Isaiah 43:19

Tim Murray considers the vital contribution made by those on the margins in church.

Tim Murray
Tim Murray

'See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.' Isaiah 43:19

Have you ever felt like you do not quite fit in? Have you ever been in an environment where you seem to think and feel differently to most of the other people there? This experience is always uncomfortable, but it can be even more difficult when the place you don't fit in is your church.

The experience I'm talking about is more than disliking the way your church does the worship, or the way your pastor preaches. It's not just a theological disagreement. The best way I can describe it is a sense of homelessness - an increasing struggle to feel like you belong. The real kicker is this: often, this experience can occur at the same time as your own walk with Jesus grows closer and your obedience to Him increases.

Those who share this kind of experience often end up at the margins of their churches. They are not less passionate about Jesus, but they find it difficult to connect their faith to what happens on a Sunday, or their mid-week group, or the set of church activities and ministries. I'm not talking about drifting away from Jesus, or becoming 'lukewarm' Christians - I'm talking about the very opposite - a maturing and growing faith, increasingly homeless and marginalised in church.

This has been my experience and, to a large extent, continues to be my experience even though I now work for a church as a pastor.

If this article resonates with you, be encouraged that this is not just you. God has a long history of using those on the margins to bring reform to His people in a new season. The history of the people of Israel is full of unlikely leaders: Gideon was a coward, the son of an idolater, but chosen by God to lead the people in a time of crisis. David was the youngest (illegitimate?) son of an ordinary Israelite family, but became the most significant king in Israel's history. It was while the Israelite people were in exile to the people of Babylon, further than they had even been from the promises of God, that Isaiah declares God to be doing 'a new thing'. The apostle Paul, who was used by God to establish the church across the Roman Empire was plucked from his previous life as a Pharisee persecuting the church.

Jesus, too, was a marginal figure. As far as we know He never preached in a major town apart from Jerusalem. He never travelled more than a couple of hundred miles from His hometown. When He died, His followers probably numbered little more than a hundred.

But God often uses those on the margins when He wants to do 'a new thing'. They can be less invested in the 'old thing' or the 'current thing', they can be the ones who are desperately searching for God because they are so homeless in what currently exists, they can be those who are willing to pay the price, because they have nothing to lose.

I believe that there is a growing move of God in our church that is moving people towards the margins of church as it currently is; a growing homelessness and restlessness characterising increasing numbers of people. May those of us who are responsible to lead churches pay attention to our margins and pray that God may again breathe new life into our dry bones. CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.