Belong Before You Believe?

The church has it all backwards.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the church. I am personally invested in the church. But I’m pretty sure that the church needs to change directions.

Of course I’m talking about the visible church, the one found in physical locations, not the invisible church, also known as the body of Christ. The invisible church is doing just fine, thank you very much. It’s the visible church that needs to rethink its strategy.

The strategy I’m referring to comes in a lot of different forms and formats, but mostly it can be summarized in one little phrase: “Belong before you believe.” The strategy behind the phrase is quite simple. If a church can attract people through its preaching and music and programs—all presented by cheerful, friendly, successful people—then visitors to that church will be compelled to keep coming and eventually believe what the preacher and the music and the programs are talking about.

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We Belong Together

A year ago I was preparing to travel to Nicaragua.  In the last few weeks I've found myself recalling that trip and the people I met there. This is a reflection I wrote soon after returning:

I am at my writing desk, looking out my window at the bougainvillea and geraniums blooming in my yard. I hear toddlers calling my dog and watch her eagerly look for them, their little bodies and voices hidden behind the rose bushes. The kids in this neighborhood love her. She looks a bit wily right now with her summer haircut. They shaved off all her cute fluffy fur and she looks more like a svelte coyote, not so cute.

It reminds me of the dogs I saw in La Chureca, the dump in Managua, Nicaragua. There were dogs everywhere. They were scrawny and limping, ears drooping and noses rummaging through all the trash.  Right now my dog looks like she belongs there, but she doesn’t. I went with a group to visit the school in this dump community.  We took the kids out on a field trip to the zoo. The kids wore old, faded, stained clothes and shoes that were too big for them. They looked like they belong in a dump, but they don’t.  Nobody belongs in a dump among discarded, old, ruined trash. No one belongs there no matter how they look.

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