There’s a curious trend in the ministry of Jesus that the church has just as curiously lost sight of.
We’ve inherited this understanding that the trajectory of a disciple first starts when someone believes certain things about Jesus. Then they begin to behave in a certain way of which Jesus approves, until finally they belong to the community of Christians and eventually can serve in leadership.
That is, discipleship is linear. Believe, then Behave, then Belong.
But that’s quite simply not what we see in the ministry of Jesus. In fact, what we see is the exact opposite.
Jesus is always surrounded by two groups of people, narratively named, “Crowds” and “Disciples”. Everywhere he goes, both groups are there. Which means, there are people who are around Jesus (belong) before they ever profess faith in the guy. And Jesus is ok with that. Some in the crowds are just trying to use Jesus—to get their friend healed, to hear a good sermon, to see a miracle. And Jesus is ok with that.
It appears, for Jesus at least, the first step to relationship with him is just to be around him with absolutely no conditions from him. That is, to belong.
Then, when people become “Christians” in the New Testament, the scene never plays out with Jesus asking them, “Do you accept me into your heart as your Lord and Savior?” It’s not a matter of their cognitive assent to some abstract ideas about him. Rather, Jesus asks a person to take a very specific and tangible step toward him. You want to know how the disciples became Christians? Jesus told them to literally follow him where he went. And they did.
Becoming a Christian isn’t asking Jesus to come into your heart. It’s Jesus saying to you, come walk behind me. That is, Jesus offers a person a particular step unique to them, that they can either take or not. Go sell what you have. Let the dead bury their dead. Forgive if you want to understand forgiveness. Follow me. Literal, embodied, actual steps that can be seen and touched because they don't happen in the person's abstract mind, but in the messy dirt of reality.
And then, when and if the person takes that step, embraces that behavior, they discover that wonder of wonders, they believe. Their eyes have been cleared and they see Jesus for who he has been all along.
The path of discipleship is not Believe, Behave, Belong. It’s Belong, Behave, Believe.
So too with Hope Brooklyn. If we’re following the path Jesus walked, then we will be a community of people from every point on the spectrum of faith. Some will embody faith and it will drip from their lives. Others will have incredible doubts and their questions will be so encouraged! Some will entirely disbelieve and want to debate. And still others will just be looking for a free meal and a selfless friend. And lucky for them, Christians are in the business of selfless friendship.
All will be welcomed to our table! And if there is any expectation on Hope Brooklyn’s end it is that we expect people to be honest about wherever they are in their faith journey. No pretense.
Hope Brooklyn will tell the story of Jesus and follow behind him the path he walks. That is, we will seek to live as he lived. But there will be those among us who don’t want to follow him. Jesus is ok with that and therefore so are we. There will be no question off limits and doubt will not be shamed. If we have an answer we will offer it. If we don’t, we’ll say we don’t know and ask the Father to teach us.
And for those wondering why people who aren’t Christians would ever want to be a part of a church community, I give you Tertullian, the second century Roman historian (who later became a Christian). After he became a Christian and reflecting on his life prior, he wrote once, that he was always confused by the Christians. The basis for his confusion: because, he said, “look how they love one another!”
Our teaching doesn’t open people’s eyes to the truth of Jesus’ identity, our love does.
Because God freely invited us to his table, all are freely invited to ours…