Today I’d like to share with you some leadership insights about the spirit of inclusion – an essential ingredient for building a healthy growing community.  Last week as I was driving to work, a group of bikers passed me on the other side of the highway riding the kind of bikes you don’t have to pedal. As I think back on the Race Across America, it would have been a lot easier if our team would have learned how to ride bikes like this group…with motors instead of pedals.  However, in many respects, that group of riders was very much just like our Race Across America team.  They were all riding bikes, they all had helmets, they were all going in the same direction, and they were all wearing the same shirts.  On the outside, the only real seemingly difference between their team and ours was that they rode bikes with motors while we rode bikes with pedals.  And the thing that caused me to begin thinking about this in terms of community was the fact that each of the bikers in the motorcycle group was wearing the same bright red color t-shirt indicating that they were all part of the same group just like the really cool team uniforms that my team wore for the Race Across America.

When our 8 person riding team had completed the 3,005 mile bicycle race across America in 6 days, 14 hours, and 55 minutes, we were given the opportunity for the entire team to parade across the finish line together, including our 6 crew members and our two support vehicles.  Although difficult to adequately describe, it was a tremendous experience when our entire team successfully paraded across the finish line as a road tested, RAAM accomplished, 5th place team in the 8-person team division. It is still hard for me to believe that our team successfully rode day and night nonstop over 100,000 feet of elevation through the mountains of Colorado and West Virginia, through the deserts of Arizona and New Mexico, the plains of Kansas and Missouri, across 14 different states from the West Coast in Oceanside, California to the East Coast in Annapolis, Maryland.  And I can tell you that the only way we were able to accomplish this huge challenge was to do it together as a team.

It is interesting to me that no matter how young or old someone may be in life, whether it’s a t-ball team, a high school volleyball team, an NFL football team, a group of red hat ladies, or even an informal group of motorcycle riders, people have an inherent desire to belong to a healthy community of people who accept them, embrace them, and help them accomplish something bigger than themselves.  But unfortunately not every group welcomes people and instead of cultivating a spirit of inclusion, some groups cultivate a spirit of exclusion which in the end produces an unhealthy, dysfunctional community. As soon as a group begins to think “us four and no more”, it becomes warped because people are created in God’s image and He thinks of community in terms of inclusion, not exclusion.   Genesis 2:18 states, “And the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.’” With that Word, God created Eve as a helpmate to Adam.  Furthermore Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 states that “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, for he has no one to help him up.  Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm; but how can one be warm alone? Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him. And a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”   It is clear from the Bible that there is great value in friendship and even greater benefit in community.

Think about this reality expressed in our culture through America’s beloved television shows of the past: Andy Griffith had his deputy friend Barney Fife; The Skipper had his little buddy Gilligan; Oscar Madison had his opposite roommate Felix Unger; and even The Lone Ranger had his Indian riding partner Tonto.  And even though these awesome television shows are of a time long past, it is still true today: people need one another to successfully do life. We are all created by God to be in healthy relationships with other people and if we want to become more like Him we need to embrace people into our communities with a spirit of inclusion. In Acts 10:34-36 from the Message Bible, Peter states, “It’s God’s own truth, nothing could be plainer: God plays no favorites! It makes no difference who you are or where you’re from — if you want God and are ready to do as He says, the door is open.” So it doesn’t matter who you are, if you want to be part of God’s family, He will welcome and include you in His family.

Have you ever seen a flock of geese with little goslings in their flock?  If so, you may have noticed that there is a lot we can learn from them about real community.  Since we actually do have a little “goose family” on our church property, it’s been fun to watch the little baby goslings follow their “goose parents” all over our property and actually grow up into full-fledged flying geese.  And you know, the way that the little “goose family” has lived together and taken care of their goslings is in many ways similar to the way we take care of people in our spiritual family. 

On the weekends, the Lord will bring lost hurting people into our family so that we can help take good care of them and help them grow up into full-fledged spiritually mature Christ followers. When new people come into church many are born again as babes in Christ needing a lot of care and spiritual development.  As a result, we invite them to go through biblical foundations to learn the Bible and how to feed on the word of God by themselves, just like the momma and poppa geese teach their little goslings how to find food around our ponds.  Then we encourage new people to get connected in a small group with a small group leader to learn how to apply the Bible in real life practical ways in the same way that the mamma and poppa geese teach their goslings how to fly.  And then once new people have been flying in small group long enough to know how to fly on their own, we release them into leading their own small group to help take good care of people and help others grow into full-fledged spiritually mature Christ followers as well.  And this is basically the way we do life together and learn how to fly in our church family.  And because we do not have an “us four and no more” spirit of exclusion in our spiritual family, but rather, have an “us four and many more” spirit of inclusion, the Lord continues to bless our house with growth and favor in our community.

In fact, in John 15:9-17 we can learn straight from the Lord Himself about how to build a healthy community with a spirit of inclusion.   The scripture reads, “As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love.  If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.  “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.  This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.  You are My friends if you do whatever I command you.  No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.  You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you.  These things I command you, that you love one another.”

Therefore, from the Bible, we can learn five specific ways to build community with a spirit of inclusion:

 1.      Love others in the group in the same way that Christ loves you.

John 13:34-35 “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.  By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

 2.      Sacrifice personal comforts to make room for new people in the group

John 15:13, states “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.”” and Romans 5:8 states, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 

3.      Become genuine friends with new people in the group

John 15:15 states that “No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.”

 4.      Intentionally choose to invite new people to the group

John 15:16 “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you.” 

 5.      Intentionally receive new people in the group as Christ has received you.

Romans 15:5-7 “Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God.”

In closing, I’d like to emphasize that we should never underestimate the power of inclusion in the family of God as a child of our heavenly Father.  When we embrace others and help them become all that they were created to be in Christ as a child of the living God, there is no telling who they may become or what impact they may have in the world!

Spirit Of Inclusion Copyright 2010, The Make It Happen Learning Institute.  You have permission to reprint the leadership article, Spirit Of Inclusion, in its entirety only, and forward to your colleagues and friends, provided the copyright notice remains part of the reprint and transmission.  All other rights reserved.