Each year, for the past 30+ years, I have sat down with a group of high school students to do what I can to help them rethink their understanding of that which we know and name as God. In the back of my mind is always the title of J.B. Phillips’ book, written more than a half century ago, Your God Is Too Small. My hope and my goal always has been to help whoever is sitting around the table with me to discover a God who is large enough to capture our imagination and attention. But, after our conversation last night and then this afternoon preparing for a discussion of Phyllis Tickle’s book The Great Emergence I am beginning to think I have been going at the conversation backwards. If Tickle and others are correct that the paradigm has shifted from believing, behaving and belonging to belonging, behaving and believing then I have. The conversations I lead tend to be focused on how we think about and imagine and talk about God and how we understand Jesus and how we read the Bible in an attempt to give young adults space to ask questions and to explore new ideas, and as a counter-balance to the narrow understanding of God and church and faith that circulates in our culture.
But maybe that approach focuses too much on how it used to be and not enough on the community of faith which is emerging. Maybe we should be focusing more on belonging and behaving than on how we think and talk about what we believe. In many ways the model of belonging and behaving is the one that provides the foundation for our service learning trips which, over the years, has had a significant impact on the lives of many young adults. A church where I worked years ago, which has an outstanding youth ministry program, does an excellent job on the belonging piece. While what I learned while I was on the staff there continues to inform the work I do with young adults, I need to reclaim more of what that program does so well. And, especially as the fabric of our culture feels like it is unravelling for so many and the divide between different groups of people seem sharper and more pronounced than ever, I need to think about how we structure honest conversations about how Christians are to behave in the midst of that complexity.
Something to think about.