Most faith communities are all about belonging. Their goal is to increase membership, to get people to belong. The church serves as a holy holding tank. When belonging becomes the emphasis of a congregation it’s easy to become judgmental because it is all about who’s in and who’s out. That’s what happens in a holy holding tank. And when a community’s emphasis is on judging, the community sets the standard for who you need to be and you can strive really hard to become that person.
The problem with that kind of striving is that it means becoming someone you’re not and your life becomes a lie. You’re always trying to please other people, to meet the standards someone else has set for you. Talk about living in bondage to sin. But it’s not God who binds us, it’s the judgment of other people as well as the judgment we might impose upon ourselves.
Churches aren’t meant to be holy holding tanks that people can belong to. They are meant to be places of transformation that are always growing into a Jesus Way of being in this world. Never static, the community is always moving. We’re engaged in a journey together. The kind of transformational life we’re called to as God’s people is not about being converted into people we’re not. It’s about truly becoming the people we are. The people God created us to be. And there’s a huge difference between becoming the person God created you to be, the person you truly are, and the person other people tell you you have to be in order to become acceptable.
For those of us who are on a journey toward becoming the people God created us to be, the challenge lies in discovering who that is. We often mistake our past behavior as an indication of who we are. But our past behavior doesn’t define who we are. In fact, it may only serve to mask our true selves. Especially if we have a history of allowing others to judge us or perhaps judging ourselves. Judging never leads us to an understanding of who we really are as children of God. The only way we can grow to understand who we really are is through love. Because we’re not defined by what we’ve done, whether good, bad, or ugly. Who we are is defined by whose we are. We’re defined by our relationship with the God who loves us.
The challenge and adventure of life is in discovering who we really are. It takes faith, courage, and imagination. Because God created us for so much more than we realize. To live well is to grow into the person God created you to be. That’s what our life’s journey is about. I know it’s a worn out cliché, but it really is true that it’s not the destination but the journey that matters in life. The journey of faith is one transformation after another for us. Some big, some small, but we’re always being transformed. That’s why we can say that God’s purpose for the church is not about belonging, it’s about transformation.