Insiders and Outsiders

By Bishop Mike Rinehart

Here’s my hunch. Everything for me rises or falls on this bet. I’m putting all my eggs in this basket:

The turnaround of the mainline churches will happen when we in those churches care as much about those outside the church, as we do those inside. To embrace relevance, we will have to let go of survival.

That’s it. That’s all I’ve got. If I’m wrong, fire me now. I’ll die on this hill.

What does this mean?

My theory is that the mainline churches have ceased to be relevant to the culture, because insiders trump outsiders every time.

Decisions are made for the benefit of those inside rather than those outside the church. In every single decision, even the little ones, insiders trump outsiders. Take hymns, for example. Musical decisions are not made considering what will attract spiritually hungry outsiders, but what will please the card-carrying, bill-paying membership. Most church outsiders don’t care if you ever sing “How Great Thou Art.” They won’t be slightly offended by a guitar in church. Time and time again church leaders receive heat from church insiders upset about this or that, because the insiders are trying to recreate their childhood church experience or simply have a rigid idea of what church is supposed to be. Church leaders cave in to these insiders because try control the purse strings.

More facts on the ground: insiders are inherently change-averse. People don’t like change, especially those who have status in the church. Pete Steinke taught us that every church is an emotional system. Some people are benefitting from the system as it currently is. Some benefit emotionally. They are revered as church saints. Or they are validators to whom everyone turns for approval of decisions. They are having an emotional need met by receiving recognition. Or perhaps they are simply tirelessly defending The Tradition, regardless of how new or unhelpful that tradition may be. People in power, who have privileges in the current system, will resist change and make life really hard for any leader who seeks to be a change agent. Pastors are paid from members’ giving, so there is a potential conflict of interest. If they do the right thing, some leaders will end up losing their job (or up on a cross, to reference an often-told story).

Why is this happening?

Church structures were set up to preserve what exists, not change it. These stable structures work well when society is changing slowly, imperceptibly. If something is working, protect it at all costs. But what if it is not working? What if the rate of societal change skyrockets, and old patterns and structures no longer work? Peter Drucker once said, “When the rate of change outside the organization exceeds the rate of change inside the organization, the organization is doomed.”

What do we do about it?

Change. Adapt. The church has adapted, survived and even thrived in times of tectonic change in the past. It can again.

Stable structures are a high value in a stable culture, but when in a climate of rapid change, adaptability is the higher value. In a time of stability, experience is crucial. In times of change, experience can be a liability, especially if the experienced make the fatal mistake of assuming what garnered success in the past, will guarantee success in the future. What got you where you are now will not get your where you need to go in the future. Sorry. Leaders who don’t get this are in for some rough sledding.

Let’s face it, change is hard. Change, however is non-negotiable. The only constant in life is change. There is no growth without change. As someone once said, “The only one who likes change is a wet baby.” Any kind of change creates conflict. Leaders can only tolerate so much discontent. And even a little discontent sounds LOUD when you’re in the hot seat. So when things heat up, leaders circle the wagons, which is precisely the wrong thing to do. Instead, leaders need to sin boldly. Lead boldly. Look at any successful enterprise and you can be certain that someone, at some point, took a huge risk along the way. Nothing great is accomplished without risk.

“The trouble with Steve Jobs: Likes to make his own rules, whether the topic is computers, stock options, or even pancreatic cancer. The same traits that make him a great CEO drive him to put his company, and his investors, at risk.”

—Fortune Magazine

But risk is risky, and change is simply too difficult and painful. Most organizations won’t change until they’re desperate, like the alcoholic that won’t go to rehab until s/he hits rock bottom.

So what will give us the courage to take those risks?

This takes us back to the beginning. Churches will not adapt to the new realities until they care as much about reaching those outside, as appeasing those inside.

The world is hell-bent on destruction in countless ways. It is desperately in need of a church that offers a Way of peace, truth, compassion and hope, as opposed to the world’s way of power, materialism, exploitation and violence. It needs leaders willing to risk comfort, status and economic security for the life of the world and the outreach potential of the church. It needs a church that looks less like the Pharisees’ religion and more like Jesus’ ministry. It needs a church that is willing to sacrifice everything for those outside: buildings, budgets, sacred cows, traditions, structures. It needs a church that so loves the world, that she’d be willing to die for it.

