Posts Tagged 'Church Membership'

What’s the Big Deal About Church Membership


Why would you join a church? That’s a question for Christians, by the way. If you aren’t a true believer, don’t waste your time trying to answer it. It’s not that we don’t like you, but the Church is the Body of Christ and only Christians are members of it. Mark Dever, pastor of the Capitol Hill Baptist Church once remarked:

If you call yourself a Christian but you are not a member of the church you regularly attend, I worry that you might be going to hell.

Naturally he said that with his tongue in his cheek. Pastor Dever was pointing out the importance being a part of a local church; a church where you may fellowship, learn, grow as a believer, and serve the rest of the Body of Christ with the spiritual gifts God has given you.

In spite of Biblical admonitions like this one, a great many Christians do not, in fact, join a local church and many do not even attend one.

Let us not neglect our church meetings, as some people do, but encourage and warn each other, especially now that the day of his coming back again is drawing near. (Hebrews 10:25 | TLB)

In America, a nation full of churches, on any given Sunday only 20% of its population can be found in church. There is a 40% figure floating around, but recent studies have shown what statisticians refer to as “the halo effect” skews the numbers. In other words, those asked lied when they answered, wanting to appear as church going Christians when in fact they were not. What this tells us is interesting: Christians know they should be in church on Sunday, but they are choosing not to be there.

But while traditional church attendance and membership seem to be going down in America, that isn’t the whole story. Christians may not be in church, but “religious behavior” is rapidly growing within the community of faith. For example, as George Barna found out, Bible reading increased dramatically from 40% to 47% from 2000 to 2006, and the number of Christians reading the Bible continues to grow.

Something else that is interesting is that non-Christians are seeking spiritual realities like never before!  They are looking for God, they just aren’t looking for Him in a church. And Christians are in the same boat: Many are fellowshipping outside of the traditional church in places like people’s homes, or school gymnasiums, or other locations where small groups of believers gather to worship together and learn from the Scriptures, all without being tied to any denomination or no clearly defined leadership structure.

How can this be? How did this happen? It’s easy to blame the church itself, saying the church is full of hypocrites or it’s boring or the pastor’s sermons are irrelevant, or whatever. But there is a problem with Christians and with our culture in general. We just don’t do things together anymore. If you’re like me, and I’m 52, you’ve likely never gone to a weekly bridge game at a neighbor’s house. You probably don’t know what a block party is or what the Welcome Wagon is. We watch TV shows, like The Dick Van Dyke Show, in which Rob and Laura have a close circle of friends who play cards together, take vacations together, eat out together, and raise their kids together. But that was half a century ago; we don’t do a lot of that together anymore. And Christians have come to reflect their culture in this. Here in the West, we’ve rightly come to view Christianity as a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” but we go a little too far with that. Having a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ” does NOT exclude having a relationship with other believers within the context of a local church. Many Christians don’t understand the number of relationships God has ordained for them through Jesus Christ. We are in a relationship with Him, we should be in a relationship with our pastor, with other members of our local church, with other members in a discipleship-type of thing, we should be in a prayer relationship with our fellow members, as well as an encouragement-kind of relationship our fellows. It’s not up to us to pick-and-choose which relationship to engage in. God wants us in all those relationships and the local church needs you in each relationship.

What it membership means

Maybe it’s because church leaders have done a lousy job of explaining what church membership is, but the fact is, church membership is badly defined and misunderstood. Most Christians understand that they should be members of a church, even if they aren’t, but they really can’t tell you why. Even the Bible doesn’t explain it in a way modern Christians can understand. Beyond that single verse in Hebrews, can you think of a verse that tells you go and join a church? You can’t because there isn’t one.

But in the New Testament, people who belonged to a local church were recognized by the society around them as being Christians, and part of some sort of community within-a-community.

