I first heard about it nearly a year ago from a tweet made by my old assistant pastor: the idea of churches or networks as tribes. He said that he was working with some fellow worship leaders on some new music and then followed it up with statement, “I love my tribe.” Then, Mark Driscoll’s A29 pastors started keying in on the phrase. Before I knew it, the term tribe had gone viral within church culture.
But it wasn’t until I saw Justin Holcomb’s book review of Seth Godin’s book Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us that I found out where the phrase originated. Being a big Holcomb fan (who can’t love a guy who’s goal is to help victims of sexual abuse heal?), I really was interested to hear what he had to say about the idea. However, while Holcomb had an excellent summary of the book, he never took on the idea of whether we should accept the term “tribe.” But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t ask the question.
I have to question whether the fruit of using that vocabulary has been helpful for the Church. I assume those use the term do so because of the Revelations 7:9 statement that prophesies that one day every nation, tribe, and tongue will declare that Jesus is Lord and all honor and glory is due to Him. The picture that we see in this verse in Revelations is one of unity. No matter our tribe, we won’t care. We will be praising the living God in awe.
But I don’t think that’s what has happened.
I can only tell you what I see as a member of the body that stands in the middle. And what I can tell you is that the idea of “tribe” is not doing what we think it’s doing. We think it’s drawing us together. It’s not.
“Tribes” have divided us more. They have made us more prideful in our own beliefs. They have led us to be less likely to listen to our brothers and sisters who may do ministry differently or pray using different terminology. And quite often, I find that those who use the term feel like they have to defend themselves from their other brothers and sisters in Christ.
In short, it’s made us waring tribes, not a family who realizes that we have an enemy — and it’s not each other.
I’m all for churches being on mission. I’m all for churches firing up their people to love and serve Jesus, each other, and the world. I’m even for the warning that Godin presents that if we don’t get it together, the heretics are going to mobilize and hurt people. I just think we should follow Jesus — follow Paul — a bit more on this. We should take an Ephesians 4 stance. We should stop trying to find others who are like us within the body and start appreciating our differences more. Stop feeling strongly that our own giftings save the lost the best and start valuing how the giftings can work together to make the whole Church strong.