Covenant Weekly - January 9, 2018
January 9, 2018
Many of you will remember the TV show Cheers. In it, a Boston pub was home to an entertaining cast of characters who invited the viewer into their "home" away from home. One of the most memorable parts of the show was the theme song with a chorus that went like this:
Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name,
And they're always glad you came;
You want to be where you can see,
Our troubles are all the same;
You want to be where everybody knows your name.
One of the appeals of the show was for viewers to dream of a place where they could be known and welcomed . . . where one could belong.
This desire for belonging is a universal one. But I'd like to consider the idea of belonging for just a moment. There are different kinds of belonging.
Belonging because of transaction
This basest level of belonging is one that is akin to possession. My house belongs to me (and the bank). My car belongs to me. The scar on my hand belongs to me. Those things "belong" to me because of some kind of transaction that made it so. There is no relational substance to this kind of belonging. This kind of belonging exists within human interactions as well. When I go to a restaurant I have "my" server and he has "his" table. When I get my haircut "my" barber cuts the hair of "his" customer. This possessive, belonging language denotes a connection, but with no relational depth. This kind of belonging is transactional.
Belonging because of affiliation
This second level of belonging comes from participating in a common interest or common participation. I once took Micah (my oldest son) to a football game in Buffalo when the Cleveland Browns were playing the Bills. We lived in Burlington at the time and didn't know any other Cleveland Browns fans. We showed up in Buffalo and about 1/3 of the stadium - over 20,000 people - were wearing Browns gear. Micah looked up at me with joy and awe. "Dad! I didn't know there were this many Browns' fans in the world!!" In that moment we found a level of belonging even though we didn't know any of their names. This kind of belonging can be found around a shared hobby, an event, a cause, or an experience. We belong because there are others in this with me.
Belonging because of acceptance
I think when most people speak of belonging, this is what they have in mind. This is the Cheers level belonging. It is the belonging that makes me feel welcomed and affirmed. I walk into the room and everyone yells my name. This kind of belonging provides me with a sense of home or even family. (Although some people don't feel this kind of belonging with their actual family.) This kind of belonging makes me feel seen and it makes me feel heard. Ultimately it makes me feel valued. In it's worst kind of embodiment, this kind of belonging is what draws many people towards cults. People who feel invisible are made to feel valuable and brought in to the cult community until slowly their value is only affirmed through what they offer to the community and get from the community. (Churches need to be very careful not to fall into this trap!!!)
Each of those levels of belonging has a place and a value . . . even within (or especially within) church life. Thinking about Covenant, there are those for whom Covenant is "their" church even though they don't attend. They feel some sense of ownership because of some past investment or relationship, but presently there is no shared experience or even an opportunity for acceptance. It is good that people still feel that sense of belonging to Covenant, but it is the lowest level of belonging.
Others feel a sense of belonging to Covenant because they attend and they may even give financially or serve. They share time and effort and energy among others at Covenant so it is "their" church. Again, it is good for people to have this kind of belonging, in which they identify with others. But it is still a fairly low level of belonging.
Acceptance, though. That is beautiful. There are those for whom Covenant is their church because when they showed up, they felt loved - heard and seen. They and their families have been embraced. Covenant has been a safe place for them to be known and to be affirmed as human beings loved by a God who is love. Church must be this kind of place. I believe that church should be this kind of place for everyone. But I would like to suggest that there is a fourth and deeper level of belonging that we would like to invite people - invite you - into.
Belonging because of commitment
This deepest level of belonging doesn't negate those other levels of belonging, but it transcends them. This deepest level of belonging says, "I am in this thing together with you - through thick and thin." We could use the language "for better or worse" to describe this kind of belonging. In fact, a healthy marriage is a good analogy for this kind of belonging. This kind of belonging does not expect everything is "perfect." We're all still learning and growing. This kind of belonging is one in which each person involved is committed to self-sacrifice and love for the other (Eph. 5). That doesn't mean there won't be disagreement - even strong disagreement. It means we are willing to work through it together - always looking out for the others best and working to demonstrate Christlikeness through the process. Again, we don't always do this perfectly. But we will strive to quickly, clearly, and fervently repent and show grace to each other.
Living this out at Covenant invites you to move beyond seeing Covenant as your church because of some transaction, because of affiliation, or even because you've found acceptance. It invites you to enter into a committed relationship, not with an organization, but with the people who make up the Covenant family. With this kind of belonging, all of the other levels of belonging deepen and become more profound. At Covenant, we call this step of making that kind of commitment, "membership" and we would like you to consider becoming a "member".
Many of you have found belonging at Covenant. In a sense, asking for this kind of commitment is asking you to consider not just belonging at Covenant, but to belong with Covenant as a people - as your people. We love having you hang out, but will you truly and officially commit to this local embodiment of God's family? We aren't perfect. We don't promise it will always be easy. But we're in it together. Will you consider joining us?
For more information about membership at Covenant look at the document at the bottom of this page on our website: www.covenantchurch.ca/ministries/learning-environments/pages/membership-at-covenant