In our time, being a member of this group or that is seen as being part of a club, or a group. So if you are a member, you get certain privileges. But that’s not at all how the Bible talks about church membership. This how Paul viewed being part of a local church:

Our bodies have many parts, but the many parts make up only one body when they are all put together. So it is with the “body” of Christ. Each of us is a part of the one body of Christ. Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But the Holy Spirit has fitted us all together into one body. We have been baptized into Christ’s body by the one Spirit, and have all been given that same Holy Spirit. Yes, the body has many parts, not just one part. If the foot says, “I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,” that does not make it any less a part of the body. And what would you think if you heard an ear say, “I am not part of the body because I am only an ear and not an eye”? Would that make it any less a part of the body? Suppose the whole body were an eye-then how would you hear? Or if your whole body were just one big ear, how could you smell anything? But that isn’t the way God has made us. He has made many parts for our bodies and has put each part just where he wants it. What a strange thing a body would be if it had only one part! So he has made many parts, but still there is only one body. (1 Corinthians 12:12 – 20 | TLB)

Some Christians torture 1 Corinthians 12 claiming Paul is referring to the “spiritual body of Christ,” not to any particular, local congregation. But the context in which he wrote these verses clearly refers to local churches (especially the one in Corinth) and how we behave within the local church.  Nowhere does Paul suggest the church is like a body, he says the church IS the Body of Christ. He says that Christians are “members of the body.” He used the word “member” in the medical sense, just like your finger is a “member” of your own body. If you’ve ever lost a finger – sawed it off, for example – we would say you have been “dismembered.” And being dismembered is a terrible and tragic thing. Nobody thinks losing a finger is an unimportant thing. Yet in our culture, Christians who don’t belong to a local church are not seen as dismembered, tragic figures, although they should be.

Church membership, as seen in the Bible, entails three things:

It reflects what the Church is

Membership in a local congregation is a reflection of what the invisible Body of Christ is all about.  Remember that Paul says we are a body. Joining a local church demonstrates a spiritual reality.

The eye can never say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.” (1 Corinthians 12:21 | TLB)

Being a member of the church shows how connected Christians are, not only to Jesus Christ, but also to each other.

The “Lone Ranger Christian” is a myth. And he is an offense to God. Imagine the hubris it takes to think that you, a Christian, can make it without a church to support you? To reject the indispensable nature of church membership is to reject what God has already established as a fact. Christians absolutely need each other, for all kinds of reasons.
A person who claims to be a Christian; who runs around all over town proclaiming his faith, but who is not an active part of a local congregation is a tragic figure who should be viewed with a measure of suspicion. After all, if he can’t be obedient to the Lord in something as simple as being committed to a local church, how real can his commitment to God be?

The Bible teaches Christians are part of a Covenant Community

If you read Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church, you’d know that a member of that local church was giving the church some problems. Paul’s solution was a simple one: Kick the guy out.

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife. And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this? [H]and this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord. (1 Corinthians 5:1, 2, 5 | NIV)

That’s a covenant relationship, and is only possible between members of a church. Scripture clearly teaches that we become part of the Body of Christ, but also that we may become estranged from it because of our sinful and rebellious behavior. Things like this – church discipline – are part of a covenant that exists between members. It’s how we grow personally and corporately. There’s an accountability factor in church membership that’s essential; so essential it’s one of the reasons for the church’s existence in the first place. We build each other up in our faith; we encourage each other when times are tough; we accept discipline when it’s needed; we gain strength from each other; and together we exemplify the kind of relationship Christ has with us through the covenant relationship we have with each other.

Christians need church membership

Finally, Christians need to belong to the visible Christian community of faith. Not one believer can make it alone. We literally need each other to survive and thrive in our faith. You need to know that I have your back and vice versa. The community of faith needs YOU and YOU need the community of faith as surely as you need the air around you to breath.

When we become born again, we are placed into the Body of Christ. Colossians puts it this way:

For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:13, 14 | NIV)

This Jesus did for us. Now it’s up to us to show an unbelieving world what happened to us spiritually. By joining a local church, we’re doing just that.

The Pastor and His Congregation, 2


What the Pastor Expects From His Congregation

In this series on stewardship, we’ve covered what God expects from all members of His Church. He wants them to be good stewards of the gifts – Spiritual gifts – He has given them. All members of the Church, from the top on down, have a responsibility to be faithful in this regard. We also covered what the congregation may expect from their pastor. The pastor has a responsibility to not only be a good steward of the gifts God has given him, but he must also be faithful to the souls God has put in his charge. Now it’s time to consider what the pastor expects from his congregation. Of course he expects each member to use their Spiritual gifts, but beyond that, he has certain expectations. These expectations are just as valid as those held by the congregation.

