Heterophobia: Or why I don’t dig membership…

I write this blog from a lot of perspectives… follower of Jesus, warrior, martial trainer, etc.  Today I write as a spiritual leader of a faith community but it applies to most of these areas as well.

I spoke this last weekend on dealing with those different than us… you can hear the podcast here.  Specifically, as a community of faith, I addressed two of the biggest areas where we tend to get a little heterophobic (afraid of people different than us)… people who are different religiously and sexually.  The Kingdom gospel of Jesus is about inclusion… making a seat at the table for everyone.  Jesus walked into a religious environment of closed doors and barred access… the Jewish faith of his day drew a lot of lines!  What got Jesus in trouble was that he said EVERYONE gets a seat at the table.

That doesn’t mean that just because someone gets a seat at the table that they are living rightly.  People don’t have to be living rightly before they can be part of the community… that just doesn’t make sense, and we don’t see Jesus asking that.  People who desire to follow Jesus are invited into community as they work out their journey, and stumble/fumble with the rest of us.  There is a place where those committed to following Jesus agree to hold each other accountable to the Jesus-life… but that is relationally based and mutually agreed upon and not bestowed by an outside entity.  An entirely different animal all together.

As part of our community’s discussion time this last weekend, I was asked if I would let someone become a member of our community with a particular activity in their lives.  My response was twofold: first… inclusion is inclusion.  Anyone can come and learn, serve, live, and love with our community no matter where they are in life or what they struggle with.  Who they are judged to be is God’s business not mine (John 21v20-22).  My acceptance of a person does not mean I endorse everything in their lives… or who could truly love anyone?  Of course this point is lost completely on anyone religious enough to think they they HAVE arrived already.

But the second part of my answer rocked the person a bit (they are pretty new to The Ridge).  We do not have members here.  And our reasons go along with the things stated above.

Jesus was about inclusion.  All are welcome into the gospel as Jesus defined it… The Kingdom of God has arrived.  So what does membership in a community mean?  For a lot of places there are legal/business reasons for having members… and if that is the reason, then great – just own that fact up front.  But I have run into more than my share of people who wear the label Christian who thinks it separates people into groups… the becoming and the arrived.  Or the mature and the immature.  I don’t know… something like that.

A couple of thoughts… I don’t see membership in a local gathering/church anywhere in scripture.  I see the actions of becoming THE CHURCH, the group of followers spread around the globe.  But nothing about membership in this particular gathering or that one.  And it is harder to become a member of a lot of local churches than it is to follow Jesus!  That’s just wrong – I don’t care how you dress that up.   And the only separation that I see in scripture when it comes to a community of Jesus followers is those responsible for leading/teaching and those not.  There IS a higher calling and accountability for the leaders, and that should be followed (we use the same tests as for eldership here at The Ridge).

I know some have said that offering membership inspires people to greater devotion, followship, etc.  Apparently if the call of Jesus to devote all of who we are to following isn’t enough, than the title of “church member” bestowed by a group of (normally) men in governance of a local church will do the trick?  Maybe this is why churches across this culture are waking up to discover that after years of doing consumer-focused ‘ministry’ our churches do not look like communities of Jesus followers, but more like shopping clubs: filled with people wanting to be fed, watered, entertained, placated, and pampered (just to tell you how I see it).  The call to live sacrificially, to give up MY wants (even in ‘church programming’!!!) as central to the life of a follower, seems to be an almost foreign concept.  Maybe this is why people both young and old are running from the church in droves, at a rate that puts the church as we know it in danger of losing its voice in a generation or less.

Membership is about exclusion.  About an “us” and a “them”.  The Jesus I see in the scriptures only drew lines around religious people claiming to be the “us” when they were really the “them”!  I wonder if he wouldn’t say the same things today…


7 thoughts on “Heterophobia: Or why I don’t dig membership…

  1. Pingback: Heterophobia: Or why I don’t dig membership… and journal questions from 7.18 «

  2. Great post. The gospel of Jesus is all about inclusion and not exclusion!! Too often our own fears and self-doubt get in the way of truly loving others. This post is right on target!! Keep it coming.

  3. I am with you on this Chris. Too long, I feel, people have used the Church setting as a way to exclude those that FIT and those that DON”T. I just want to walk with Jesus the best I can, not judge those are struggling with starting their walk or think they are SAVED and don’t listen to the Spirit when we all need to just listen. I feel God is moving the Ridge in the right direction. Bless you Chris and you family for Stepping up and out.

  4. I appreciate you and the staff standing firm to examine Scripture as the multi-faceted jewel that it is and honestly articulating what that means. The integrity of that is refreshing for me personally. I think the American Protestant church lost its way somewhere post WW2 as it evolved past the worship focus to a social/activity center focus. While I gained alot of life long true friends growing up in that environment, I’m not really sure whether I was always growing closer to God as a result. In retrospect, I think it has been very damaging to the true mission of the Church.

  5. Finally, someone said it! We are not meant to be separate from the world. We are to be examples, caregivers and leaders in a world with no direction desperately searching for that one thing(person) to guide them, give them hope and peace. The simple act of a smile, a kind word or just holding the door open for a stranger speaks volumes as to who you are and how you are perceived. Do not fear those that are different remember that you are just as strange in their eyes.

  6. Hey Chris,
    Its funny, I felt I was a member of The Ridge Community for a wee bit but have since left as part of my own journey. Having said that I still read the blogs and posts etc. I came across this post and really thought deeply on it. Amazingly, I have a friend who is going through a divorce and back on the dating scene after many years. One of the pre-requisites for the guy to be “the guy’ is he has to be a Christian. When she told me this I thought immediately of this entry. Hello, a man who said he was a Christian ran off and left ya. Saying one is a Christian just doesnt make it so. How can a relationship truly prosper if we are using what we think is Christian as a checklist for our mate. The only checklist is the gospel.

    Chris thanks for writing this.

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