When the energy drains out of a seminar I am leading, I know just where the solution lies. I put three words on the whiteboard and ask people to put them in the right order: "belonging", "believing", "behaving". One of the great discussion-starters...
It is a bit unfair, but you could make a case that the generation of my parents left us with the impression that the order was 'behaving' then 'believing' then 'belonging'. And now along comes the emerging generation and they want to reverse that order: 'belonging' then 'believing' then 'behaving'.
What do you make of this?
If I understand the way the word 'belonging' is used today, it is a community word. If people are to believe, they first need to feel like they belong. It is all about relationships... The crucial step in evangelism is creating a sense of community before there is too much talk of believing anything. Is that fair?
If it is I have some questions! If there can be a belonging before there is a believing how does that belonging compare with the belonging that believing creates? You better read that one again! Surely that first belonging can only be a pale imitation of the second belonging? So why is it receiving so much emphasis today - to the detriment of the second belonging?
And where is the gospel in this? Doesn't the gospel start with believing - by confessing, repenting, trusting etc? "As you come to him, the Living Stone (Christ) ... you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house." (1Peter2:4a, 5a) Surely this suggests that there is a believing first and foremost and as people believe and move towards Jesus they find out that they end up hanging around others who are doing the same and before long, they discover community together - all because the primary movement was towards Christ and not initially towards each other.
I remain unsure about the priority which this community - or, that pre-believing belonging - is receiving today. It seems to have become the key to mission. Community. Community. Community. Tip of everybody's tongue. Top of everybody's strategy. People go on and on about it. And I don't notice that much Godwardness about it as the focus seems to be on relationships with each other. At times it sounds like it has become its own gospel, eclipsing the other gospel. But community is a consequence of the gospel; it is not the gospel.
At best I could embrace an order that looks something like this:
"belonging then believing then BELONGING then behaving"
And isn't it interesting that with the letter to the Romans - that clearest of clear presentations of the gospel - Paul seems to follow this order: 'believing' (ch1-4) then 'belonging' (ch5-11) and then 'behaving' (ch12-15)??