Being a Christian Has Nothing to Do with Behavior

For so many years, the mainline church has had a very simple pattern for welcoming people into their community. The first step someone had to do is behave. The right morality could get you in the door. The next thing they had to do was believe the correct doctrine. So once the behavior was intact, the belief could surely follow. Then, once both your behavior and your beliefs were lined up, you (officially or otherwise) belonged to the community. This was the model of church for so long.

Old model of church: Behave ==> Believe ==> Belong

As a new generation of Christians emerge, they are crying false on this system of “welcome”. A new pattern is emerging, intentionally in some places and unintentionally in others. This new pattern wipes the behavior component out entirely. You could credit a heightened awareness and emphasis on privacy to this, or maybe it’s that behavior connotates a certain subjectivity. What behaving is one place, is not behaving in others. These lines aren’t black and white for everyone, but merge into an amorphous area of grey.

I think this new model of church actually starts with belonging. The emphasis now is creating communities where everyone feels welcome and like they can contribute to the greater goal of whichever community they choose to invest their time in. Once someone establishes a sense of belonging in the community, then the move is toward belief. This doesn’t imply that everyone in the church must believe exactly the same thing about every little thing. But there are some certain foundations that guide communities. It’s a good thing.

After the belief comes a new level in the chain of welcome — becoming. In 2 Corinthians Paul writes that “if anyone is in Christ, there is new creation.” The ongoing creation of God transforms us as we become members of the body of Christ. We are new creation. I’ve purposely left out the article in the verse because when we say “there is a new creation”, it can get tempting to see everyone running around as their own separate, individual creations — and that’s not Paul’s point.

The apostle Paul is getting at the idea that when we experience community together, we are participating in the new creation of God. This is what it looks like in the new model of church.

Belong ==> Believe ==> Become

This is the way forward if the church is going to be anything more than the behavior police. We need to get away from dictating morality and, as a community, living into our communal life as new creation.



  1. This is fascinating. I hadn’t thought about the becoming piece but I think that fits well.

    In a seminary class on baptism we read a little book “The Change of Conversion and the Origin of Christendom” by Alan Kreider

    It was a great short read and basically said, which is germane to this conversation, that in all of Christianity Belief, Belonging, and Behavior have been the three methods of conversion, but over the history and tradition they have changed in order of importance. Eg Early Catechumens had to act right (behave) to even know that the community existed, then they were taught “right” belief and finally they were welcomed into the community (belong).

    At First Pres, we seek to for people to belong, then hopefully provide a space for them to figure out their belief and finally mold their lives to the will of God (or at least that’s what I try to do).

    I’m intrigued with the language of “becoming new”, though I think that has promise.

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