Chances are you work with a non-Christian, live with one, or have friends who are not believers. Have you ever wondered what their perception of believers is? There are dozens of thoughts on different views that non-believers have about the church, but here are three perceptions included in almost every list.
1. Being a Christian means following a set of rules. Christianity is a laundry list of things to do.
2. Christians are against more things than they are for.
3. Christians are judgmental.
Why do non-believers have these perceptions? I think it’s because many believers have a bounded set mentality and not a center set mentality. Let me explain. A bounded set mentality is when we create a conceptual boundary, theological border, doctrinal fence, or list separating those who are inside the fence from those who are out. It is an “us” versus “them” mentality where everyone on the inside is accepted, loved, and welcomed, while those outside the fence are kept away until they can change their beliefs and behaviors to fit the entry requirements. In Jesus' day the Pharisees had a bounded set mentality.
A bounded set mentality is like a horse corral. The fence keeps the horses from wandering away, the ranch hands always know where the horses are, and it help keeps them safe because the cowboys can better protect them. Life inside the corral is pretty good. It’s safe, orderly, and the horses are cared for.
The other model is centered set. In centered set, there are no boundaries, fences, or walls. There is no dividing line between “us” and “them,” no rules or guidelines to determine who is “in” and who is “out.” Everyone is loved, welcomed, and accepted, no matter what because Jesus is at the center.
It’s not about who made it through the gate, it’s about making progress toward the center, progress toward Christ. Those who are closest to the center, will be the most involved with each other. Others will be involved, but they are further out so they won’t be as connected, but they are not rejected for being further out because everyone has been there. They certainly are not looked down on. There are no gates, just a compelling centerpiece to draw them in.
Think of a water hole in the African grasslands. In many places in Africa, there will be only one watering hole for miles and miles in any direction during the dry season. This means that animals that live in the area will never stray too far from the water, especially in the dry season. Animals that at any other time of year might stay away from each other, or even prey on one another, will live in relative peace and safety near the water hole. Lions, zebras, deer, and birds will drink from the same water, and while the rains are absent, will not stray too far from the water, for they know that the water is their life. It can get messy at times, but the compelling draw of water keeps the animals close. This should be the mentality of the church. We should strive to be a center set church because Jesus is the center of our worship.
Everyone wins when believers have a center set mentality. I think this was what Paul wanted to communicate to the Ephesians.
“4There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – 5One Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6One God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Ephesians 4:4-6
Paul painted a compelling picture of believers united in Christ. Paul was interested in pointing people to Jesus so they could be refreshed. When believers are united in Christ relationship are built and restored, communities are changed, people are loved, needs are met, and enemies are defeated. The power of God becomes real, lives are changed, and the love of Christ becomes evident and attractive to a skeptical world.
I still believe that when believers rally around the cross everyone wins. As a church we want to raise the spiritual climate of our community and that will only happen when believers in our community strive for unity in Christ. Believers should not play king of the hill with one another. It’s not about my church is better than your church, it’s about helping others up not pushing them down. When Christians help one another up the hills of life it reveals the transformational power of the Gospel. When Christians practice unity in speaking the essentials of the faith, non-believers are drawn toward it. Let’s come together as Christians to show the love of Christ to a skeptical world.