Belonging, Bandwagon Fandom and a Thief on a Cross

It is a special week in the Atlanta area. While my fellow UGA and Falcons fans find themselves whispering another, “maybe next year” there is a buzz in our city because of Atlanta United. In just a few days United will host (and hopefully bring home) the MLS Cup. Atlanta and its fans are hungry for a title.

I’ve been reflecting on this buzz around our newest Atlanta team. I am connected with a number of people who are “founding members”…which is a not so hipster way of declaring, “I was an ATL United fan before it was cool.” What I appreciate about some of these founding members and this soccer community is that they welcome in those of us who are newer soccer fans. They are happy to open the doors of the bandwagon and welcome us all in. They are just glad to win more people over to ATL United fandom.

There is something about all of it that just feels very Jesus-like. There is something oddly familiar in the experience of being welcomed in among those that have been fans longer than I have.

It reminds me of the reality of the Kingdom of God best displayed in Jesus’ interaction with a thief on a cross. At the very end of His pre-grave time on earth, Jesus has a brief interaction with a thief who was hung on a cross right next to him. According to Luke, in this thief’s final moments on earth, He was welcomed into the community of God’s people and into the Kingdom.

No working for it.
No earning it.
No considering the cost.
No sacrifice.
No lifestyle changes.

You see the invitation into the family of God does not come with qualifying factors. It is reckless in this way. It does not leave room for us to treat people differently based on how long or short they have been in the family. This invitation to belong is conditionless. The missionary or pastor who has led thousands to Jesus is just as important and valued by God as a sorry thief on a cross. The founding members are just as valuable to the King and the Kingdom as the bandwagoners.

When you consider the teams you belong to…do they reflect this welcoming mentality? Does your church tend to treat people this way? Does the team you lead or serve as a part of value people in this way?

Do whatever you can to ensure your teams embody this welcoming mentality. Don’t allow a culture of entitlement or a class system become the way you determine people’s value on your team. The value of each individual is not based on what they can do, or what they have experienced…it is based on the fact that they are a child of God.

Jesus’ invitation was one of belonging. We were invited to belong to Him. We were invited to belong with His people. With belonging comes experience, knowledge, insight, holiness and all those christianese things we accidently use to determine people’s value on our team. Those things tend to matter when it comes to our contribution on the team, but when it comes to Jesus our ability to be valued and belong is never attached to what we can do. Whether I am a bandwagoner or a highly devoted follower I am welcomed by Jesus all the same.

Let’s go lead our teams in this way.
Let’s go lead our churches in this way.
May our families and organizations embody this.

Oh and by the way… VAMOS ATL!


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