Last night a few people from church and I were having a conversation about some people we hope will be joining our church soon. During the conversation, one person said something about wanting people to join who “fit”.
It was a strange comment, but I knew that what they were talking about is simply that we want people to “want” to join. We never want anyone to join our church who doesn’t truly want to be there. We want people to feel the right sense of belonging and family that comes from real church community. We want people to love the church, and to call Christ’s bride beautiful, and to find belonging and security and welcomeness and community within our doors. We pray that God would make our little church a place where the gospel of Christ’s reconciling work between us and God would be the model for our love and acceptance of one another.
So in that sense, we most certainly want people to “fit”. We want people to know that because they are saved sinners like the rest of us, that they have a place in our church.
But, that phrase can be taken another, very wrong way, because we certainly are not people who search out church members who “fit in.” It is far too easy to become a church where the members all dress the same, enjoy the same things, are in the same life stage, have the same convictions and religious preferences, and generally look less like a church and more like a social club or “interest group.” May our church/club die quickly if that ever happens! If ever people need to “fit” anything other than into the gracious robes of righteousness granted to us by Christ, may our church rot and wither and die!
It is unfortunate though, that many that think themselves to be churches, are nothing more than these social clubs. Humanism and pragmatism and a wicked over-love of individuality has infected many of the local bodies that call themselves churches.
Our culture is obsessed with fitting in. Modernity has sold us the lie that the most important thing to have in a group of friends or a social gathering is a commonality based around fleeting, temporal, trivial things. We’ve begun to think that peer groups, life stage, sports and entertainment interests, and hobbies are all worthy things to center our church demographics around. I’ve seen churches that say they are “artsy churches”, “sports churches”, “cowboy churches” etc… and let me say – that is terrible! Why would we organize and center our churches around “date of manufacture” or interest preferences? We are called to center our churches on the gospel! Why would we want to model the sinful world in building churches where people could “fit in”?
Well, not only is it wrong, but it’s also doomed to fail. Why?
Because the gospel shows us that none of us “fit in”. None of us can find any real belonging to anyone else that will last. Our interests will change, our life stage will mature or shift, our peers will move away, die, abandon us or simply drift apart. Nothing in this life will prove to be an unshakeable foundation around which to unite with others except for the gospel!
But it gets worse, because even if those things could provide real belonging, we would mess them up. We are broken, we are messed up, we are too different, we are too fickle, and that which brings us happiness is too fleeting, and when we aren’t on the receiving end of the changes to the community, we will instead be on the giving end. There is nothing in this world that we have in common with other people that can last.
But, if we are christians, then we have Christ, and he will last. He will never leave or forsake his people. He will be an unshakeable center around which ANYONE can unite and find belonging and family and community and commonality.
I long for HBC to be a church that is full of people with almost nothing in common except for their brokenness and their Savior!
And by God’s grace, in many ways, it is.
There our people in our church don’t own a TV, and others who have a full “Netflix Queue”. There are people who believe that women should wear only dresses, and others who wear shorts to church. We have people from many different walks of life, with many different convictions and preferences and hobbies and interests, and yet, they love one another as fiercely as if they were best of friends. We had one member recently say that one of the reasons they loved HBC was because “the members love each other so much they would die for another.” Praise God for the gospel that provides real, lasting, never-ending community and commonality! Praise God for his unilateral, unconditional, unshakeable, unifying grace! Oh how I wish God would show our “christian culture” that a gospel-centered church doesn’t need to offer anything to it’s people other than Christ. That American christianity would see that the most important, most lasting thing that we have in common with anyone is our desperate need for reconciliation with Creator God, and his provision made for us in Christ.
At Hope Baptist Church, we love one another, and are committed to one another, not because we “fit in” with one another, but because we’ve been “brought in” to God’s family. And it’s because of this that, even though there are many times where we manifest our brokenness, and our judgmental tendencies, and we are deceived once again by the peer driven, individualistic, culture we are surrounded by…even though that happens, we don’t leave one another, and we don’t lose our belonging. Because we are not “centered” on those other things. We are not centered on anything but Christ, and even when one of us forgets that the gospel is what unites us, we have others who are willing to lay down their lives for each other, and call them back to that good news once again.
I know this doesn’t make sense in our typical American culture, but in a “gospel-culture”, we are free to have nothing in common but Christ and him crucified. And this freedom, and this commonality, and this belonging, will never leave you or forsake you, because it is in Christ himself that we belong, and he promises the same.
So, if you’ve looked for a church where you could find that sense of family and community that the bible speaks of, remember that only a church who centers on Christ, regardless of the demographic makeup of it’s members, will fully and finally provide a place where you can “fit in.”