Sorry for the lack of posts recently. I worked 75 hours last week. Whew! Thankfully, I got off early today, so I have time to write a blog post, and (more importantly) spend time with my wife and three girls!
St. Patrick seemed to accomplish this by allowing outsiders to be part of his community life. This was not the usual way the church did evangelism, but he allowed people to belong before they believed. He just went into an area and considered everybody “in”. You had to opt out to not be part of his community (this is where the “parish’ idea got developed into it’s modern understanding, and historically why some areas of the US still refer to geographic areas of their cities as “parishes”…if you live there, you’re part of the parish.)
What would a church look like if that were the strategy? What would evangelism look like if people could actually belong before they believed? I don’t really have many answers here, just questions. But I think we have much to learn from our fathers before us when it comes to this kind of issue.
This is exactly right and where I see myself headed as a pastor church planter carpet cleaner…or whatever.
Belong Before Believe
At a recent Glocalnet church planting conference, Bob Roberts talked about how churches are generally made up of three things: Believing, Belonging, and Blessing. In other words, they focus on doctrine, fellowship, and service. The typical church requires that a person believes the same way they do before they will allow that person to feel accepted in their fellowship or to get involved with service in and through the church. They require belief as a prerequisite to belonging and blessing.
Bob Roberts suggested that the biblical model, and true discipleship, allows people to enter into “church life” through any of the three areas (Note that “church life” is NOT to be equated with “eternal life.”) So in this way, if a person longs to be part of the close-knit fellowship of the church, or join the church in building homes in the community, they can do so without signing a doctrinal statement. Discipleship churches allow people to belong or be a blessing without first believing.
Bounded Sets and Centered Sets
I ran into the same idea in The Shaping of Things to Come by Frost and Hirsch in which they talked about Bounded Sets and Centered Sets. Most churches are Bounded Sets, where there is a set of guidelines and rules (doctrinal, behavioral, political, etc) and everybody who agrees with those guidelines are allowed “in” and those who do not, are kept outside until they conform. A Bounded Set is like a fence which separates tame horses from the wild ones. The fence keeps the tame ones together, controlled, and countable.
Frost and Hirsch go on to recommend moving to a Centered Set. In a Centered Set, there are no boundaries, but only those who are closer to the center than others. Those who are closest to the center are involved and active. The center in “church life” of course, must be Jesus and following Him. Anybody can be part of a Centered Set as long as they want to live like Jesus, love like Jesus, and learn from Jesus. (Again, remember that “church life” is not to be confused with “eternal life.”) They don’t have to believe just like you do, or behave just like you do to belong to your fellowship or join with you in blessing the community. Following the agricultural imagery, think of a Centered Set as a watering hole in an arid wilderness. Ranchers in such areas know that they don’t need fences and barns. All they need is a well or a spring, and the livestock will not wander more than a one day walk from the water. Some live and remain right on the edge of the water, while others may only visit once a day. In such a set, there is much less control, oversight, and expense.
I really think this paradigm shift could really help many churches become more missional in what they do and how they interact with others who don’t agree with them doctrinally. For more on this topic, here are some links: