The Problem with Belonging

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In the past few months, I have become more and more persuaded of an old truth about human nature–that there is in the heart of every man a need to belong to something, someone or some place. The desire to belong leads us to join clubs, lodges, associations and even churches. What we belong to becomes a part of our identity. In a sense, we can belong to the company we work for (“I owe my soul to the company store”). The one who made man said that it is not good for man to be alone so he gave him a wife. A man belongs to his wife and she to him. They do not belong to anyone else. Most of us have a place we call home–a place where we belong–and we are restless when we’re away from it.

But there is a problem with belonging. If it is possible to belong to something, then it must also be possible to not belong. A man or a woman who belongs to an organization is somehow distinct from those who do not belong. We may think those who do not belong are inferior, unenlightened, unsaved, uninformed, or otherwise unwashed, but whatever we think, we don’t consider them “one of us.” If they are not for us, then they are on the other side–they are in the out-group while we are in the in-group. What we belong to has to be better than what we do not belong to, else we would belong to something else, right?

I think that “belonging” lies at the root of much of the tension between otherwise Christian people. “I belong to my church and I do not belong to yours.” This is not much of a problem when the church is community based. I belong to my church rather than yours because I live where I do, not because I think there is something wrong with yours. But when the church is national or “universal,” then I must belong to it because I believe it is better than other similar churches. In such a case, there is no reason to cooperate with other churches or ministries because they lack legitimacy.

You probably already know that the word “catholic” comes from the Greek and means “general” or “universal.” A world wide church organization would be deemed universal, whereas a church that is organizationally local would be congregational or community based. A universal church cannot recognize another universal church as legitimate, can it?

In the business world, there is a breed of person called the “Organization Man.” This person (male or female) belongs to the organization. He wears the uniform, follows the organizational code, uses the vocabulary and is loyal to a fault. Other people in the same business are “the competition” and he does not cooperate with his competitors. He may spy on them, beat them to the market, out think and outwork them, but he does not commune with them. As a reward for his loyalty, he is well paid and often gets promoted.

In the religious world, the Organization Man differs little. He may look at other churches as “the competition,” and he surely finds no comfort in communion with those who are loyal to a different organization.

Post Organization Man

I woke this morning to realize that for some time now, I have been encountering a new breed. I will call him (or her) Post Organization Man. This is hard to explain, but let me try. I believe you can have two people, both having the Spirit of God, who seem to be motivated by a different spirit from one another. Anyone who has read the letters to the seven churches of Asia (see Revelation 2:1 ff.) should be able to understand this. These Post Organization Men seem to be moved by a new spirit–that is to say, a spirit that is new to us. These people recognize one another quickly, respect one another easily and, remarkably, are able to work together without strain or tension. They do this even with no organizational ties between them. They may need or want to be a part of a Christian community, but they are not dependent on it. They are dependent on their true Leader alone.

These are post organization people–people who no longer need the physical organization but are reaching for the “organization” of God. Some of these people may be within the larger organization but they have higher loyalties. Often, Post Organization Man is an outsider even within the organization. He is not fully trusted. This is not because he is untrustworthy, but because the organization is not his first loyalty. Such a person can feel alone, even in church.

I have had the privilege of meeting and working with many of these folks over the past year and I have thought about the remarkable ease with which they work together. I think it is because they have stopped competing with one another. You may think that the “organization man” doesn’t compete but you would be wrong. Not only does he see outsiders as the competition, he often sees his own brethren in the same light. The organization man is wary of outsiders, and afraid of the competition inside as well. I add this in case you are still puzzled by the tension that exists inside even successful churches.

There can be no higher loyalty in the flesh than the loyalty of a man to his wife. But there is even a higher loyalty than that. Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “But this I say, brethren, the time is short: it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none… But I would have you without carefulness. He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord: But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife” (I Corinthians 7:29-33).

Post Organization Man is no longer married to an organization. He cares more for the things that belong to the Lord than for the things that please the organization. Since he sees that there is plenty of work for everyone, he has no qualms about working with others who share the same vision of the Work of God.

I take my hat off to the men and women who are no longer competing with others in carrying out the mission of Jesus Christ. I admire those who have gone to work where they are with the tools they have at hand and have not envied the opportunities and resources of others. I respect those who look to the Spirit of God for the real power to work. Here’s to Post Organization Man and Post Organization Woman. God bless them all.


Author
Ronald L. Dart

Ronald L. Dart

People around the world have come to appreciate Ron’s easy style, his non-combative approach to explaining the Bible, and the personal, almost one-on-one method of explaining what’s going on in the world in the light of the Bible. After retiring from teaching and church administration in 1995 he started Christian Educational Ministries and the Born to Win radio program.

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Image Credits: Joel Montes de Oca