27 05 2010


STEVE WRITES: The Anaptist Network has posted a chapter from anew book to provide another view on the belonging-behaving-believing discussion. Click on the link above for the entire article, which we post in part below:

This is the first chapter of Stuart Murray’s book, Church after Christendom.

Belonging, believing and behaving after Christendom

His wife was a Christian and belonged to a church, but Ben was not a believer. He was a Jew and an agnostic. But over the years he watched and listened, developed friendships in the church, took part in various church activities and attended more regularly than many members. The church welcomed him and waited patiently. He imbibed their values and shared his own concerns, prayer requests and, finally, prayers. One day he called God ‘Father’. Shortly before he died, eighteen years after first attending the church, he was baptised as a believer.

Mary was in her late fifties. She had never been to church before and she knew nothing about what Christians believed. She sat quietly at the back. On her way home she found herself ‘speaking in this odd language’. The next day she returned various small items she had stolen from the office she cleaned and in the evening went to make peace with a neighbour to whom she had not spoken for twenty years. The following Sunday she returned to church, asking ‘why am I doing these things?’ She too was soon baptised as a believer.

Paul was in his twenties. He had left church because it did not connect with him spiritually or culturally and he was outraged by unacknowledged power politics in the congregation. He had always resisted the church’s insistence that he should be evangelising friends and inviting them to church. He knew that they would find the services weird, trite and unappealing. But now he no longer had to worry about friends asking if they could attend church with him, the embarrassment had gone and all kinds of conversations were opening up. But he was unsure what he would do if any of them became Christians…

Belonging and believing

The language of ‘belonging’ and ‘believing’ (and less often ‘behaving’) has become familiar in discussions about faith, church and mission. It offers helpful perspectives on issues facing churches after Christendom.

Researchers and sociologists, examining the relationship between what people believe and their participation in religious institutions, have identified two common positions – ‘believing without belonging’ and ‘belonging before believing’. Some people do not belong to a church but identify themselves as Christians and hold beliefs that are more or less consistent with those who do belong. Others participate in church before they identify themselves as Christians or decide what they believe.

Many Christians seize on the first phrase to interpret their experience of friends and family members. They already know what researchers confirm and quantify. Many people believe in God, pray frequently, accept core Christian convictions and attempt to live by Christian values. Some previously belonged to a church; others have only ever believed without belonging.

Mission strategists and church leaders are especially interested in the second phrase. Many parish churches have always functioned on the basis that parishioners ‘belong’ (and have certain legal rights) regardless of their beliefs. Elsewhere, however, those who wished to belong were expected to subscribe to certain beliefs. But churches that have historically applied a ‘believing before belonging’ approach report increasing numbers wanting to ‘belong’ before believing.

Many strategists encourage us to embrace this new paradigm. A key discovery of the Decade of Evangelism in the 1990s was that many people journey to faith gradually rather than suddenly. Churches that had previously expected ‘crisis conversions’ now recognised ‘process conversions’ as equally valid. This came as a relief to many Christians, especially in evangelical churches, where pressure to identify a definite conversion date prompted some to invent one to ward off suspicions they were not properly converted! The new paradigm has spawned ‘process evangelism’ courses and has encouraged churches to become more welcoming, hospitable, inclusive and patient.

What factors have prompted ‘belonging before believing’ even in churches that previously required that belief preceded participation? Theological reflection on the relationship between belonging and believing appears to have followed rather than precipitated this change, so we must look to factors beyond the churches themselves. The most obvious are the cultural shifts signalled by the terms ‘postmodernity’ and ‘post-Christendom’:

• In postmodernity, people are suspicious of institutions and more interested in whether beliefs work in practice than whether they are theoretically true. So belonging before believing is necessary to test whether Christians live out in their communities what they claim to be true.
• In post-Christendom, knowledge of Christianity is limited; people need longer to understand and respond to the gospel. Furthermore, church culture is alien, so exploratory participation is safer than making a definite commitment.

Many emerging churches practise ‘belonging before believing’, considering this vital for engaging with a postmodern constituency. This approach attracts refugees from churches with firm boundaries that have resisted this paradigm shift. A ‘centred-set’ model of community is also popular, in contradistinction to the ‘bounded-set’ model operating in many inherited churches. Centred-set communities represent a dynamic and flexible approach, allowing people to journey towards or away from a church without encountering fixed entry or exit points.

