the gospel of community?

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)??

nice chatting

Paul Windsor


Alex said…
Good call Paul. By way of illustration, we have an unbeliever in our church who has been travelling with us. His wife is a believer, but they started coming at the same time. We were part of a small group with them during the year and had a lot of great gospel conversations. But it's pretty clear this guys journey is going to be long term, and while we want to keep travelling with him, it's pretty clear that a mixed group of believers and unbelievers ain't going to cut it. There's a level of heart sharing that we just couldn't get to because of fundamental differences in beliefs! So belonging is really important, but NT koinonia is a completely different animal.
I wonder if this believing, belonging, behaving sequence has been the source of abuse over the last few years (between 1-1000 years to be as vauge as possible), hence the move towards belonging before believing then to belonging etc.

I think of a conversation I had tonight with someone whose uncle was 'kicked out' of the family home because he wanted to (and eventually did) play sport on Sunday. This church going, Christian family, because of their emphasis of 'belief', that sport should not be a Sunday activity, rather the day be reserved for the Lord (whether they are right or wrong here isn't the issue) caused a young man to have bitter scars 30 years on against the church, and not having a desire to follow Jesus today.

I think my point is (I'm having fun trying to articulate this) that there are many people hurting and scarred out there from severe misrepresentations of Christ, and many others who view the church as 'rules' and 'regulations' which stream on from what we 'believe' that the church has had to go to a 'we are as human as you' stance in order for people to see what it means to be a follower of Christ in us before they believe for themselves. (wow that was a long setence.)

This probably doesnt make too much sense, but I'm posting it because it has taken me ages to write.
Paul Windsor said…
Let me jump straight in, Tim. I would classify that story about the uncle and playing sport on Sunday as a 'behaving' issue, not a 'believing' issue. It illustrates what I was trying to say about the generation above me: it is about behaving then believing then belonging ... and it is wrong! You chatted with a real-life example of the fall-out from that perspective.
But the emerging generation needs to be careful they do not overreact to that kind of story and I wonder if that is what their 'belonging then believing then behaving' could partly be??
Thanks for the clarity Paul. Just what I needed. I was thoroughly confused after dicing with the "B" words for too long.

The question you left at the end does shout out at someone like me, as a part of that emerging generation.

Thanks again for you insight.
Andrew said…
I recently read what I thought was a great quote that addressed this issue. It was in a Baptist book called Bound to Love (about covenants in Baptist church history). It was discussing the significance of truth and community in the early baptists (and I think also applies to the early Christians. The quote goes something like 'it wasn't that they sought community and there they found truth but they sought truth and there they found community'.
Ana said…
I like your use of two belongings.

I would describe the first 'belonging' as the circumstances in which a person is invited to hear the gospel, in whatever form that happens, rather than belonging to the community of believers. In other words 'Belonging' being a calling to hear the good news.

I was once given the example of a couple attending an Alpha course. Their initial belonging is attributed to their inclusion in the group, the place where they will hear (and hopefully experience) the gospel. It is through this initial belonging that they will believe, then belong as believers, and then behave.

I like the idea of a circumstance, because for some people simply hearing the gospel a single time is all it takes to believe, without the extensive relationship building beforehand.

I guess either would then fit nicely with Andrew's quote.
lex said…
I like the various comments below and wonder if you don't mind hearing from someone who doesn't feel so glowing about church right now. I would say from my experience of church it is been a case of behaving believing and then belonging. If the behaving and the believing are not to the leadership liking then there is definately no belonging. My husband and I have recently resigned from xxxBaptist church staff for genuine reasons and wished to stay worshipping and volunteering in our church as it was our home and had been for years. Unfortunately, to our disappointment, we found we were not welcome any more because we didn't do the expected behaviour. We have now decided to join the largest growing church in NZ.....those Christians not attending church. Maybe there is a church where you can belong without strings.....I hope we come across it some day.
Lex said…
Sorry I forgot to sum up by saying I think it is believing that really counts. Even when you don't belong. Behaviour follows your belief and if you get to belong......well you are blessed.
Paul Windsor said…
lex - I don't know if you are still checking these postings, but I want you to know that I read your comments in a tiny little internet cafe in Choma, Zambia when I had a little window of time. I am not sure whether I have ever met you, but you have remained in my mind and my prayers ever since. I find your story very distressing. Sorry for the delay in my response.
dale said…
Nice post.

I totally resonate with the belong-Believe-BELONG-Behave suggestion.

Got me thinking about something else that complicates the whold durn thing, though...

At various stages of life, people experience highs and lows in all three of these areas.

Perhaps the 'in-or-out' or 'closed-set' or 'make-or-break' mindsets for all of these have made things a little confusing?

For example...

Behaving. Regardless of how honest or not we are about how well we 'behave', we would likely all agree that our behaviour varies.

Believing. We may not be willing to embrace what I feel to be the (often hidden) reality that we all have times of doubt or questioning, where we struggle with one thing or another. In other words, our 'belief' is not as immovable as we are often told it should be...

Belonging. We all know that authentic community complete with sacrificial love, patience, investment, care, concern, genuine-ness, etc. is not exactly something that most churches 'do' perfectly. At the very least, we can agree that many people at times don't feel that they belong even if they are members of a church, bible-study or whatever...
(as for un-believers ability to belong, I think we all know the answer... An unbeliever and I can 'belong' to the same rugby club and get some 'belonging' and heck, a non-believer can -at least should be able to - hang out in a christian community and help out with 'stuff', etc., BUT as for the 'communion of the saints' and/or the 'fellowship of the Holy Spirt' I'm afraid it takes the badge of faith.)

At any rate, It appears that all three need - for want of a better word - maintenance. Relationships (belonging), faith (believing) and bearing fruit (behaving) all are intertwined and play off of one another.

It is in this sense that I feel that instead of a
'Nothing'<-- | -->'All'
way of categorising people, it is better to have an
kind of understanding.

Here's what it looks like for the 3 "B's"

Belonging becomes a call to community in Christ; always seeking to grow deeper in relationship and trust.
[Isolation -->-->--> Community]

Believing is seen as a journey that embraces doubt; seeking not to avoid it, but work through it.
[unbelief -->-->--> Trust]

Behaving is seen not as moralistic 'try/fail/try-again' cycle, but as striving for the goal of bearing spiritual fruit.
[dead works -->-->--> 'vine' fruit]

Those are the thoughts that this post brought to mind for me...


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