Belonging Leads to Believing

Dear Friends,
A “go-to” book of mine on a bookshelf in my office is entitled, “Growing An Engaged Church: How To Stop ‘Doing Church’ and Start BEING The Church Again” by Albert L. Winseman.
I love this book for many reasons as it helps me understand how to help you, as members of this congregation, to become more engaged, rather than just involved. There’s a big difference between being engaged in a congregation and being involved in a congregation. Mostly that engagement makes one’s contributions feel important, needed, and appreciated. A result of congregational engagement is a feeling of deep joy and satisfaction. If one does not feel that their contributions are making a difference, and that no joy or satisfaction is felt, they are likely involved, and not engaged. A whole other newsletter article could be written about this!
I also love this book for the many direct questions it suggest we ask ourselves in order to determine our level of engagement within the congregation. Some of the questions, in relation to the congregation, include: Why do/don’t people join our church? Why do/don’t they stay? Why do/don’t they serve? What do I get? What do I give? How can we grow? If time and money were no object, what would I do for God? These are questions I would love to hear your responses to sometime. Shoot me an email or call me.
However, while those are great questions, the two most thought-provoking questions the book asks, in my opinion, are, “What do I believe?” and “Do I belong?”
Believing and Belonging. Both impact our daily lives in ways we might not realize but should consider.
In the wake of the UMC’s decision to continue banning LGBT marriages and ordinations, our congregation is only one of hundreds of UMC congregations that are struggling, in a new and unfamiliar way, with these two basic needs – Believing and Belonging.
The UMC, many congregations within it, and many individual members of those congregations (including our own) are trying to figure out what the future of our denomination and congregation will look like. This is unsettling, I know.
I also know, for certain, there are many individuals, couples, and families within our congregation who are now seriously asking themselves, “What do I believe?” and based on their answers to that question, then begin to wonder, “Do I belong?”
If you are among those asking such questions I want to assure you, it’s okay. You are not alone. You are in good company. In the Bible the disciples would often ask such questions. Perhaps the greatest example is Thomas (John 20), who needed to see in order to believe in his resurrected Lord. As Thomas questioned his own belief, it surely led to a question of his belonging. Thankfully, as I pointed out in a recent sermon, the other disciples – and Jesusnever questioned his belonging. They continued to love, accept, and welcome Thomas among them – despite his beliefs – as one who belonged among them.
A preacher I recently heard – Rev. Dr. Mary Hinkle Shore – quoted another pastor of a congregation who stated publicly to his congregation, “It doesn’t matter to me what you believe here. What matters to me is that you belong here.”
Those words resonated within me as Pastor Mary preached them, because I realized I would echo them exactly. For me, it has always been more important that you feel like you belong within in a community of faith. Belonging will lead to believing.
You might be surprised to learn that within the congregation of First United Methodist Church in Lindstrom, many of you believe very differently regarding your interpretation of Scripture. The wide spectrum of theology is covered within this congregation, as is a wide variety of worship and spiritual expression. While sometimes challenging for me, as your pastor, this is part of what I love about you – and I embrace it.
What I want to assure you of, however, is that there is room for all of you as you explore your beliefs in this place. Without exception, you belong here. God loves you. So do I. So do we!
My hope, prayer, and expectation for FUMC in Lindstrom is that you will, with me, embrace the diverse theological spectrum, varying Biblical interpretations, and different spiritual and worship expressions of faith as part of what makes us who we are as a community where all belong.
There can be unity in the midst of diversity – as is evident in all the ways we fellowship, celebrate, support, and have fun together. This is what BEING church is all about – and despite what you may believe – you will always belong!
God’s peace be with you,

Pr. Dale