Reminder: Listen to Outsiders

Photo: First Hundred Yards of The Missouri River, by Tim Evanson

Last year, I participated in the Canoeing in The Mountains Conference in the Twin Cities. As readers may remember, the keynote speaker, Rev. Dr. Tod Bolsinger, presented the Lewis and Clark expedition as a model for church leadership in times of change. Discovering there was no water route to the Pacific Ocean, they had to revisit their purpose and reimagine their goal in light of this stark realization.

Bolsinger highlighted that, as they traveled, Lewis and Clark received considerable help from Native Americans such as Sacajawea. They helped Lewis, Clark, and the rest of the Corps of Discovery survive and find their way through unknown lands and harsh conditions. Had Lewis and Clark turned their noses up at the assistance and guidance of people outside of their group (and culture), they simply would not have completed their journey. The assistance from outsiders was vital to making their mission a success.

 To understand the shifting spiritual and social landscapes, the church needs to listen to the ones who find themselves outside of the church. Listening to outsiders is just as important today was it was over two-hundred years ago. The church (at least in North America) is finding itself in territory it has not visited in roughly 1,500 years. The institutional church and the Christian faith are no longer social norms. More people continue to consider themselves unaffiliated with one particular religion. It is not that such people are opposed to beliefs about Jesus, resurrection, or anything else; they simply are not interested in affiliating with a particular creed or institution.

The church, as an institution, has been slow to change over the centuries. That reveals more about humanity than it does about God. If the church wishes to faithfully pursue its mission to make disciples of all peoples, then finding a way forward through this new wilderness is paramount. Talking to those outside the church will certainly cause the church discomfort and likely will be humbling. It means admitting we are unsure of our way through this new land. We want to find our way through the rapids of social media and fake news, but cannot do it on our own. We want to cross our way through the desert of climate change, but cannot safely traverse it unless someone comes to help. We seek to climb the crags of gender and sexuality, but we can only climb so far without someone to belay us. We want to trek through the forest of secularization, but we will need company to understand the forest.

The Native Americans who were outsiders to Lewis and Clark are who made Lewis and Clark’s mission a success. They lived in the lands that the Corps of Discovery did not, so Lewis and Clark listened to the Natives. Outsiders today are living where we as the church need to go for the sake of our mission. Outsiders are also who Jesus habitually calls. Without them, we cannot adequately navigate new lands, nor can the church faithfully serve its mission to bring all peoples into the love of God.

Who might some of these outsiders be? Read “As religious affiliation shrinks among millennials, here’s how Connecticut residents interact with religion and how institutions are trying to attract younger members” from the Hartford Courant.

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