Centered-Set, not Bounded-Set
Imagine a piece of paper with a circle drawn on it. The thing about circles is that you’re either inside of them or you’re outside of them. So we (Kyle & Vince, the pastors here) grew up in Chicagoland. If you’re from another part of the world, sorry. You’re outside of our circle. We don’t mean to exclude you, but you just are. We are Cubs fans. If you support a different baseball team, sorry! You’re outside of our circle. Let’s call the circle a “bounded set.”
Now imagine a second piece of paper with a big dot right in the middle of it. This shows a different kind of set. The dot in the middle represents what holds the set together, and, let’s say, on this piece of paper there are a million other smaller dots which represent everyone on earth. For each of those dots (us) it’s not about whether we’re inside of something or outside of something. It’s all about relationship — about our orientation to the center — about movement toward the center. We’ll call this a “centered set.”
We wonder if this helps us think about how churches might serve (or not serve) people. For our purposes, let’s say we want to be a centered set with God or Jesus at the center of our set. If so, then this would suggest we put our focus less on whether someone is inside or outside of “faith in Jesus”, and more on someone’s own unique relationship to the center (Jesus).
Under this theory, questions of faith like “what are the right opinions or beliefs to hold?” feel less important, and instead our questions are about how practically we actually live out faith, moment to moment. Like “what does it look like to point myself toward Jesus right now, in my current circumstance?”
Approaching faith in Jesus this way, in our experience, opens us up to the prospect of connection with just about anyone.
In a bounded-set, you’re either in or out. In a centered-set, it’s all about relationship.
It’s worth noting: a lot of churches seem to operate from a bounded-set mentality, and understandably so. They understand they’ve got a circle with some good stuff inside. And they’re genuinely loving people so they want people outside of their circle to jump into the pond, swim around, and see that the water’s great.
For example, let’s say you’ve got a bounded set we’ll call “Michigan Evangelical Christian” that has treated you very well. And let’s say you meet someone who’s a Bengali Muslim. Perhaps you say, “Jump into our bounded set! You’ll get Jesus! And you’ll love it!” But then you realize: wait, there’s a lot more than just Jesus in this bounded set. This jump would involve my Bengali Muslim friend changing a lot: how they dress, how they relate to the opposite sex, their politics, their diet, and so on.
The challenge of course is we all already have bounded sets; we all already have cultures and backgrounds that have shaped us. Usually, religious people operating from a bounded-set mentality don’t realize this. They don’t take into account how much additional culture beyond just Jesus their bounded sets entail. And it can come as a shock to them that their good intentions might be received by some as insensitive or harmful.
That seems to set up a lot of the religious division and animosity we find in our world, doesn’t it? We don’t want to dismiss bounded sets as not being important or sometimes perfectly fine things. Again, we have our own bounded sets for sure. (Go Cubs Go!) But, at this church, we wonder: what if Jesus fits better into the Centered-Set model? Can that offer us all a good gift?