Belonging Before Believing

(photo originally uploaded to Flickr by jimforest)

If you don’t know who Eric Bryant is, then you really need to check out his blog and read his book, Peppermint-Filled Pinatas. Eric is one of the Navigators (executive staff) at Mosaic in Los Angeles and a really nice guy. (I had the privilege of meeting with and talking with him when I was down in L.A. in February for The Idea Camp.)

Recently I read an article of Eric’s that was posted on CatalystSpace.com entitled “The Suicidal Missionary.”

I wanted to share some quotes that really resonated with me:

“Rather than being exclusive and judgmental, we have to work that much harder to become inclusive and loving. We cannot show the world God’s love if we do not truly love the people in our world.

“One of the most important changes we can make to overcome [being seen as judgemental] would be to create communities in which people are allowed to belong before they have to believe.”

“As followers of Jesus, we have been ‘set apart’ and ‘sent out.’ We are ‘set apart’ in our behavior, and ‘sent out’ in our relationships.”

So many times our default in church world is to try and fix people before they have crossed the line of faith and have given control of their lives over to God. We try and get people to see the wrong they are doing and expect people to believe the things we believe before we allow them to belong to our communities of faith. We put up hurdles to people building relationships and being a part of the community simply because they haven’t crossed the line of belief (or whatever other artificial stipulations we have). We turn church into a club with membership requirements, which if not met means exclusion from the benefits of being part of the club.

I think this happens because all too often we mix up being a part of the church community with being a citizen of the Kingdom of God. Only God can determine who is a citizen of the Kingdom. It is our job as citizens of the Kingdom to welcome people from all walks of life and at all points of their spiritual journeys into our communities.

Doing that, though, takes risk. It takes willingness to struggle through the mess. It takes an unconditional love for people that goes beyond our preconceived ideas of what it means to be a part of a faith community.

What does that mean for those of us in children’s and family ministry?

That means we need to be ministering to families that don’t fit our molds: families going through divorce, single parent families, families with unmarried parents, families with two dads or two moms, families with rough edges… It means helping all families to belong and connect and feel like they are part of the community as much as the families who’ve been at church forever. It means befriending those families. It means helping those families communicate faith to their children. It means pointing them to Christ. It means planting seeds, watering seeds and allowing God to do the growing. It means being there when they cross that line of faith and encouraging them, equipping them and empowering them to find out what it means to continue following Christ.

For some of us, that means rethinking how we do church and how we process volunteer participation so that those who are still on a spiritual journey to be involved somehow yet in significant ways. For others of us, it means recasting vision for those already in church to make the church a place where people can belong before believing.

How would you describe your church? How does it do on allowing people to “belong before believing?”

Are there areas for those who have not “crossed the line of faith” to volunteer and be involved in at your church? In what areas and why?

Do you even agree with the notion of people belonging before believing?


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4 thoughts on “Belonging Before Believing

  1. Daniel says:

    There’s a lot here, but I can see this readily applying to our conversation here about supporting civil rights for homosexual couples.

    This gets at a feeling I’ve long had, especially in regards to homosexuality — sure, we can say and argue it’s wrong, but ultimately how much does our judgment get in the way of people feeling as though they can belong… and then subsequently, hopefully, believe?

    • Henry Zonio says:

      I think the biggest hurdle here for many Christians is the belief that by accepting those in the GLBT community, it is equated with validation of the lifestyle. I don't agree with it, but I can understand the struggle. I went through the same struggle in university where I had some great professors who challenged me to reevaluate how I lived out loving God and loving others.

      I have discovered that Andrew Marin (http://www.themarinfoundation.org) is one of the better articulated Christians reaching out to the GLBT community. You'd probably like him and what he says.

  2. robin dugall says:

    very good post Henry…if you keep this stuff up with children, you might just create a new revolution!

    • Henry Zonio says:

      thx robin. that means a lot coming from you.

      as for the revolution… that is exactly my intent! i wish more up front leaders spent more time pouring into those ministering to children and helping them understand and translate these concepts for younger children. I appreciate the work they are trying to do in bringing awareness to high school and college aged ministries, but the window for greatest impact is before children get to that 14-year-old mark when faith cements itself and can only be change by divine intervention and/or life crisis. Sometimes I feel like the mayor of Whoville… or more like Horton. But viva la revolucion! 🙂

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