m connected to my biological family. I have an incredible wife and we have an incredible relationship. We love to do many of the same things together and we have these conversations where we both can just start laughing at something we both understand without even expressing it. My kids and I have this incredible rapport where they often call me Cong (instead of dad). It’s not disrespect, it’s endearing. It’s inside language. Even though my family of origin has changed dramatically over the years (and maybe because it has), I no longer feel like an outsider with them. In many ways, the longer I’ve been away (as an adult) the more of an insider I feel. We have shared experiences. Unique experiences. We have shared trauma. We have shared joy. We have shared so much and we love each other more deeply because of it. Nobody understands us like each other. We are insiders.
Third, I’ve become an insider at work, again. After a tumultuous year, I now feel like an insider once again. Some tough stuff for me happened last year. God did some healing in me though and I worked hard at healing and rebuilding some relationships. And, the harder I work at loving others and treating them with respect, the more I feel like an insider and probably the more I am treated as an insider. Which leads me to my point, I am just now realizing.
The more I love others, the more I treat others with respect, the more I believe in them, the more I feel like an insider and the more they will treat me as one. That is one thing I have learned from teenagers over the years. And it applies to adult relationships as well. But, it takes time. It takes experience.
That’s how you become an insider.
Love. Respect. Time.