When I was in ninth grade, I joined the high school swim team. To promote team bonding, the coach allowed some mild initiation, so most of my freshman year was spent enduring embarrassing moments.
The one that sticks out to me the most was the day the upperclassmen gathered the freshmen women in the locker room and gave us musty blue polyester sweat suits. We put them on.
Then they gave us black flippers. We put those on.
Finally, we each received a snorkel mask to cover our mortified faces.
We flip-flopped through the locker room, tripping over each other and fogging up our snorkel masks. When we spilled out onto the deck of the pool, we were surprised to see our teammates dressed in perfectly normal clothing. And there was the men’s swim team, taking a break from their workout to gather in the shallow end of the pool and gawk at us.
To this ninth grader, those senior men were huge. They had full beards and low voices. They booed and jeered, splashing water up at us with their massive forearms.
My breath echoed through my scuba mask as I tried to process that these were my teammates. Standing there in that itchy polyester sweat suit, I felt like an alien in flippers.
One thing ran through my mind: I do not belong here.
A Stranger Among Christians?
Many years have passed by since that embarrassing and lonely day. Though I’ve never again worn a polyester sweat suit with flippers, I have often felt the same way. In various groups and settings, I’ve been filled with that lonely thought, I do not belong here.
Have you ever felt that way?
Have you ever felt that way at church? At a small group? At a ladies’ brunch or a Bible study?
Have you ever felt like a stranger amongst her fellow Christians?
I’ve gotten in the van after church and sighed, “I do not belong here.” After all, my baby is the only one who screams so loudly that the stalwart nursery workers come to get me. My season of life keeps me from attending so many of the fun fellowship events. The type of ministry I can offer right now pales in comparison with others. And sometimes, when everyone else stands to sing “O Happy Day!” I can’t sing along because I’m utterly exhausted.
Sometimes I feel like a stranger in the midst of my own church body.
I bet I’m not the only one.
Humans are so good at calculating whether or not we belong in a group. When we walk into a room of people, we can decide in a fraction of a second whether or not we fit in.
We gather data about gender, age, social class, and race.
We consult our insecurities, past wounds, limitations, and personality type.
We listen to our pride, jealousy, judgment, and bitterness.
We gather all of our data points and quickly calculate whether or not we belong. Too often—especially when it comes to the church—we conclude I do not belong here when, in fact, we do.
We Belong Because of Jesus
Of course, we didn’t always belong to the family of God.
Scripture tells us that without Christ, we were dead in sin, separated from Christ and alienated from one another.
But God, being rich in mercy . . . made us alive together with Christ . . . and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:4–6).
Jesus has brought us near—first to God and then to one another.
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God . . . Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord (vv. 19–21).
As Christians, we must consider one crucial data point that must override all of the others: that Jesus has “broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility” (v. 14) between God and us, between others and ourselves.
When Christians walk into a room of believers, we must conclude, I belong here.
If you are in Christ, you belong in the Church.
You belong not because you feel like it or because you look like the others or because someone saved a seat for you. You belong in the Church because of the magnificent, supernatural, world-changing work that Jesus did on the cross.
Are you living in light of this truth?
Let’s ask God for the grace to walk by faith according to this truth.
The next time we calculate whether or not we belong in the Church, let’s come back to the gospel and live in the truth that we do.