20 June 2012

Belonging or activity?

Belonging and activity are both essential for healthy church life. As individuals we need to be widely connected and part of close family with Jesus. Belonging and activity are at the heart of all we are and do.

Belonging and activity
In the world of on line collaboration we can think in terms of social networks, like Facebook, and platforms for activity, like Wikipedia. Facebook connects people who know one another - family, work colleagues, neighbours. Wikipedia is a place where strangers collaborate on building an encyclopaedia.

Of course belonging and activity overlap to some extent, and relationships change. It's possible to make friends with others editing the same article on Wikipedia, and Facebook includes pages for people who share common interests.

But even if the distinction grows a little fuzzy in the middle, it's still a valid (and useful) distinction.

In terms of church life we see the same thing. Sometimes we have a sense of belonging, we see other believers as our church friends and family. Jesus tells us to love one another, we are called to care deeply. But we think in terms of activity when we work on projects of various kinds. We may do this alone or with others. Jesus tells us to feed the hungry, take in the homeless and give water to the thirsty.

If belonging becomes dominant in our thinking. If we think the purpose of the church family is solely to be together often for close community, for encouragement, and for worship we may miss opportunities for wider connection. One of the failures of church in our day is the silo mentality that fails to communicate across the divide - even in the same town. It's like family life becoming so important that we never speak to our neighbours! And we may also miss opportunities for practical action in our own district or worldwide.

But when activity looms too large we may focus so much on mission or helping the poor or praying for our nation that we have no time left for meaningful, local belonging. Either we feel we have no brothers and sisters or we abandon them through busyness.

We need both... belonging and activity... family and projects. One of the joys of a life following Jesus is that the two can (and should) be combined. But they are distinct.

Belonging and activity
The diagram (repeated here for convenience) shows the four possible combinations. At upper left are those who are well connected but don't do very much. Those of us in the lower right are actively and abundantly engaged in activity but have no roots in the church family. At greatest danger are those in the red area, loners who do little or nothing. And the best place to be is in the green zone, supporting and supported by close local church family and connected widely, but also busy with whatever tasks Papa has provided.

Pray for the right balance in your own life and in the lives of those around you. Encourage one another to move to or remain in the green zone, the place of healthy belonging and activity. Also pray that the places of belonging and the activities will be those chosen by the Father and revealed by the Spirit. Only by remaining in Papa's love and doing the things he shows us can we live in true peace and joy.

Note: I have made some changes in the light of Ashley's helpful comments (see below). The diagram shows that some people might be disconnected (ie alone, not in community) even though they may be active in prayer or other ways. Parts of the the text suggested otherwise.


  1. Introducing in the red corner we have.... my take on the "red corner" would be that there is a different angle to seeing who some of these individuals are. There are those who are "disconnected and inactive" who are not involved in a manner who are obvious in their involvement as such. These are the quiet prayer warrior types. I became much more aware of these individuals when I visited a monastery http://www.franciscans.org.uk/Page34.htm (scroll down the page till you find Glasshampton). These individuals are exceedingly obedient to God's calling on their lives. They carry out a disciplined daily routine of pure obedience which in my opinion is an amazing gift. I think the calling on ones life to be this obedient, to miss out on all the "normal" daily extras we endure is very inspirational. I thank God for these types as they uphold the calling of Gods will on their lives to pray for all the nations and Gods will/plan for this fallen world. I actually also enjoy being in the red corner too sometimes. To be disconnected from everything and to be connected spiritually to our awesome creator and maker gives the spirit a feeling of completeness.

  2. I wanted to add also that it is normally human nature to see red as negative and green as positive. I felt led to add the above post to show we should and can look for positives in all situations in life :-)

  3. Thanks for those comments, Ashley.

    You are right about the prayer warrior people, they are so necessary and valuable and very powerfully used. Because prayer is an activity I wouldn't place prayer warriors in the red area at all, but well over on the right hand side of the chart.

    Nor would I rule out the need for solitude, we all need that in our lives. Loneliness is not so good, however.

    Do you think we can really be 'disconnected from everything [yet] connected spiritually to our awesome creator and maker'? If we are connected with Papa can we truly be disconnected from everything he made?

    Considering that the Son commands us 'Love one another as I have loved you', is it really possible to live a full life in isolation? I suspect the monks have a deep love for one another as well as a shared love for the Father and for the Son.

    And finally, I don't see the red area as signalling negativity, but danger (that's why I chose red). To be both isolated and inactive is to be at risk.

    Thanks again for the comments, I value them.



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