Belong before you believe…
For the many people who grew up in Church, the idea of not having faith in Jesus Christ as savior is foreign. But there are many in our culture (a culture that could be referred to as “post-Christian”) that have very little experience with the Church and what they do know has usually been shaped, and in many cases jaded, by what they see on television or in the news. Some of these people have had a negative experience with a church or have been hurt by someone who claims to be a Christian.
It is important that our churches create an environment where people (especially those new to Christianity) feel safe asking questions, exploring, and wrestling with what the Bible teaches versus what culture encourages. Questions do not kill faith. Silence does. If we are sincere about engaging our communities and serious about building fully devoted followers of Jesus then we have to send a message to people that they belong in the church. We must let them know that it is ok to ask questions and think.
For some, their faith will grow over time. We need to be patient with those people. But for their faith to grow, they have to know that there are people behind them that love them and that care for them. Paul wrote these words to Timothy:
All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 (HCSB)
This is a well-known passage of the Bible. We gain confidence in the fact that we can trust everything in the bible, that it is completely without error. We can also see that there is a process. There is teaching and training, there is correcting. But there is a process and it is a process for the good. I find great encouragement in this passage for those that may be new to the church or that have questions about faith.
Our task, our duty, our responsibility is to create a place for those people to grow. To feel like they are loved, that they are valued, that they are known, that they belong right here… even if they don’t yet believe.
Simple things can go a long way. Smile, welcome new people. Be eager to answer questions. Actively seek people out to invite to dinner or to events in our homes. Give a warm reception. Don’t be harsh with people who are searching and asking questions. Be a part of the process.
Let them know, it is ok to belong before you believe.