I have always prided myself in ministry to be able to reach out to those who are on the margins. I am coming to realize, however, that my definition of "on the margins" has probably been to narrow. I've always thought of the kid who sits off by himself, or the girl who awkwardly struggles to fit in. The people I have considered in the past are certainly marginalized, but they are so within the safety net of the institution of church. Helen Lee's article "Outside In" challenges my perceptions to consider the marginalized on a broader level. She speaks of those who struggle through poverty, homelessness, addiction, and disease. She suggests that there are three approaches that churches can take with their relationship with the marginalized in the local community. "(1) the church in the city, which occurs when the bricks-and-mortar of the church resides in the city, but there is no particular attachment or identification otherwise with the community, or (2) the church to the city, where a local congregation determines that it will service certain needs within the community such as creating a youth program for local children…" or, "The third approach is for a church to be with the community 'incarnating itself' in that community. It becomes partners with the community in addressing the community's need." Obviously the third is preferred option.
While all of this sounds like it is exactly what we should be doing as the Church, it is not without challenge. Right or wrong there are often significant pressures the congregation, denominational offices, etc. to grow and have an outward appearance of health and vitality. Ministering to those on the margins is messy, and these folks are not likely to be the ones filling the offering baskets to overflowing. So herein lies the dilemma. How do we truly live out our calling to carry the gospel to the places and people who are marginalized under the system and structure and expectations of the institutional church? Is it possible?
Lee, Helen. 2007. Outside In: What it takes to Minister to Those on the Margin, Leadership Journal Fall 2007. 37-41