You’ve seen them – from outside the key-coded gate. Maybe you’ve even tried to slip behind a resident and get under the gate before it closed on you. You know who you are…
They keep people out: undesirables, less-affluent, more-affluent, those not-on-the-approved-list. They just do. They are safe-havens, isolated and intentional communities, a pick-your-own-neighbor life.
But this isn’t about the merits or downfalls of gated communities. No matter where on that continuum it falls, it is nowhere as insidious as the gated Christian communities.
You know what they are. You’ve seen them. You might not be aware if you are in one, but you sure as anything know if you aren’t. And these communities are sometimes harder to break into than physical gates. These gates communities have multiple gates.
You’ve attended church services and felt out of place. Or you have neighbors who claim to be Christians. Whether a Christ-follower or not, you know when you feel on the out of something in. And sometimes, no matter how how many gates you get through, there always seems to be one more. Here’s a few I am thinking of.
Gate #1 The Language Barrier: We Christians have our own lingo. We go to a church service; during that time we like to praise and worship; some of our favorite words in praise and worship are hallelujah or hosanna. After church we fellowship in the foyer (or lobby or vestibule – or the worst, the narthex); on Sunday nights we go to small groups (or life groups or home groups); in Bible studies we talk about spiritual warfare and principalities and powers…any of this sounding a little familiar? Then we talk about salvation and justification and getting saved or being born again. Learning this language can take years!
Gate #2 The Christian Smile: This is what you meet when you walk into the church and are handed a bulletin (this language thing is going to get messy, I can tell). It’s also what you see when you drop your kids off at kid’s church. Then you see it on faces when you finally locate a seat in the santuary (does anyone else hear Quasimodo bellowing in the recesses of your mind?). You’re first thought is, “dang, these people are happy.” Everyone you greet with a, “How are you?” returns a, “Great, thanks! How are you?”, which naturally begs you to return the same response. That’s when the smiles start to seem like plaster. Sure, there are a lot of genuinely happy people in church, but as my pastor’s wife says, “these people are bleeding all over the pews and no one knows it.” Then you try the experiment: when someone asks you how you are, you decide to respond, “Terrible, thanks. How are you?” And you answer this at least 4 times before someone realizes you said, “terrible”. Good luck getting the passcode for this gate.
Gate #3 The Christian Inside Jokes: This hit me in a brief service planning meeting that I had with our senior pastor and associate pastor. After talking about a few things, I said something christianese like, “the Bible companion guide to the pseudopigrypha.” We all laughed, and then I realized that no one outside our elite group would have got that joke. Did it make me feel good and superior? You bet! Did it make me feel woefully inadequate to interact in normal, non-churchy conversation? Nope. Should it have? Maybe. But come on, admit it: pseudopigrypha is funny!
I’m going to stop with those three gates. Heck, one is too much, and I’m mildly depressed having written all that about barriers to Christian community. There’s got to be a different and better way. Sure, we’re goign to stick out and seem a bit exclusive – every group does. Perhaps we need to understand the way we as the Church, as Christians, look and work hard to counteract that.
Let’s start a movement: NMGCC – No More Gated Christian Communities.