Let me say right from the start that I”m writing to myself as much any who read this blog!I’ve recently re-visited a concept that I learned about while traveling in Europe quite a few years ago.In many a local church the “Three B’s” still rule. It doesn’t even matter what sort (or form, stream) of Christian assembly, be it a more traditional, house church, emergent/emerging, mega church or other sort of gathering. This is something not so much taught as it has been expected: First, Behave, then Believe, then we’ll let you feel like you really Belong.For a lot of younger gatherings of Christians in an increasing number of local congregations these expectations have been literally turned upside down, and I happen to see the love and wisdom of God among His people when such is being done. Rather than behave, believe, belong, it is more and more:1) Belong2) Believe3) Behave.The Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC) is the denomination Jesus People U.S.A. belongs to. Seven of our leadership team took part of the ECC’s teaching for ministers which included commentary on a “believer’s church” as opposed to merely a (often common in European and Scandinavian countries) “state church” where all citizens of a given country are automatically part of the national church.Without breaking all this down for the reader (and there are a number of slight variations on the basic structure from country to country, etc.) let’s just say that this may bring to mind a “seeker’s church” vs. a “saved/Christ-follower’s church”.My position is that the only true member of Christ’s Church, universal or local, are those who believe and follow Jesus. At the same time I also believe a spiritually healthy church opens itself and must welcome those who do not yet follow Christ though they may attend gatherings regularly.If a local church isn’t reaching those who are not yet born of the Spirit, it’s basically a social club, not a missional church.There are those rare occasions that a gathering might best only serve true followers of Jesus but this seems to me quite rare indeed, mostly with regard to sensitive discussion of deep moral failure or the like, where some or most of the believers gather out of love, offer supportive prayer. In such a meeting, careful, brief discussion which encourages healing and restoration of the individual, couple or family is key. A meeting of this sort is in some cases best done “in-house” and out of sensitivity to the people in question it may be more appropriate for those not following Jesus to be excluded. We really must consider how ethical it is for this or that group of people to know certain details about others’ lives.I happen to be an ordained minister in the ECC and serve on the pastoral team at JPUSA, which is both an intentional Christian community as well as local congregation of the ECC. No matter your link with Christians, no matter what sort of gatherings you have in or outside of a denomination, etc., no sane Christian wants complete chaos and mayhem during a prayer, worship, work or social gathering of the local flock. All of us would agree there is some measure of civility needed.Still I ask how is it that we think we can demand exemplary Christian behavior out of those who don’t know if God even exists? It seems to me that in trying to force people to “behave” we sometimes push them farther from believing- due on occasion, to what may be pharisaical rules and regulations.Expecting Christian behavior prior to solid Bible-centered belief and surrender to Jesus… and not engendering patient, graceful interaction in relationship whereby and through which some may well see Jesus in us to such an extent they DO come to saving faith in the Lord… this seems to me rather obvious. If saving faith and fully compliant, quiet, submissive behavior is -demanded- prior to offering a person at least some sense of belonging to a group, that group will likely turn more away than it will end up serving.We don’t think being “soft of sin” is the answer. Grace isn’t at all cheap, far from it! Yet when we consider how far from God much if not most of the world is, when we recognize the lack of love many of we Christians at times manifest toward “outsiders”, are we not shooting ourselves in the feet? Ours are the very feet that ought to be carrying the Good News TO those still “without hope and without God in the world”.If we demand biblical behavior and even faith before individuals feel any sense of welcome from us, how do we expect biblical, fruitful missions to happen locally? Indeed, I am fully convinced we are often quite selfish, impatient and just plain grouchy rather than convicted and willing to repent of our -own- sins as Christians when it comes to welcoming those yet outside the spiritual church. As we mature enough to open our hearts and arms, if we will be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger… if we will pray and think a bit more like our Lord, there will be a welcoming of those yet without Him.Is this not exactly how He interacted with His disciples?They all fled at his arrest and eventual crucifixion. Yet there was only one place they belonged: with Him. That’s where they eventually returned.He clearly showed grace and extreme patience with them both in terms of their behavior and their rather regular lack of faith in either Himself, the Father or the Word of God. Sounds a lot like most of us.May we learn from Jesus who loved them so much that He continued to make room for them.Eventually, most of them were martyred out of love for Him and for those He sent them to reach with the Good News. If that isn’t a lesson to us about belonging, believing and behaving, I can’t think of any better.In my own life, it’s clear He brought a sense of belonging to Him a before I had anything close to a mature faith and certainly before I learned to behave!The point is that it is rather foolish to expect maturity from the immature. At the same time we who have walked with Jesus for some years MUST exhibit the very maturity we’re expecting of the younger, newer people in our midst.God help us to love as He loves us: regardless.It seems to more and more of us that if we will truly offer a sense of belonging, belief in Jesus will often follow and mature. Godly behavior springs from a genuine faith among those who know they belong.