The internet blew up this week when the new owners of The Belong Tour announced they were cancelling upcoming events at venues across the country.
Belong, which is an offshoot of the former Women of Faith Tour, featured bestselling authors Jen Hatmaker and Shauna Niequist, along with writer Deidra Riggs, singer/songwriter Nichole Nordeman, and a handful of others. Occasionally “Momastery” founder and Oprah Magazine contributor Glennon Doyle Melton would pop on stage.
Belong’s website says it features “stories, laughter, music, and inspiration to help you live a vibrant, honest, meaningful life.” A weekend where women can be encouraged and in turn encourage others sounds wonderful. However, many who attended Belong described a much different experience. They say it lacked depth. It lacked substance.
It lacked Jesus.
Women’s ministry blogger Jen Oshman wrote about her experience at the Belong Tour here along with this follow up article. The women who traveled to the event expected the spiritual buffet to offer meat and potatoes.
Apparently, all it served was marshmallow salad.
Hatmaker and Niequist took to their social media pages to apologize to their followers after Belong pulled the rug out from under them. Some speculated the new owners were concerned only with profits rather than the welfare of the women who bought tickets. Many of their supporters cited the evil “Christian machine” as the reason for the shutdown. (Hatmaker has faced backlash from believers since last fall when they say she took too many liberties with the Bible over issues like homosexuality.)
Other members who have shared the stage with Hatmaker have increasingly promoted a Jesus who loves us in our mess (a.k.a., sin) and doesn’t really care whether we wallow in it or turn from it. Their version of Jesus seems to be more of a “Whatever, I love you man” theology rather than a “Take up your cross and follow me” lifestyle.
This decision to cancel Belong events has revealed a silver lining: Christian women do favor spiritual substance over fluff, and they sent that message to the movers and shakers who try and peddle otherwise.
Being in ministry isn’t easy. Ask Hatmaker or Niequist or Beth Moore. Although my “Uncomfortable Grace” ministry doesn’t compare in size, it still brings with it great responsibility. Most of us involved in a writing and speaking ministry admit we don’t do it for the world’s applause; we do it because we love Jesus and He loves people, and we’re allowing Him to use us to accomplish that mission.
This problem of spiritual shallowness and its empty offerings is a burden I’ve carried for some time. The event curtain may be drawn on Belong, but it’s cancellation has the potential to teach us even more.
Here’s what we can learn:
- Jesus is already relevant. Many of those associated with Belong claimed that Jesus needed to be relevant for today’s society. (Translation: Jesus needs a dose of “cool” so he can sit at the lunch table with the popular kids.) I fully support showing people the depth of Christ’s love, but Jesus is not a gimmick. He doesn’t need a marketing plan. The fact that he came to earth, died for our sins, and rose from the dead to give us living Hope is relevance enough. If that Hope isn’t obvious to those around us, then a feel-good weekend isn’t going to fix that.
- Jesus should be worshiped, not the messenger. Speakers, writers, and preachers are God’s mouthpiece to the world. Their wisdom, insight, and transparency should help us move towards loving Jesus and people more. And it’s okay to like an author or speaker! The problem develops when throngs of women show up at these events to see their favorite speaker or singer, yet Jesus is an afterthought. Elevating anyone in this manner is idolatry. Speakers and writers should point you to Jesus, not themselves.
- Living for Jesus is difficult. Being a Christ follower is inherently tough. I’m not sure why some American Christians think it should be a cake walk. Jesus said we would face trouble, but our Hope exists because He overcame the world. He never said we would be liked, praised, or rewarded on this earth. What’s alarming is the Belong crowd seemed to promote a Jesus who overlooked questionable behavior and would never demand anything from us. The opposite it true: following Christ demands great sacrifice.
- Pray for Belong. When there’s disappointment or failure in the body of Christ, the rest of us should hurt alongside them. Jen Hatmaker, by her own admission, has faced a tough year. Her controversial declarations about gay marriage confused many, and some of her followers gently called her out. She failed to budge. Those who used to admire her walked away disillusioned. When one part of the body hurts, we all should hurt. Hatmaker is a ridiculously talented writer (so are her fellow Belong pals). She is an engaging speaker and is focused on creating community. I don’t begrudge her success; I celebrate it. Her large platform includes Jesus, although the sacrifice He demands from us has become steadily watered down. We should all be praying for God to move in her life, and for her to keep that platform. Disappointment, whether from life’s problems or let downs by others we admire, forces us to calibrate and tune in to God’s still, small voice. Let’s come alongside Hatmaker and the rest of the Belong team and pray that God’s will speak clearly to them – and that they’ll be listening.
- Find your own place to “Belong.” Are you one of the women who needs a refund on her Belong ticket? Bummed you won’t see your favorite author? So what. You still belong to your own group of uplifting souls. Perhaps you are the very person a friend, co-worker, or neighbor admires. What word of encouragement can you offer? Who needs a home-cooked meal? Who could use help with her small kids? Or a safe place to stay while her husband cools down? Or an encouraging word to get her through the week? Regardless of whether you’re the one who needs help or offers it, the body of Christ can still thrive without smoke and mirrors.
The Belong Tour is gone for the moment, but authentic Christian community is not. Lean on each other. Pray for each other. Correct each other gently when missteps are taken. And give each other an encouraging place to belong.