Discussions about the relationship between belonging and believing have highlighted significant missional and pastoral issues:

• The inadequacy of equating Christians exclusively with those who belong to churches.
• The importance of affirming the faith journeys of those whose conversion is gradual.
• The limitations of institutional membership models in contemporary culture.
• The challenge of building churches that faithfully and attractively incarnate the gospel they proclaim.
• The implications of prioritising core values over boundary maintenance.

These are issues to which post-Christendom churches must give careful attention.


26 05 2010

Previously we spoke of belonging being the first step in the evangelistic process in the postmodern world. When a person becomes to live into a relationship with the Christian community, they now position themselves to see Christian values and behaviors in action.  The pre-Christian may not be a person of prayer, for example; but now they see persons practicing prayer daily. They may be a person who is reluctant to release their financial resources because of their desire to pursue their own needs and wants. But they begin to see persons who give sacrificially and who are generous in nature.

More importantly, they see the outcomes or benefits of such a lifestyle.

And so, under the daily influence of Christ followers who are simply living out Jesus’ spiritual DNA they receive models to imitate and are given encouragement to do so.  A person who has yet to be clear as to exactly what it means to pray, my still find themselves praying for clarity or for help. They might even pray for the healing of a friend. The result is that they begin behaving like a Christian. And the more their actions resemble Christianity’s core values; the more they are open to the Truth upon which those values are built.

Through the incarnational living of the Christian community, the pre-Christian begins to meet the Christ whose life and mission are at the root of those behaviors.

C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity that one of the ways to decide to become a Christian was to begin daily behaving like a Christian and along the way you will become one.

Belonging leads to behaving.

Then out of the overflow a living connected to incarnational Christians , and beginning doing Christian things, a person believes that Christ has died for our sins and decide to truly and completely follow Jesus.

Behaving begins to produce the experiences that validate the truth of the Gospel for the pre-Christian and armed with this awareness, we finally begin to trust and believe, committing ourselves to follow Jesus.

Believing arrives in the process and we decide to follow Jesus.

(c) Stephen L Dunn


25 05 2010

We are seeing a fundamental shift in the evangelistic process as the postmodern world emerges. In the age of Christendom salvation was often defined as a gift we received from God as a result of decision. A person was confronted with the truth of the gospel. We agreed that this true (i.e., we believed) and then decided to give our life over to God. Then we became a part of the Body of Christ. We united ourselves with others who had made that same decision and belonged to that faith community.  Within the nurture of the church, we were discipled so that we begin living like a Christian.  In other words,we began behaving like Christ.




Underscoring this was the belief that an objective truth is revealed to us. We acknowledged that this truth was indeed true and assented to accept this truth for our lives. In Christendom, truth was the possession of the Church whose authority reinforced the need to accept the Bible’s argument.

We no longer live in Christendom, in a world where the Church’s authority and influence were a given. We now lives in a post-Christian time when the Church is not credited with being the arbiter of truth. (Post- Christian does not mean Christianity is dead. It means that the assumption of the Church’s authority and the welcoming/honoring of its influence and values has ended.) Our society has come to believe that the church and Christianity  is not the only source or supreme source of truth, but in many ways inhibits the pursuit of truth.  We can know the real truth without finding it in the message the Church proclaims.

In this current age, something must be experienced to be true.  Only experience (and experiencing its benefits) can validate something is true. Expecting people to believe first means that many of them will never even consider the Gospel because they will never get close enough to those who claim to live by that truth to hear it or observe it.

Relationship and our desire for authentic, caring relationships is more important to the postmodern world than what people think or believe. People may have many questions and reservations about the message someone proclaims; but if the experience the caring and the friendship of someone, they desire to be connected to that person.

Postmodern people believe church people are judgmental. When they meet Christians who are simply trying to express the love of God to their neighbors, they begin to rethink their bias.  And if they see past that bias and like the person they meet, their desire is to be connected to that person more completely.

In terms of the evangelistic process, non-Christians are open to building relationships with Christians long before they are open to everything a Christian believes.  And since Christians are connected to a faith community, these non-Christians will even become connected to a faith community for the purpose of having a life-enriching relationship.

