The word ‘belong’ speaks of something stronger than mere membership; it has a sound of safety and security about it, maybe even a bond that is meant to be. Most of us would love to find a person or group of people to who we can belong.
Generally, to belong somewhere requires that we do something, and continuing to belong will require work too; commitment to the common cause that binds the group together. So to belong to a sports club requires that you play the sport well enough and continue to do so. To belong to a music group might demand an audition, meaning hours of practice, and continued practice after joining. And in the Church too, there is stuff to be done as part of belonging. I have always heard it called “serving”.
Over my time in church, I have heard many talks about the importance of serving – the stuff we do to contribute to the running of the church and to look out for each other. It’s true that we should give our energy and time to the Church, so that it can flourish and so that we can learn to not have ourselves at the centre of our lives, among other reasons.
Doing is part and parcel of our belonging. So far, this sounds like everywhere else. But where the difference comes is that, in the Church, the doing does not affect the belonging.
Central to Christianity is the idea of grace; receiving a wonderful gift we don’t deserve. Christians belong to God as His children, not because of anything we have done or will do, but because of what Jesus did in going to die on the cross. And this means that with God, doing is not a condition of belonging. Belonging comes first – we serve because we belong, not the other way around.
We belong to God only through Jesus’ death, and because we belong to God we belong to each other – no matter what we say, do or feel. And that means that we belong to any group of Christians, at any time and in any place. The certainty of welcome and belonging is one of the many great joys of being a Christian.
Yet it’s very easy to fall into the trap of thinking that serving is what makes us belong. I’ve struggled to feel like I truly belong to a church, and in that situation it can be tempting to think that if you do some service activity (or go on a rota!) it will help, particularly when there are so many people urging you to get involved in serving. Sometimes it works. But the truth is that serving will never make you belong to a church, because you belong already, even if you don’t feel like it.
Remembering who we are to God and therefore to our fellow believers will help us to serve, not in order to feel like we belong, but because we belong already.