Some of our leaders recently visited a local church holding a seminar on how to welcome new visitors. The practical advice and suggestions were all very helpful, but there was a phrase that caught our attention. During the seminar the speaker made a case for allowing non-members to serve in various ministries. The understanding seemed to be that if one gets plugged into the church they are more likely to return for subsequent Sundays. The hope was that eventually said person would come to know Jesus through exposure to other Christians, and eventually place their membership with the church. The speaker summarized this ministerial philosophy with the slogan, “belong before you believe.” In other words, whether one is a Christian, or simply a seeker there are no practical “lines in the sand” so to speak.
I get the heart and logic behind this statement, but I wonder if it’s biblical. It sounds pious but it may be missing the mark. It is definitely more pragmatic and yields immediate results, but is it the most healthy pursuit? Should we not call people to “believe before you belong?” Didn’t Jesus live out this philosophy? Some will reply—“Yeah but Jesus was accused for hanging out with drunks, prostitutes, and the unclean!” True, but we must ask ourselves—did Jesus hang around these people arbitrarily without any call for a change of lifestyle? Or did Jesus hang around these people for the sole purpose of calling them to “repent for the Kingdom is at hand?”
- It was Jesus, was it not, who told the rich man to sell all of his possessions and give it to the poor before being allowed in the Kingdom (Matthew 19).
- It was Jesus who said to the man who requested he bury his father before following Jesus, “let the dead bury the dead (Matthew 8).”
- It was Jesus who said the road to eternal life was narrow and few would find it (Matthew 7).
- It was Jesus who said that in order to follow him you would have to love him more than your entire family (Matthew 10).
- It was Jesus who said that one would have to deny themselves, and take up their cross in order to follow him (Matthew 16).
In other words, have we as a church become so obsessed with attracting people into our community that we have neglected to set any standard by which one can come in? Perhaps instead of leaving the front doors of the church wide open and the back doors closed it should be the other way around.