Defining our Church Membership
In our Men’s Book Study, we have been learning together from a book called “The Compelling Community”, by Jamie Dunlop. In the book Dunlop says that, “Healthy Churches need providers, not consumers. Consumerism is dangerous! Healthy Churches need people who say. “You can count on me” instead of sitting back and asking, “What have you done for me lately?””
I heard an illustration of a baseball stadium, that would help explain his meaning. Imagine everyone decided to watch the baseball game, including the players, referees and coaches. Imagine everyone that day decided that they were going to be the spectators. What would happen? Of course there would be no game to watch. Everyone, including the players and the referees, would be watching the grass grow, because nothing else would be happening. Unfortunately this spectator mindset has crept into the churches. So many church going people think it is okay to come to church, sit back and watch the performance without getting involved.
Consumer Christianity is just what it sounds like – we treat Christ and His bride like commodities that exist to serve our wants. We treat believers and the church as things that need to impress us. If they don’t, we’ll harbor bitterness in our hearts or, more often, simply leave and find a group that gives us what we want.
A consumer wants to know what they get; a servant wants to serve others for the glory of God. The scriptures tell us in Galatians 5:13; “For you were called to freedom, brothers [& sisters]. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”
We are commanded to serve, not be served. Even in this command, our sinful hearts make us want to say “Why should I bother serving if they aren’t?” Yet whether others walk in obedience to Christ has no bearing on our call and desire to love our brothers and sisters.
In an individualistic and consumeristic culture, the very notion that church members bear significant responsibilities comes as a surprise to some Christians. But responsibility and church membership go hand-in-hand—you simply can’t have one without the other. To neglect—or to refuse—to join a church as a formal member, however, reflects a misunderstanding of the believer’s responsibility to the body of Christ. And it also cuts one off from the many blessings and opportunities that flow from this commitment.
The church should be made up of regenerate, Spirit-filled people. They have a new identity. No longer spiritually dead, they’ve been made alive in Christ. They are a new creation, forgiven of their sins, and adopted as God’s sons. Each church member bears a responsibility to become who they already are in Christ by walking in a manner worthy of the gospel (Eph. 4:1).
How do we define the responsibilities of church members – in light of the church’s identity and the responsibility to be providers and not just consumers? In the last article we looked at the Bible’s teaching on the responsibilities of members to “Protect the Gospel”. This article is going to look at the Bible’s teaching on the responsibility of members to:
Define Your Church’s Membership
The Lord Jesus, told us in Matthew that there will be goats among the sheep. When he returns he will finally separate them one from another. But while we wait his return, we have the responsibility of doing everything we can to keep His church holy, in other words, keeping the church as close as we can to a body made up of regenerate, Spirit-filled people.
This is a responsibility of all church members, not just the elders. Church members are responsible to receive and dismiss members. Someone once said it is like guarding the front door (receiving) and the back door (dismissing) of the church. The back door is ‘Church Discipline’. Jesus instructed the church to regard an unrepentant brother or sister as a Gentile and tax collector if they refuse to repent of their sins and submit to the church’s authority (Matt. 18:15–20). In 1 Corinthians 5:1–13, the apostle Paul rebuked the Corinthian congregation for tolerating evil in their midst. When they “assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus” as a church, they were to hand the immoral man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh (1 Cor. 5:4–5).
In the two years I have been pastoring NLC, by God’s providence, we have not had to exercise this church discipline and open the back door to dismiss a member (put them out of the church). It is a painful authority to exercise but very needful and it “bears the peaceable fruit of righteousness”. It is always about restoration, never about revenge!
In cases of discipline, the church effectively testifies that they no longer recognize the one disciplined as a citizen of Christ’s kingdom and member of his body (Matt. 18:15–20). Pastors do not wield this kind of authority alone. The whole church must make these kinds of decisions out of obedience to Christ, for the purity of the church, and to preserve their gospel witness in a fallen world.
The analogy of the front door is much more joyful, but receiving new people into membership also needs to be done in a careful manner. Together, as church members we are responsible to define our membership. By receiving new members through baptism or transfer from another church, a local church tells the watching world, “this person is a citizen of God’s kingdom” (cf. Matt 16:18–19; 18:17–20; 28:18–20).
To help with this process, at NLC we have ‘New Members Classes’. After these classes are completed the leaders have an interview with the new candidates, and we assess whether those applying for membership are regenerate, Spirit-filled people or whether they still need to be born again. If they are able to show us that they understand the gospel and have repented of their sins and turned to faith in Christ, then we recommend their names to the church for Membership. Of course there is a trust factor involved here. Not everyone in the church has time to interview new candidiates, so members trust this work to the leaders of the church. But, the ultimate decision and responsibility however lies with the members of the church. We then as a church have to corporately vote on their membership and welcome them into the membership of NLC.
Church members must make these kinds of decisions out of obedience to Christ, for the purity of the church, and to preserve our gospel witness in a fallen world. No athlete joins a team hoping to sit on the sidelines every practice and game. Church membership is far more important than participating in team sports. Are you a church member? Don’t settle for the bench. Participate by helping us as a church "guard the doors". Jesus calls all of us to get up and get to work.