Last week I was (almost) kicked out of McDonald’s. By (almost) I mean the staff were conflicted. One lady (I call her the McDonald’s warden) very clearly let it be known to my family that we needed to leave the premises. Another lady came back later, apologized for the first lady that told us we needed to leave, and told us we could stay. That lasted for about five minutes until the first lady came back and said she wasn’t joking, that she was serious, that we needed to leave the premises of McDonald’s. I literally stood and pleaded with her for a few minutes, humiliated myself by apologizing profusely for a crime I didn’t think was a crime, talked her down, promised we would never do it again (because we will never frequent that McDonald’s again), and she finally relented and graced us with the “privilege” of eating in her establishment. And yet this first staff member kept a wary eye on us throughout our visit. When I needed to ask for more ketchup and BBQ sauce from the counter, the second lady (the nice one) had to slip me the ketchup packets when the warden wasn’t looking, like she was sneaking contraband into a prison. All in all, it was a seriously unenjoyable experience for a family of six wanting to eat a meal, and I have less than zero motivation to ever step foot in that McDonald’s ever again.
So, what was the audacious crime committed by my family that invoked the wrath of the McDonald’s warden? It was simply this: three of our family wanted to eat at McDonald’s, three of us wanted to eat at Wendy’s across the street. So we compromised. Three of us went through the Wendy’s drive-thru, ordered our meals to go and ate it with our family that ordered from McDonald’s. That was it. That was the crime. When half of us walked in with Wendy’s food, the McDonald’s warden went off on us, told us we would have to leave the premises, that Wendy’s was a direct competitor and that they would not allow that food inside their building. Now, if we hadn’t already purchased three meals from McDonald’s I might have been a bit more sympathetic. And if the McDonald’s warden would have treated us with dignity and respect, we might have had a better experience. But it was the tone, the disdain, the lack of any sort of customer value that made for such an unpleasant experience.
So, what can this teach us about the church? I think a lot. When I entered McDonald’s with my Wendy’s bag, I was the outsider. But at church, I’m the warden. I’m the keeper of the keys. I’ve grown up in church. I know everyone at church. It’s my church. I’m the insider. I’m the warden. And every week, new folks try and show up to my church bringing outside, non-biblical values into my church. Maybe they’re just curious about religion. Maybe they walked away from faith years ago but they’re willing to give church one more chance. Maybe they never stepped foot inside a church so they have no idea what the Bible teaches about anything. Either way, they’re the person walking into McDonald’s with a Wendy’s bag. They haven’t fully bought into church or God, but they want to come anyway. And if you’re a true warden of your church, you can spot them a mile away. They just look like they don’t belong, but perhaps they want to.
So, how do we treat them? When they’re new, when they don’t know where to sit, when they don’t know the words to our songs, when they didn’t bring their Bible, when they’ve got piercings or tattoos or other visible signs of the ‘outside.’ Too often I’ve been guilty of treating those on the outside like the McDonald’s warden treated me. Too often the churches I attended treated outsiders like they truly were on the outside and they weren’t allowed in. Maybe that’s why people and the next generation are walking away from church at a cataclysmic rate. Maybe it doesn’t have so much belief or curiosity about God. Maybe they just don’t like being demeaned as outsiders by church wardens. For a brief moment in McDonald’s last week, I knew exactly how they feel.
Church, we can do better than this. We must do better.