A Case for Membership
Are you a member of a church? Not just an attender, but a bona-fide, signed-up member?
To join, or not to join?
Or, maybe you’ve never thought about it. Sometimes people don’t even consider church membership; it’s not on their radar.
I’ve been reading research articles that show membership is down for all sorts of organizations: Elks/Masons etc, retired teachers groups, community clubs, senior citizen organizations, and churches.
Membership is down because, as a culture, our commitment level is down. We like to surf the possibilities, then choose what seems a best fit. If we don’t like it (whether it be marriage, a church, friendship, business, community, neighborhood, or club), we have no strings, and we can come and go as we please. It’s a selfish mindset. Any more, we are more me-minded than community-minded.
In Biblical times, people did not move around as we do now. They were born and lived their lifetimes in roughly the same area. They did not surf their options city-wide or nation-wide or world-wide. They primarily did as their family had done for generations. If something didn’t work for them, they made do, and made adjustments in attitudes or actions; but not necessarily in living or worship situations. They were very community-minded, and simply couldn’t be as selfish as we can be today.
We have a different culture now, but not a different God. His Words and Ways do not change.
Membership is to church as marriage is to family. Case in point: the world is re-defining the definition of ‘family’ to include those we love and care for, whoever they may be – there’s no commitment.
But God instituted family to be those who have made a legal commitment to one another through blood or marriage.
Why should a person become a member of a church? As believers, aren’t we all part of the Body of Christ? Don’t we all love and help one another?
Yes, but membership in a church denotes a special promise to the people in that church, and to the leadership.
There is a saying, “Membership has its privileges.” It is a true statement. Members of an organization can expect benefits and responsibilities that are not accessible to non-members. This is true for churches as it is for other organizations.
These are some reasons to become a member of a church:
- Commitment: As in marriage, membership evidences commitment. Yes, a member may walk away from a church just as a non-member might; but a member declares a commitment to a church, a decision to stick with these people and this congregation through thick and thin. The original, home churches in the Book of Acts may not have had a roll call of members. But they did not have the denominations, the transience of our culture today. In Acts, the people of those churches were rooted already in that community, already committed and accountable to those people. Membership in modern times is a testament to commitment and accountability.
- Standing up in public for personal responsibility: Membership, like baptism, is a public display. Like marriage, membership is an expression of commitment to the church, an expressed desire to be counted upon for God’s special work. Membership declares an individual ready to be inspected and held to a higher standard; and a willingness to be brought to a path that closely follows our God and Saviour. A member accepts the responsibility of consequences, should sin become an evident factor in actions and / or words.
- Asserting a willingness to be a part of God’s work in the body of Christ: Members are eligible to become elders, deacons, teachers, and other types of leaders and workers in the church. God calls each of us to such work, and church membership is included in taking our responsibilities seriously. Membership announces an initiative and availability to ministry, to perform the good works in the church to which God calls us. (Ephesians 2.10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.)
Members are prepared to step up.
- A sense of belonging: When we are members, we are no longer “on the fringes,” or outliers. (example of the faith of the Canaanite woman, Matthew 15.21-28: vs 26, 27 But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs. And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.) Members belong to the church, we are workers in the church, together with others of like mind and spirit. We understand that we have made a commitment to each other.
- Recognize, Respect, and Submit to God-Ordained Authority:
- In Acts, God added daily to His numbers of those who believed on His Word. The apostles who were with Jesus had authority: they spoke with authority, and the people, in Acts 2.42, … continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. The people continued under the authority of the apostles.
- Hebrews 13.17 Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you. God gives a great responsibility to pastors, as shepherds of His flock. In attending a church, yes, we are under the authority of that church.
However, when we become members, we announce our respect for, submission to, and protection of that authority.
- In a culture that encourages a me-first world view, we do not easily bow to authority. We have learned that we can safely flout authority when we don’t agree with it. Standing up against The System is applauded in media and social media.
God’s Word teaches that we are to know who our authorities are, and to submit. Whoever is in a position of authority in the church, they are there because God put them there. If there are disagreements, we are to respectfully, and in good order, have an edifying conversation. And if the authority does not agree with our point, we are to respectfully submit.
A note on authority and submission in a church:
When you walk into a church, you put yourself under the authority of the church leadership. This is true for wherever you enter, whether it be a person’s home, a store, a restaurant, or a health club. The church has God-ordained authority in its leadership. Just as you wouldn’t rearrange furniture, or change the menu, or post notices in a window of someone else’s place, you wouldn’t do such things in a church without first obtaining permission.
- Pastoral care:
- In our Statement of Faith we confess that “there is one body of Jesus Christ worldwide, and that…. we as individual believers are a part of that worldwide body.” Also that “there is one Holy Spirit at work in the heart of God’s children who have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” If you attend church, and are a member of the Body of Christ (a believer in the shed blood of Christ for salvation), then we equally share responsibility to care for our neighbor (see the Parable of the Good Samaritan, Luke 10.25-37). But membership in a church carries special benefits involving the other members of the church and the pastor.
- Members of the church are under the direct spiritual care of the pastor. While all those in the body of Christ are caretakers one of another; the pastor has a special responsibility to members that does not apply to non-members (again, reference the example of the faith of the Canaanite woman, Matthew 15.21-28). As a part of the Body of Christ, a pastor may attend to needs of non-members. But he is not specially directed by God to do so, as he is for members: non-members are not part of his “flock.” God gives to each of us people He sends.
[Reference the Parable of the Wicked Husbandmen, Matthew 21.33-46, Mark 12.1-12, Luke 20.9-19:
We are the vineyard. God grows His fruit in us. He sends people to collect that fruit. The husbandmen are to protect and share that fruit. They are to give the fruit to those the Master sends. They are to protect the vineyard from those who jump the fence to steal the fruit.]
When He sends us His people, we are to obey Him and care for those He sends. But when we take care of people God does not send, or those people He does not direct us to, then we are acting outside of His perfect will; and He will not give us the resources to deal with them. A pastor is spread pretty thin with the needs of his congregation. If you are not a member, and you have not committed yourself to this church; then you are taking away time that, perhaps, God intends for that pastor to spend elsewhere.
- Biblical precedents for “Members Only”:
- Through Abraham, God chose the Israelites for His own people. Through them, He provided a Saviour for all the world. Israelites were “Members Only.” They were to be a light and example to the world, just as the Body of Christ is to be.
- Levites were “Members Only,” in that only they were chosen to the priesthood.
- The priests were responsible only for the nation of Israel, not for outsiders/Gentiles.
- The temple was set up so that all could enter into a portion of it, but non-Jews were relegated to the Court of the Gentiles (the lowest or outer enclosure), provided they observed the prescribed rules (this is where Jesus drove out the money-changers). The temple proper was reserved for “Members Only,” those born into the family of Abraham. (The Jews mistakenly accused Paul of bringing a non-Jew here, and threw all Jerusalem into an uproar in Acts 21.27-36.)
- Heaven is for “Members Only.” Matthew 7.21 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. And again Luke 13.27 But he shall say, I tell you, I know you not whence ye are; depart from me, all yeworkers of iniquity.
- God decides who will enter Heaven, and who will not. He is omniscient; we are not. In our earthly churches, we establish rules, based on the Word of God.
Please seriously consider church membership. Do not be a thief, stealing time and other resources that do not rightfully belong to you. Come under the protection and teaching of a good local church. Serve others from a valid, authorized place in the community.