I was listening to a sermon recently (“The Gospel of John 9:35-41”) and the pastor pointed out how in the story of Jesus healing the man born blind (John 9), the sequence of events isn’t quite what we would expect. This man is rejected by his religious community, but Jesus receives him and meets the man’s physical need by restoring his sight. Then, the man is persecuted by the Pharisees. Finally, the man is called to believe in Jesus Christ. It’s a strange sequence for a spiritual journey: first physical healing, then persecution, and ultimately belief. This begs the question, in the lives of those around us, are we willing to let God work things out differently than we might expect?
Most churches today function according to a policy that people have to behave and believe prior to belonging. However, it has been suggested that a better approach is one in which people belong, believe, and then behave. Understandably, it is difficult for churches to navigate this triad of values because it raises difficult questions: Does belonging mean that people are eligible for leadership? Does this encourage doctrinal pluralism? Which doctrines are essential and which are nonessential? Instead of getting caught up in where people draw the line on these issues, what’s important is that churches start placing more emphasis on belonging first and foremost.
Even when people believe differently, it is possible to create an inclusive community. Barbara Brown Taylor explains this well in her book Home By Another Way. She writes, “If you and I are walking toward each other on a public sidewalk, our differences do not matter. We make room for each other. We may even nod and say hello. Our community at that point does not depend on our being in agreement with each other about anything except that we will share the sidewalk, where we both belong.” At church, everyone should know and feel that they belong. A sense of belonging is evidence of Christ’s love being expressed – people aren’t viewed as projects, and relationships aren’t undermined by an agenda. You just belong. And gradually, we come to realize that, as Leonard Sweet writes in Summoned to Lead, “We need each other: not just this other and that other, but each other. Every other.” May we realize the value and necessity of welcoming each and every other.