A desire to belong – to be in relationship with Christians and the Christian community generally precedes a willingness to commit their lives to Christ.

Belonging has become the first step in the evangelistic process.

(C) 2010 by Stephen L Dunn


25 05 2010

During the last 150 years we have essentially taught evangelism as getting them to make a decision, “Repent of you sin and surrender to Jesus.” Outcome trumped process, In fact, very little thought was even given to process except to throw up a pulpit and confront people in their sin.  Particularly little thought was given to how process brought about more than a simple decision, but facilitated the life transformation that accompanied conversion.

In my first year teaching in the School I had a student who had little interest in disciplemaking.  “I’m an evangelist. My job is to get them saved.”  Discipleship was an entirely different process from evangelism (read, less important).  When I told him that I considered evangelism without discipleship to be “partial birth evangelism,” he became very annoyed with me.  (That was the last class he bothered to attend in the School.)

The late Robert Webber wrote an excellent book called Ancient Future Evangelism. It is one of the textbooks we use in the theology section of our School of Evangelism.  Webber wrote a series of these volumes Ancient Future Time, etc to help bring together the understandings of the Church in its formative years of the First and Second Century and the Church at the beginning of the Third Millennium. He noted that in the ancient church there were three elements to evangelism:


Evangelism involved assent to the truth of the gospel – believing.  It involved connecting to the Body of Christ – belonging. And it involved being conformed to the character of Christ – behaving.  The ministry of evangelism was never considered complete until all three had transpired. – Steve Dunn, part of the opening lecture in the theology section of the School of Evangelism


24 05 2010

Increasingly the traditional church is learning what has been an open secret in youth ministry for decades. Worship is evangelism. When seekers come into a gathering where people are transparent and passionate to worship God, there is an electricity present that captures their attention and begins to open their hearts and minds to Him.

We are not talking about worship as a perfunctory act of obedience, all about form and language. We are talking about that humbling of one’s heart, that unashamed and unscripted abandonment of oneself to the transforming power of God. “Let love be genuine” is the command of scripture. When worship is a genuine expression of a heartfelt love for Jesus Christ, it illumines the dark places of our world with the awesome, supernatural light of the world. No one has to explain God or even defend Him. Worship reveals His presence.

Christian preachers are learning to communicate to emerging generations in effective ways. And churches are learning to worship in ways that communicate meaning and invite new people to enter into the flow of worship. Creative tools and worship arts create an atmosphere for worship that helps engage people of many personalities and passions as participants.

But in the end, worship that is genuine — in Spirit and in Truth — is what lifts up Christ and draws all people — old and young, modern and postmodern, traditional and contemporary, raised in the church or one who will be the first generation of their family to find faith — and ultimately (to quote Dan Kimball) to be the bridge to the Bridge that reconciles people to God.


23 05 2010

The Bridgebuilding Church understands that it is called influence its world. We tend to think of influence as a political act. Influence that is a result of living with Jesus’ DNA is an act of love for our neighbor and faithfulness to God. The description of Christian influence is found in Jesus’ declaration in Matthew 5:18ff. “You are the salt of the earth … you are the light of the world.”

Intentional ministry is intended to be an influential ministry. A missional church in focusing on living according to its mission asks the question, “How will our actions lift up Christ before this community?” Such churches know that to misrepresent Christ is an act of disobedience to God with perhaps tragic consequences because it might influence people to embrace a false understanding of Jesus. Or if the non-Christian has a sense of what Jesus truly is like, our behavior in Jesus’ name may influence them to reject Christ, or at the very least cause them to want to have no part with His Bride, the Church.

An inward-focused church often has little influence because its has little contact with or relevance for the community that surrounds it. That is more a tragedy than anything. And if the people surrounding that church see that the church is basically occupying space in the neighborhood and little else, they can easily (and perhaps appropriately) say that the church does not care. And that influences them to seek love from some other source than Christ.

Influence, therefore, requires involvement–on a daily and basic level. The church, to truly be influential intentionally builds (what Bill Hybels calls) redemptive relationships–relationships intended to assist God in His work of salvation and life transformation.

Influence is not throwing your weight around in the public square, it representing the name and the aim of Jesus to a world that has grown skeptical and suspicious about the value of God in their community.

(c) 2010 by Stephen L Dunn