So here’s the plan. New policy. Every decision, every single decision made by staff, council and every committee is made on behalf of those not yet here. Every sermon choice, every hymn, song and musical choice, every building and grounds choice, every spending choice is made with outsiders in mind.

When we become a church for the world, the outsider, when the pain of staying the same (and dying of irrelevance) for those already here exceeds the pain of changing (and sacrificing old ways) for those not yet here, we will be the church for which God incarnate came to this earth and gave his life.

150 thoughts on “Insiders and Outsiders

  1. I was quite depressed at the bishop’s first post and all the “likes” which followed. The bishop needs to study the “milleniums” and the “Gen-xers.” They are not joiners. Tearing down the faith traditions of the insiders will not bring the outsiders in. You will move some insiders out.
    A young acquaintance is active in one of the mega churches where they fill the auditorium several times on Sunday morning. I asked him how many members they had. “Actual members?” he asked. “600.” Who are the insiders? Who are the outsiders? Would the gospel message be any different if 80% of those in the pews were insiders rather than outsiders?
    Do we somehow fulfill our Christian mandate only if we entice the outsiders in, so that we can preach to them in a proclamation couched in the third use of the law, “Now that you are…, you are expected to…” If I sit in your pew and hear the message that “All have fallen short…” and that “Christ died for me…” and I go out the door believing that. Am I an outsider or an insider? Who made the rule that I have to be in that pew every Sunday to be an insider?
    Such arbitrary distinctions have sucked our energy, have derailed our message. We need a reformation, but moving checkers on the board will not accomplish that.

    Another obvious distinction in this discussion is that there are insiders and insider-insiders, i.e., the clergy who speak in another tongue. One of the biggest challenges in relevance is being able to tell the “old, old story” in the language of the texters. Just read though all these responses once more. How much of the language used assumes you know what I know. Every pastor over 45 should rehearse his/her sermon with two Millenniums. That might do more to bring outsiders in than moving the checkers.

    I would challenge the bishop to hire a temporary staff person to answer the synod office phones for six days. Take your staff (every person) off-site for six days of prayer and Bible study focusing on what is your mission in the world today. No one is permitted to leave. No cell phones. No communication outside the group. No discussion of church or congregation structure, no discussion of programs. What does God expect of this synod staff in this culture. Not HOW you fulfill God’s expectations, but what are you begin called to do. What is gospel leadership. Search the Bible, pray without ceasing. A reformation will begin with you.

    When you complete your spiritual exercise, select 10 congregations and ask them to do the same. Group five or six solo pastor parishes together and continue. You will start a reformation.
    Listening for the voice of God will provide clearer answers than moving the checkers on the board. When you have moved the checkers some will still be red and some black. God is color blind.

  2. Mike & Friends,
    Christ died on the cross – for the sins of the world. What if the action that was taken from that one event and used as the calling card for an entire movement was no more significant than the Sermon? The resurrection was another day – do you not think it is possible?
    The rebirth is happening all around us. Humanity is waking up in droves. Luther’s gift was born of a wonderful culmination of unprecedented change. The paradigm shift brought about by the expansion of knowledge is once again changing humanity. Mike, you are correct that the rigid structures fail, but it is not the structure that needs attention it is the connection with creation. Christ said that we must die to ourselves and be reborn of the spirit. This is not a once in a lifetime deal. Every day the barriers that separate must die. The old ways will pass. Just look at the hymns of Luther, the lyrics could carry a warning for excessive violence. The understanding of each relationship between the Creator and humanity will ultimately be different, but just as we abide Christ and the Creator, we are able to experience the same presence through the spirit. The constant change occurs where creation first happened, in our hearts.

