It is easy to remain in the safety of our community. Without any intentional effort, most of us will associate with people who are like us. It’s natural. It’s the way the world works. Despite our society’s emphasis on diversity and inclusion, it is abnormal for the majority culture to relationally engage those on the margins. There is a reason for that. They are on the margins. To be on the margins is to be outside of the ordinary flow of the culture. Thus, apart from any deliberate steps, many of us who belong to the majority culture (or any sub-culture) will be aware of and pray for but rarely ever encounter those outside of our bubble. Some groups who are on the margins yet frequently remain forgotten by others include the widow, the poor, the orphan, and the foreigner.
Whether the culture is doing an effective job addressing the issues related to the marginalized, I will let you be the judge. My plea is that whatever steps the world is taking, that the church would do better—that our engagement with those on the margins of society would be different than what secular society can pull off. On their part, I have seen enthusiasm for helping these folks, support of programs to support them, and even the placing of welcoming signs in their yards. Yet, I have not seen many relationships form across cultural and economic boundaries. In other words, I perceive a great urgency to assist those on the outskirts, but not a great urgency to know them. I believe this is where the people of God can set themselves apart. I pray that Paul’s attitude for the Thessalonians can carry over into our relationships with our neighbors, “So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves” (1 Thess 2:8). The gospel does not just incline us to share our resources, but our whole selves with others. In a culture increasingly experiencing loneliness, especially for those outside of the mainstream, the church has a tremendous opportunity to shine. When we can, we must take the opportunity to befriend, know, and share ourselves with those on the outside.
Like I mentioned before, because such folks are on the outside, it always takes extra effort to engage them. Perhaps this is part of the reason Paul says that he was “eager” to “remember the poor” (Gal 2:10). Just to be clear, it will take more effort on your part to meaningfully relate to your neighbor who is less like you than your neighbor who is more like you. Yet, in many cases, it may be more important to relate to the one who is less like you. Why is that? One of my friends put it this way, “When the marginalized meet Jesus the church thrives.” Something profound and wonderful happens when cultural insiders who love Jesus love those on the margins and even lead them into a relationship with Jesus. They unite together as a family that more powerfully depicts how Jesus shatters every barrier that divides (Eph 2:14–15). God’s new family comprising people from the inside and outside makes the gospel more real by showing a concrete example of Jesus’s power every time they gather together. The experience of Jesus’s power in a diverse community united in one body overflows into more excitement, joy, and fruitfulness for all its members. Being a part of this kind of a living, breathing manifestation of the gospel makes every person who is a part of it thrive. That is why “when the marginalized meet Jesus the church thrives.” There is not any church “program” or “initiative” that can create this kind of community. It only starts when God’s people make the intentional extra effort to befriend those they would be least likely to were it not for Jesus. Such friendships will often form the bridge that can bear the weight of the truth of the gospel. Many of the marginalized will remain unable to hear our message until they feel it first in the context of a loving relationship.
4th Year Seminarian
- That Bethlehem College and Seminary faculty and students would continue to grow in their concern, care, and engagement with the marginalized.
- That God would raise up church planters from the seminary with a heart for church plants with this emphasis.
- That seminary and college students would take advantage of their location in the city and form these kinds of relationships now.
- That God would help All Peoples Church to fulfill this mission. I am one of the pastors of this church that will launch on May 20th, two days after graduation.