A job, yet not

Your pastor is in a different, sometimes difficult, situation. He has been called to your church by the Lord. It may seem otherwise. It may seem as though you and your congregation or your pastor search committee called him, but in reality, if your pastor is a man of God intent on being obedient to God, then he is your pastor because God placed him in your church. He is not your employee. Some churches treat their pastor like that, but he is not. In fact, his position is much higher than that of any employee.

Your pastor is God’s man. He stands between the living and the dead. He brings God’s message to you; in a sense he is a modern-day prophet. He brings your needs to God; in that sense he functions as a priest. And yet, he is neither a prophet nor a priest in the Old Testament sense of those offices. Every Christian may have complete, free and unfettered access to the very throne room of Heaven. Every child of God may enjoy the continual presence of God. However, it behooves every church member to recognize that God in His wisdom has placed certain officers in the church for their benefit. Elders and deacons serve both God and the church. The pastor is also in your church to serve God and you.

Dear brothers, honor the officers of your church who work hard among you and warn you against all that is wrong. (1 Thessalonians 5:12 TLB)

Mind you, your pastor has to keep this verse in his mind:

Don’t be tyrants, but lead them by your good example… (1 Peter 5:4 TLB)

God has placed the pastor over the congregation, but in the sense of a shepherd who is to care for his sheep. He is not the boss of the congregation and he shouldn’t treat those in his care like a tyrant. The relationship between pastor and congregation is a special, delicate one that can easily become unbalanced in either direction – pastors turn into dictators or congregations come to disrespect their pastor. A wrong spirit on either side of the equation will grieve the Holy Spirit and halt any work of God in that church.

To state the obvious, it takes a lot of grace for the pastor-member relationship to remain a healthy one.

A marriage analogy

In a sense, the relationship between the pastor and his congregation is like a marriage. When either a pastor or the people become dissatisfied with the other and attempt to take things into their own hands, you may be sure disaster will result. In the marriage ceremony, we say:

What God has joined together, let no man put asunder.

It is useless to tinker with or interfere with God’s plan, either in the marriage relationship or the pastor-member relationship. A third party often causes problems between husband and wife. And when any member or anybody else comes between the pastor and his congregation, problems will inevitably ensue.

The pastor expects you to be loyal

When the Lord leads your pastor to you; when after being interviewed and voted on and prayed over, all involved settle the issue and you as a congregation are duty-bound to support and stand behind your pastor in every way possible. Loyalty is not to be confused with lip service. While a congregation has every right to except certain things from him, no member of the church should criticize or persecute or demean and disrespect the pastor. If you have a problem with your pastor, talk to him about it, not to your neighbor. Talk to him, then shut up. Pray about the situation, if it remains unresolved. Never, ever belittle your pastor in front of your children or grand children or others. Those are future church members! Pastors come and go; over the life of your church, you’ll have good pastors, bad pastors, and mediocre pastors but – Lord willing – your church will remain and it looks bad when a church mistreats its pastor. Don’t taint the reputation of your church by treating a pastor badly out in the community. It may well be that particular pastor needs to go, but it needs to happen in an environment of love and mutual respect.

Your pastor is loyal to you. Many pastors are approached by other churches looking for a pastor “just like him.” Over your pastor’s tenure with you, he may have turned down and walked away from many other pastoral opportunities (some maybe very attractive!) to stay with you.

Your pastor expects you to pray for him (and his family)

This hardly needs to be expanded upon. Nothing happens unless somebody, somewhere is praying about it. What would happen if every member of a congregation felt as much responsibility to pray for the pastor and his work as they expect him to pray for them? Pray every day for your pastor. He needs it. His family needs it. There are stresses and pressures in the ministry unknown in any other profession.

