Today I joined a new gym, Planet Fitness. It is a sweet deal; $10 a month. It is located near both the place that I work and the place where I am properly caffeinated, so it made perfect sense to add a workout into a morning routine.
Planet Fitness is a great gym. What I found most interesting was the marketing used within the gym: “No Judgement Zone,” “No Critics,” “You Belong,” etc. It appears to be a monumental task to create a “non-judgement zone” in a place where people could use fitness in order to fit into a certain, cherished mold within our society.
What I find most challenging, however, is how Planet Fitness is seeking to create a space where judgement, criticism, and isolation can be eradicated. Perhaps there is a ferocious hunger for such a place in our culture that a fitness facility would desire to create it.
Indeed, such an environment would be good news in our culture. A place where mutual encouragement, joy, honor, dignity, humility, kindness, etc. shape its entire reason for existence. One could imagine that the church could potentially be a place where these things are realized.
Though there may be a plurality of ideas of what the church is/should be, one dynamic could be common in them all: the church is the people of God who are caught up with the reality that a new world is arriving in the midst of this present one. These people called the church, then, announce the message of this new world arrival (resurrection), imploring all to leave what they know behind in order to enter a new world. (see Eph. 3:10-11) The church serves as a place for people to enter into a space where this new world can be realized fully, even while it is still on the way. Some would say that the church “rehearses” (not only proclaims) the new world to come, going about life as if it is already here.
God’s new world is inhabited by those whom have peace with God and peace with one another. It would be a wonderful day if not only a church’s marketing, but also their ethos, would bear the monikers of “judgement free zone,” “no critics,” and “you belong.” All of these things can be cherished, even while holding on to themes of discipleship, accountability, holiness, and even Paul’s brotherly duty of “judging those within the church.” (1 Cor 5:12-13) The church should be shaped by optimism and hope for the individual, not disdain, anxiety, skepticism, and isolation.
We have a long way to go, however. I was recently in a lecture class with Len Sweet who asked us to go to bing.com and enter the phrase, “why are Christians so” and look at the related search options from that phrase. It was an interesting way to see how our culture perceives the Christian faith. James encourages us to consider how mercy can triumph over judgement (James 2:13); may we take up James’ challenge to do so.