  3. Dear Bishop, A facebook friend posted this, and that’s how I came upon it. I am not a Lutheran, but was raised in the Methodist church, which is probably similar. I am so impressed by your comments, because at times, I am concerned that the mainline traditional churches will eventually die, rather than change. I certainly see this happening in my Mother’s church, which is the church I was raised in. At some point they will probably be forced to merge with another congregation to survive. I have seen new pastors, whose ideas were on more of an outreach attitude, be pushed out by the congregation. I currently attend a much larger non-denominational church in a larger city. And at nearly 60, there are times that I am now feeling like one of the old ones in the service. But one of the reasons I was drawn to this church 20 years ago, was because of the money they put into children and outreach. The results are phenomenal!! Our congregation is at least 60% of 30 year olds or younger. And they truly are excited about the things of the Lord and hugely involved. To those Pastors out there who are afraid of this, or think they can’t afford it, I say you can’t afford not to do it. That is if you want the tradition church that you are a part of to survive. What is our calling as Christians anyway, if not to reach the lost. And if your church is excited about Jesus and the gospel, then the sheep will go out there and get other sheep, which is how it ought to be. Go ahead and make someone mad if you have to, but for goodness sake, reach out. There is a lost, hurting, dying world out there, that needs our message. It truly is good news!! I will be praying that the Lord will keep this alive in you. allelujah!!!!

  4. We are in this world, an everchanging world, but are we of this world? Does our Lord and Savior change to fit the current climate? Outsiders are more important than insiders? Really, isn’t our goal to make everyone insiders, part of the church? Do we disregard those who are faithful members? Is there some reason why tradition in liturgy and music is bad? Can’t we have that and some modernity? Is it too radical to love those in the church community as is, and reach out to those outside? Seems like we can swing too far one way and lose some of the faithful in our attempt to be modern.

  5. Very insightful and timely article. This is precisely the reason I’m giving up on my Lutheran church despite years of putting in the time & effort to influence and being shot down over and over. Oh well, I’m now growing and learning and developing relationships in another church whose vision is to reach all un-churched people in our community. My prayers are more valued there than my ability to serve on a community or play the piano. I’m no longer simply a worker-bee that can be taken advantage of… Yup – pretty disappointed by those 10+ years of Lutheran church membership…

  6. I have read your words with a sad heart, because I see the same situation in my own denomination, the Episcopal Church. I think this is simply true for the Church in general… I believe that it is not, however, just a case of needing to change our vista of focus from inside to outside, but that we desperately need to somehow have our hearts converted once again to the true nature of our purpose as human beings… namely, to get our own egos off the throne and put God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) back there. Within each of us resides the Image of God, but we have hidden that image by the various character traits of our humanity. Sin = “I want what I want, when I want it!” If we could again place that image of God at the center of our soul, and then turned to recognize the image of God in each other, our hearts would be full as well as our Churches…

  7. I pretty much agree with you. Jesus was all about the outsider, the marginalized folks, so the church should be too.

    Many years ago at some unremembered church workshop I heard the words “who people see up front is who the church is.” So if I walk into a church and see an old white guy up front, the church–no matter what else happens or who fills the pews–is an old white guy church. This could be mitigated some by having a non-old white guy as liturgist, but not completely.

    In addition, who do we quote? If the sermon references are all from straight white men (as, unfortunately, yours seem to be in this article), someone like me will think, “Oh, this is a church that is all about straight white men. And… it’s not about me at all.” And I’ll walk out the door after the service and never come back again.

  8. Well, Jesus didn’t sit in the temple and insist people come inside to get his teaching or a healing. He intentionally went outside to the marginalized and taught, healed, served, fed, challenged, freed, and loved. Why do we insist that people come inside the church to get Jesus if He was always outside? Makes no sense to me.

  9. I completely agree. Thank you for sharing your insight and wisdom. I pray this message will be far-reaching and will prick the heart of every devoted follower of Jesus Christ and goad us with unceasing effort to repent and execute with confidence the calling to the ministry of reconciliation instead of being motivated by man’s opinion.

    Blessings to you.

  10. […] In January 2012, one of my pastor-friends on Facebook shared an essay by Bishop Michael Rinehart of the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod.  I read it and was moved by what the good bishop had to say, so I shared it on Facebook as well.  Then that same piece appeared in the February issue of The Lutheran.  I was delighted that this important perspective was getting such a wide audience.  (I still recommend reading it and here’s a link to Bishop Rinehart’s article: […]

  11. Very nice post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say
    that I’ve really enjoyed browsing your blog posts. In any case I will be subscribing to your rss feed and I hope you write again soon!

Leave a Reply to Renee Rowell Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s