All aboard the Gospel train!


03/12/2012 by Chris Green

images-12Do people need to Believe before they Belong to your church?  Or do they tend to Belong before they Believe? How do you arrange the carriages in the gospel train?

The argument goes that in our day, with less knowledge of the gospel and with clear evidence of the importance of relationships, belonging is a much more important value – it comes first in most people’s experience of conversions, and puts belief, and precision of content, way back

Is it time to rearrange the carriages?

And where does Behaviour fit in to that?  Take a couple, interested in the gospel but unconverted, not married but with a young child. Your church runs an evangelistic course, involving a residential weekend.  Do you give them a room with a double bed in it?

If you do, then you run the risk of colluding with sin.

If you don’t, you run the risk of encouraging the lie that Christianity is actually about behaving morally.  The Behaviour carriage must always follow Believing – if it comes first, we’ve made a train wreck of the gospel.

The Behaviour carriage must always follow Believing – if it comes first, we’ve made a train wreck of the gospel.

You could draw the circle very closely, of course and run against the cultural trend.  I read a church leaflet recently (‘welcome’ leaflet is too generous a term) in which it was made clear first, that only members of other churches in their denominations were welcome at their meetings, and second that the custom was to inform the minister that you would be visiting, in advance.  These were for reasons of maintaining the doctrinal purity of the congregation.   In that church Belief comes strongly  before Belonging. And Behaving means acquiescing to some sub cultural norms.

To think ourselves clear, we need to distinguish two kinds of churches.

  • The heavenly assembly, gathered around Christ, includes all believers, living and dead. We are all, permanently, in that church. And entry to that clearly has only one doorway: believing. Faith alone is the way in.  Behaviour is the obedient working out of Belief and Belonging.
  • Our earthly, visible churches are where that heavenly one becomes visible. But it is always messier, because there will be people turning up who are not yet believers, or merely external Christians, or struggling Christians, or doubting Christians.

So we might need to have a double pattern.  Some people Belong, in the sense that they Belong to Christ, are ‘in’ him, and therefore can and should take on the full responsibilities of being members of his church.  Others belong in different sense: we know them, and they know us, they feel at ease with us and have got to know us, they like hanging around the things we do.  They are making up their minds in a context if relationships.   In a sociological sense they belong- but not in a heavenly, or theological sense.

How does your church put the three carriages in the gospel train?

The Church is the place God has designed for Christians to grow, praise, worship, serve and love.  This book fits in the BST Themes series, and is rooted in bible expositions, with loads of current and relevant application for church leaders and members. Read more


2 thoughts on “All aboard the Gospel train!

  1. Chris,

    Thanks -helpful to be kept thinking on this. One challenge we face is that

    1. There is an argument that people are more likely to stick around if they get involved. More opportunity to talk about the Gospel to them.


    2. If the tendency is to give jobs to people -then do we end up encouraging a “slaves” not “sons” mentality. .

    Thinking things through further….I think that “believing and belonging” are treated too seperately. So on the one hand we have the option of people belonging without ever believing and on the other hand individualistic belief without ever really belonging.

    Is there more a sense that the two go so hand in hand that you can’t really seperate them out?
    Is it more about being good hosts who welcome and care for guests properly?
    Is there room for growing belief alongside growing belonging -that if someone is engaging with the Gospel then it may not always be the “Damascus Road” date and time conversion.

    Fancy a stab at this sort of thing in May?

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