(many thanks to Brian MacLaren for fueling the thoughts in this post. For an excellent and challenging new look at sharing faith in Christ, read his book, More Ready Than You Realize.)
What does it take for someone to be welcomed into our circle? For most, the answer would have to do with holding common interests, beliefs, and ideas. This is especially true of the Christian church. The typical approach by the church to those outside her walls has been to say, "Make a decision to believe how we do, and then you can join our circle." For hundreds of years, this approach has helped to safeguard faith while encouraging seekers to make that crucial choice so they could belong to "the club."
You don't have to look at modern society very long to realize how ineffective this strategy is today. Exclusive clubs, while enjoyed by the members, are offensive to those who are excluded. As the church gives the message, "believe like we do and then come and belong", most people are saying, "no thanks."
What if people were allowed to belong before they believed? What if they were not only allowed, but welcomed, received, and treated as equals? This is the church-culture shift that needs to occur today. A shift where churches look at people who are new and welcome and include them, regardless of their beliefs. People today are looking for communities where they can be real, ask hard questions, and get honest (not intellectual or churchy) answers about life. As seekers of God are invited to rub shoulders with the people of God on a regular basis, they will gain an understanding of what it means to know God.
Are we too busy guarding the faith and attempting to "convince" those who are far from God to believe like we do? Maybe we need to spend more time simply loving and laughing with spiritual seekers so they can begin to observe the truth in us. In today's world, words and actions are connected- we can't say one thing and do another, or what we say carries no weight. If we want to say, "God loves you," then we need to live in a way that shows God's love. If we want to say to our friends and neighbors, "God accepts you where you are," then we need to treat them that way. If we desire to see people journey towards God with us, then we must let them belong before they believe- belong to our communities of faith and walk side by side with us. For out of belonging comes believing.
I realize these thoughts are jumbled and random today. Reflect on them and see if they don't challenge you as I have been challenged. Journey on in His light.