A few weeks ago, I introduced the idea of set theory and then wrote a couple of posts about some downsides of bounded set churches (here and here). In this post, I want to introduce the idea of a centred set church… specifically a Jesus Centred church, and then we’ll build on this idea in future posts.
In thinking through this whole idea of sets, it is helpful here to have a couple of images.
In the above image, you have a typical bounded set. There is a circle with people inside and people outside. It is abundantly clear who is in and who is out. If the circle represents a church, that boundary could then represent specific beliefs, or behaviours, of various other factors and are necessary to belong. The point is that this is a clear demarcation of who is in and who is out.
Say you just remove the boundary as in the image below. That simply makes everything confusing. It is people, but this image says nothing about them other than they seem to be in relative proximity to one another.
But what if we add a centre? And as you’d probably guess, that centre is Jesus.
The obvious response may be to look at that image and think, “oh, certain people are close to Jesus, and some are far away”. But this raises a whole other set of questions:
“How close to Jesus do you need to be to be a Christian?”
“How are the person ‘closest’ to Jesus and ‘furthest away’ related?”
In the final image, we add one more aspect to this. In a Jesus-Centred community, our connection or belonging is determined not by our present standing but by our orientation.
Are we oriented towards Jesus or away from him?
In the previous image, we may look at a person close to Jesus and assume they are “better off” spiritually than someone much further away.
But what do you say when the individual far away is oriented and heading towards Jesus, and the person closer is not? Who is in a more desirable situation?
A few things I believe are important about a Jesus Centred model.
A Jesus Centred model places the focus on Jesus rather than Church attendance.
Skye Jethani, in his recent book, What if Jesus Was Serious About the Church? notes that our language has shifted so that we refer to people as “churched” or “unchurched”, which clearly shows what we consider important. Unfortunately, just as you can be “schooled” and not learn, you can be “churched” and have no connection with Jesus.
A Jesus Centred model Deemphasises “the Other”
Bounded sets make it clear who is in and who is out. And to be out means you are not one of us. We live at a time when polarization is increasing…and it is ugly and deadly. Centred sets create fewer assumptions about people. Rather than judging based on where someone is currently, we extend grace as we recognise we can’t know a person’s heart.
A Jesus Centred model emphasises that faith is a journey rather than a destination.
The goal has never been to “get in”, whether that is through saying a prayer or ascribing to a set of beliefs. A Jesus Centred model makes it clear that what is important is following after Jesus…from wherever you currently are. This is a life-long pursuit rather than a test we pass.
As I mentioned above, we’ll revisit this topic more. This is an attempt to put the idea of “Jesus-Centred” in the simplest terms.
Are there other advantages you see to being Jesus Centred? What questions does this raise for you?