Believe or Belong: Which Comes First?
Many of us grew up in churches that emphasized knowing and believing the Bible as the single most important thing to being on God’s good side. We are not alone! Indeed, many church traditions hold a legacy that honored knowledge and respected belief in the right things as an essential way of assurance in one’s relationship with God. There is much merit in such a set of convictions. Knowing about Jesus Christ matters! Yet there exists another way of understanding our relationship with God that is particularly valuable to today’s contexts in many of our churches. Wesley Granberg-Michaelson picks up this line of thought in his book Future Faith: Ten Challenges Reshaping Christianity in the 21st Century. 
Rather than holding to a set of convictions that properly constitute a faithful Christian, Granberg-Michaelson suggests that Christianity is more about an orientation toward following Jesus Christ. For those of us who are associated with the Stone-Campbell Movement, we may see similarities between Granberg-Michaelson’s proposal and Thomas Campbell’s famous statement in the Declaration and Address, that the one church is made up of people who “profess their faith in Christ” and seek to be obedient to Christ. In other words, it is not correct doctrine that determines faithfulness; it is the movement of faithfulness as a disciple that matters.
Not only is this idea a useful and constructive theological truth, but it also helps us understand the ways that many unchurched people approach faith. Simply put, the deep hunger in the cities and towns where we live is the hunger to belong. People may not say it, but they deeply desire to be loved, to be accepted, to be trusted.
If our congregational culture is one that declares people have to get their doctrine together before they enter, then we shouldn’t be surprised at a lack of interest. But if our congregational culture exudes openness and welcome, if our message is to come and join us as we learn to follow Jesus together, then people may well show up because they will have found a place to belong.
The believing part? Well, that is what discipleship is all about. And just like the persons in our cities and towns who long to belong, we too have much to learn about what it means to believe and to be obedient to Jesus. So cultivate warm and welcoming places in your cities and towns. Create freedom for persons to belong. Then together, learn more fully what it means to be a disciple!
 Fortress Press, 2018. This book was the subject of last month’s essay as well.