The pastor expects you to encourage, not discourage him

Encouragement is not the same thing as flattery. Your pastor has more than enough to discourage him in the ministry; a word of encouragement is always welcome. Most members are very quick to “constructively criticize” him or tell him how to do his job, but what your pastor needs are your prayers and your encouragement. Don’t wait until your pastor has resigned to tell him what a blessing his ministry has been. Many a pastor has left a church never knowing how effective his ministry has been. Contrary to what some think, your pastor is human just like you are. You like to be appreciated, and so does he.

Your pastor expects you attend services

This may well be the most important expectation any pastor has of his people. No preacher is at his best preaching to empty pews. Nothing discourages a pastor more and nothing makes him feel like a failure more than when his people can’t be bothered to show up on a Sunday morning. There is an urgent spiritual reason for being dedicated to your church, but here’s a practical one! You can turn a poor preacher into a good one by just showing up and supporting him with your prayerful presence. And not just on a Sunday. Mid-week Bible studies and prayer meetings and church-wide dinners are all opportunities you have to not only have fellowship with one another and with the Lord, but it’s also an opportunity to encourage you pastor and his family.

Let us not neglect our church meetings, as some people do, but encourage and warn each other, especially now that the day of his coming back again is drawing near. (Hebrews 10:25 TLB)

Your pastor expects you to be a worker, not a shirker

Closely linked to church attendance is this expectation. The work of the Lord needs more workers. A church doesn’t build itself. Children don’t teach themselves. The pastor and his wife shouldn’t be the only workers or soul winners in your church. Use your spiritual gifts without being coerced. Use your talents in church, if you have them. See something your church lacks? Don’t whine and complain, do something about it! If there’s a ministry lacking,  just do it yourself, if you can. But check with your pastor first.

There’s no such thing as retirement in the kingdom of God. There’s always something you can do in your church, regardless of your age.

Your pastor expects decent financial support

If every member gave as he is able to do – as the Lord has blessed them – this would be a simple need to fill. Many church members think their pastor is overpaid. He works one day a week, after all. Consider some facts of life. The average pastor is in his profession, not necessarily because he wants to be, but because God has called him to be. Most preachers have natural talents that could earn them a much better income doing something else. God doesn’t call weaklings, but strong, capable men to do the work of His ministry. Think about Paul and Peter, men who were strong in character and conviction. One an intellectual powerhouse, the other a rugged fishermen, yet both doing pastoral work. How about men like John Wesley, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, David Lingstsone, Billy Sunday and Billy Graham. All men with single-minded devotion to the work of God, yet all men with differing talents, gifts, and vision, and all men who changed the world because they chose to be faithful to God. God chooses strong individuals to do His work. Your pastor deserves the best salary you can manage to pay him. He often has as much education as a doctor or lawyer has. He has to have reliable transportation. He has to attend conferences. He has bills to pay just like you do. And if he is a career pastor, YOU are his only source of income.

If the congregation has a right to expect the sacrifices of their pastor, which he gladly gives, then he has a right to expect the members to give as they are able to. Your pastor has given his life in service to God and others. Should the pastor sacrifice more for God financially than his people? No, he shouldn’t.

The pastor expects you to be people of vision

The pastor expects members of his church to be devoted to the church. He expects them to pray for the church. He expects them to support the church financially. He expects them to care about the future of the church. He expects them to have a vision for the church. He expects them to be soul-winners; people who share their faith with the lost, building both the Kingdom and their church, one soul at a time. Without this, the pastor is helpless. Members should be willing and enthusiastic evangelists for God and their church, out in the community, witnessing to the lost, and talking up the church.

Your church exists today because generations long ago cared about it, planned for its future, prayed for its future, sacrificed so that it would be around in the years to come, and had a vision for a church that would be here for future generations. This is significant, because without a vision for the future, a church merely treads water; it doesn’t really go anywhere. Part of that vision must be for members; new blood. The church of Jesus Christ must be always growing, reaching out into the community, drawing in new people who need what you have. What kind of person doesn’t want to be a part of a loving, caring community of believers? If you love your church, you’ll want others to experience what you experience every week.

The pastor expects his congregation to be as interested in, excited about, and devoted to the church as much as he is. Without that, his job is just a job.

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