Extending the Net
Lately we've had several people ask questions to the effect of, "Who is welcome at DisciplesNet?" These questions have referred to various and specific designations of people they've asked if are excluded or included here. In some cases they may be wondering if they are welcome, and in other cases they may be wondering if someone with whom they don't see eye-to-eye is welcome.
This blog entry is an attempt, imperfect as it is, to answer that question.
As of June 12, 2011, our DisciplesNet Facebook page and worship video "attendance" stats show our congregation to be far more inclusive than most physical congregations. We are made up of people from 6 continents and 63 countries. (So far, no one from Antarctica, although we are hoping!)
On Facebook alone people follow us from 15 countries, including people from 5 countries each in Africa and Asia. We find it mind-boggling and exciting to have opportunity to be part of a congregation made of such great diversity. Along that line, we are learning every day, and you will find our language and hospitality to reflect that, with global consideration and diplomacy. Local language and jargon can be pretty exclusive.
So, we work not to use terms that exclude members who aren't white mid-upper-class Americans. Although each of us may know what we mean by a label we've used, how does that label translate to people outside our local circles? For instance, how does a label used in a white mid-upper-class American congregation translate to our members in Uganda, Kenya, Burundi, India, Sri Lanka, Paraguay, or Egypt?
Some of our members are brand-new Christians in countries where people don't know much about Christianity, or where their choice to follow Christ puts their lives in great danger. So our members come from vastly different places in geography, theology, and ideology. We have so much to learn from each other! Yet too often human-made labels, not physical structures, become the walls and barriers between people. Our ministry calls us to find ways to cross all manner of barriers to connect people at the cross through the love of Christ.
So we prefer when we can to steer clear of human-designed terms and tests for each other that, while perhaps well-intended, make it all too tempting and easy to judge one another based upon which box they check. This is particularly true of labels that tempt us to see rich, God-given complexities of humans and ideas in only narrow, linear categories of "either/or, "in/out" "us/them" or "worthy/unworthy" of our fellowship, love, or acceptance.
Here at DisciplesNet we use our Core-4 values as images that help us to steer. We see:
(1) ourselves individually as each a disciple of Christ (each day learning and growing by mindful study, service, and prayer).
(2) every person as a beloved child of God (not seen through the lens of any human-designed label),
(3) our job together as to be "the net," a living network serving as God's arms, feet, mind, and heart around the world (network = the body of Christ), and,
(4) our place together before God is at God's table. Our table promise is that we promise to keep coming back to the table each time we are called. Instead of serving as self-appointed gate-keepers, we take our places before the Host in humility, rubbing shoulders with all others there that the Host has called and have answered that call to come. At the table we are given the incomprehensible gift of seeing each other through the eyes of Christ, our Host, instead of our own, and of hearing their unique stories. Each time we go away from the table then, we go having grown some more from the vision we have seen of God's promise to the world.
In summary, at DisciplesNet we don't see it as important what you call yourself or us, or what we would call ourselves or you,
as it is what God calls each of us: that is, child. Dearly beloved child. This is the "whosoever" in the John 3:16, "For God so loved the world……that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life." To us, all means all. We don't see that God has asked us to add in any asterisk (*).
Deb Phelps, Founding pastor, DisciplesNet Church
Pastor Deb Phelps
Deb Phelps is Senior Minister of DisciplesNet Church, and an ordained minister with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).