Belonging…before Believing

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When one looks around the landscape of society –both sacred and secular– it is clear ,“the times, they are a changing.”  The dominant methodology for connecting with people with God and the church has been a behave-believe-belong model.

This model fleshes out in our tendency to observe people’s behavior, to make sure they are “like us.”  Going deeper, we may even ask, “Do they believe like us?” When we approve of their appearance and thinking, we invite them to belong to us.  This model is very effective in a society that is Christianized and the unchurched (former residents of Christendom) simply need some minor steering to help them find their place in “our church.”  The challenge now is that society is much more unChristian, and we are finding ourselves in an ever-increasing mission field, rather than a culture of Christendom.

It is dangerously unbiblical for one’s behavior to be the entry point for church involvement or faith.  The Pharisees appeared to “behave” and Jesus called them “internally dead,” though they were “externally polished.”  The behavior- first model can easily lead to a performanced-based group of spiritual pretenders.

If the above model is less effective today, and has some theological concerns, then what is the answer?  We must shift to: a belong-believe-become model.

We must look for ways to intentionally invest in relationships with “not yet” believers, inviting them to belong, and welcoming them into authentic Christian Community.  This invitation may happen at a cookout with your Life Group, a special children’s event, or even a service project in the community.  The foundation must be laid for people to have the freedom to come into Christian Community without having to “pretend”– allowing them to just be themselves.  This is the very reason Jesus was negatively labeled by the religious Pharisees as a “friend of sinners.”

This ministry can be sloppy in the event this person says or does something  in which you are uncomfortable.  However,  if our mindset is missional, then we will allow unbelievers to see Jesus as He is shaping our faith community and families by His transformational love.

When belonging is happening, then friendships will form, leading to honest questions.  These questions will hopefully lead them to believe.  This second stage is where the Gospel (the perfect life, substitutionary death, and resurrection of Jesus) begins to make sense as it is, observably, lived out in individuals and families (this is assuming one has already explained it).  Paul addresses this issue in 1 Thessalonians 2:8 …“we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.”

Once someone has heard the truth about Jesus, observed it through belonging, and has been able to journey into believing, then we see the fruit as he or she starts becoming like Jesus and places his or her faith in Jesus.

This process is how we transform our community and expand the Kingdom of God.  We must invite people to belong and to journey into believing, so they will become like Jesus.

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