Change happens through relationship; the come-as-you-are, warts-and-all, Christ-like-love kind of relationship.
One of humanity’s greatest needs is to know and be known, to be in deep relationships. God is a very relational God, and as image-bearers of Him we were made to be in relationships too. I’m not talking about the fluffy, surface relationships that are cordial and kind but never address our core beliefs that make us, us. I’m not talking about the kind we call community but don’t really venture outside of the many social media platforms that can hide our true loneliness. I’m talking about the kinds of relationships that, even though you come as you are (or as they say, with warts and all), you are free from people’s personal agendas, from premature judgments and stereotypes, and are instead fueled by Christ-like love. These relationships that God designed us for are hard to come by, though. They are hard to come by because we are all broken people, and exposing who we really are involves great risk.
Because of the risk involved, many people hold their cards very closely, like we are playing a high-risk poker game. We fear revealing our cards too early, so we might peg ourselves into some specific social group; we fear rejection when we expose who we really are. In fear we hide certain aspects of our lifestyles and keep certain parts of our past in the dark. Tragically, this kind of hiding creates a barrier from the real, genuine relationships we all need, relationships that can be enriched by God’s grace and lead to real discipleship. This hiding keeps us from the deep sense of belonging and acceptance we all strive for and desperately need.
There was a time when one could find this kind of belonging in a religious community simply by modifying their moral behaviors to find acceptance in that community. In this post-modern secular time those days are long gone. Most people won’t change their behavior to find acceptance in a community. People would rather hide who they really are, or more often they will find a community that does accept their moral behaviors.
As Christ-followers, this is the tension in which we all live: how do we offer true acceptance and belonging to those who desperately need to be a part of the family of God, but without condoning destructive behaviors? Our end goal for their discipleship will always remain, but the starting point looks quite different than it did one hundred, fifty, or even twenty-five years ago. We need more patience and grace then we ever have before, understanding that their process will take time.
We need to tap into a God-like desire to be in relationship that is not contingent upon behavior; relationship that loves with deep, unwavering commitment to a person, rather than performance. It is when we develop these trusted, grace-filled relationships that others will find the courage to lay down their cards. They will find the freedom they need to open up their lives to the kind of grace that changes us all.
How can you encourage your missional community to be a place where everyone is encouraged to be who they are and not to hide?
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