Tuesday, March 04, 2008

belonging before believing

Last week I attended the Conversational Evangelism Conference hosted by Menlo Park Presbyterian Church in CA (which meant I got to spend a couple days earlier in the week in Fresno with my adorable nephew and precious god-daughter! …and their families of course). Speakers included John Ortberg, Todd Hunter, Mark Mittelberg, Becky Pippert, Garry Poole, Dan Kimball and Dr. Richard Peace.

So, for the next several weeks, I am going to switch my cyber-reflections from the issues regarding worship I have been processing since the Calvin Symposium in January to ideas that I encountered during this more recent conference.

As you can probably guess by the title—Conversational Evangelism—the focus of this conference was on a paradigm shift in approaches to Christian evangelism away from the formulaic, linear and propositional methods of the Modern era, with their frequent demand for an immediate decision, to a more organic, relationship-based, conversational perspective which fits better our emerging postmodern context and is aimed more at coming along-side others in a shared, God-ward, spiritual journey.

One of the most intriguing concepts I heard articulated was the mantra of those involved with the Alpha program (which we have recently reintroduced to First Pres.) – “belonging before believing.” The idea being that in the Alpha course (and perhaps in the church, too) people should be welcomed with warm hospitality and allowed to truly belong, relationally, without having to sign-on to statement of faith beforehand. This same concept was reflected in one way or another by just about every speaker.

While I don’t think this phrase should be a concept applied to polity issues such as formal church membership… I do really love this idea as a governing principle for the kind of unconditional love with which we who are followers of Jesus should be interacting with everyone else around us.

Just think about it… belonging before believing… isn’t that how our eternally gracious God has dealt with each of us? God has extended grace to us long before we ever professed faith with our lips, pursuing us with abandon until we finally heard the call and came to the realization that “we love because God first loved us.”

Could we be capable, as God’s beloved children, of extending that unconditional love in gracious, no-strings-attached relationships to those around us who do not yet know God’s love for them in Jesus Christ? Could we do that regardless of this person’s personal beliefs, background or behavior? Could it be that perhaps these people might be more open the gentle whisper of the Holy Spirit if their stories have been listened to and their hearts of have been loved in such a Christ-like way?

Think about it and talk back… let’s start a conversation.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I find myself praying to become more attentive to life and to the people around me. In many ways, hospitality reflects that kind of attentiveness. When Christians offer that attentiveness by the spiritual lens of "the eyes of Christ" it changes life and relationships from black and white to brilliant technicolor. Perhaps there is this kind of spirit in the advice you've written about. Once the breadth of our lives is appreciated, trust starts to grow. Trust is the first childlike step (and perhaps the most critical step) on the way to Christian belief.

Thanks for getting me thinking and praying!