I’m not a big fan of the various models and theories we have to explain human behaviour particular in regards to church, but there is one that seems to fit. It’s not a new theory but I thinks there’s something to the ‘Belong Believe Behave’ model. If you’re not familiar with it it’s a model that says people have to feel like they belong to a group before they start to share the beliefs of the group and eventually start to behave in the way the group desires. In the case of the church this simply translates to the fact that we should make all comers feel welcome to our church (as in the body not the building as we should all know by now!) before we pester them about their beliefs, and certainly before we expect them to behave like a Christian should (how that is defined is a post for another day, probably the day right after armageddon).
The thing is churches often flip that around and expect people to behave long before they believe and certainly before they belong. Not only is it pious to the extreme but also it’s heresy. Yeah you heard me, I did just go there. Consider Jesus’ approach, he made the disciples part of His group, he gave them a place to belong. He taught them and challenged their thinking, never forcing always loving, some still didn’t believe fully (I’m talking about you, Thomas) but they still belonged. As far as behaving went: well, what can you say – from squabbles about who’d get top seat in heaven to denying Jesus, it’s all there. Sure Jesus get’s a bit annoyed that they are slow to catch on. I’ve been back in church leadership for about a week and already I’m in a place where I could easily judge people from a point of view of what they believe and how they behave – but am I doing my best to make sure they feel like they belong?
How open are my church’s doors to people? In fact, scratch that – how open are my doors to people? When people feel like they don’t have to fight or change to be accepted, they can be more open. Look at Zacchaeus: in this story we see the model played out in a day. Jesus doesn’t even open up His own home but instead invites Himself for a cheeky free meal.
It doesn’t take much to make someone feel like they belong, but it takes a big effort to love them instead of judge them, to put up with their disbelief and to be willing to be available to gentle guide them to the source of all truth. Who knows you might even get a free meal out of it…