To many Christians today, church membership is a non-essential or an enigma. Be it from the proliferation of extra-church ministries (i.e. Bible camps, collegiate ministries, or other parachurches), the ever-increasing array of Christian teaching diassociated from church membership (i.e. Christian TV, radio, Bible studies, etc), the creation of hybrid-churches (i.e. multi-site, Internet and virutal churches), or the simple neglect to teach this subject in many churches (thankfully, not all), many Christians have little concept of God’s desire for Christian’s to be inseparably united to a local body of believers. Or at least, that is how it was for me, but I don’t think I am alone.
In my own life, church membership was a truth I had to grow into. For instance, for the first five years of my Christian life I was not a church member. I was baptized at age 17, but not a church member until 22. This was not a conscious rebellion against the church, but an unaddressed, ecclesial ignorance. Therefore, it my conviction that churches and pastors today must teach on the importance of church membership, if our churches–Baptist, Presbyterian, and otherwise–will be thriving outposts of Christ’s kingdom. In Thabiti Anyabwile’s book What is a Healthy Church Member?, the sixth mark of health is understanding and embracing this reality.
As an aside, but also as an entry into this week’s applications, let me add personally that as it concerns church membership, I have been much helped by my friends and teachers at IX Marks. If you are not familiar with this ministry, I encourage you to take an afternoon at your nearest coffee shop or library and peruse their website. From articles to audio interviews to straight-forward teaching on the subject, let Mark Dever, Matt Schmucker, and their church-loving peers, encourage and challenge you with biblical teaching and practical ways to grow as a committed church member. (Perhaps, the first thing to do is to listen to Mark Dever’s SBTS 2002 chapel message: Membership Matters). I remember listening to this sermon while mopping up the children’s building at Woodland Park Baptist Church, and thinking, “I have never heard anything like this before!” It gave me a whole new love and priority for the local church.
After considering this neglected biblical truth in more detail, you could begin to grow as a committed member through these five points of application:
1. Take a step of obedience in one area of church membership. Thabiti Anyabwile lists 8 characteristics of a committed church member: (1) Attends Regularly; (2) Seeks Peace; (3) Edifies Others; (4) Warns and Admonishes Others; (5) Pursues Reconciliation; (6) Bears with Others; (7) Prepares for the Ordinances; and (8) Supports the Work of the Ministry (68-70). Does the members in your church do this? Can you imagine if they did? Be a trendsetter in your church: start practicing these corporate spiritual disciplines and encourage others to do the same. Taking God at his word, and stepping out in Spirit-empowered obedience will have untold impact on you and your local church.
2. Develop a ministry of presence at your church. Realize that your attendance matters. In my own life, I started going to church regularly at age 17. When I did, there was an older gentlemen who greeted me at the door every week. In addition to the preaching of God’s word, I truly believe that his enthuiastic hospitality was one of the ways that God brought me to himself. When we go to church, we are not simply going as consumers; we go as those upbuilding and supporting the rest of God’s people. And when your Christian liberty “enables” you to freely skip church, it may have a negative effect on another brother or sister who is depending on your presence. The ministry of presence is vital for all believers and should be something that we gladly live out each week.
3. Learn the names of every member of your church and use the church directory to pray for one another. John 10:3 says that Jesus calls his sheep by name, and that when he speaks, his sheep hear him and follow (10:27). So too, for Christians, especially church leaders and shepherds, we must be committed to knowing those in our church, calling them by name, and praying for them. Now, with that said, I realize, some churches are ginormous–which is a technical term for “really big”–and that such feats would tempt some to pride if they learned 7,500 names. However, within these larger churches, are smaller groups, however they are classified. The point here is not legalism, but love! Out of love, you should know the names of those in your flock, and by whatever means you can, learn to pray for your fellow members by names. You may say, “I don’t know how to pray for those I don’t know.” Well here are two ways to respond: (1) Get to know them! Ask their name, their family situation, where they serve in the church, where they work outside the church–simply put, be curious. This is where number 2 helps number 3. (2) Pray Paul’s prayers for those people whom you still don’t know. If they are believers, these are great ways to make concrete petitions for fellow-members to grow in Christ. D.A. Carson’s book on the subject, A Call to Spiritual Reformation, is an excellent resource to help you here.
4. Inform yourself of church business. Most churches have regularly scheduled business meetings. As a committed member, you should know what is going on in your church. This gives you opportunity to join in prayer with what God is doing in your midst; it gives you time to ask the pastor, elders, or other members about the business at hand; and it protects your church from the wiles of Satan who would love to bring division to your church by uninformed members making hasty, uninformed, and unspiritual comments at the meeting. (By unspiritual, I mean those comments that have not been sanctified by prayer, the Word of God, and even time– James 1:19-25).
5. Study the New Testament to learn what the church is and does. Perhaps this should actually be the first thing you do, but either way, your commitment to the church is directly related to how important you think the church is, and the only way you can have a proper understanding of the church, is to get God’ Word on it. One way to do this is to simply use a concordance (online, or in print) to look up every instance of ekklesia / church in the New Testament and see how the Bible uses it. Is it speaking of a local assembly? An abstract universal entity? A heavenly gathering? Or what? Then you should ask, what is God’s intention for the church and how should we be participating in that? Answering these questions will go along way to seeing how vital church membership is.
Overall, growing as a committed member is a process, but one promises lasting joy as union to Christ in his body promises inimitable opportunities to grow up into Christ. As Ephesians 3:10 tells us, the church reveals the wisdom of God to the world, and is in fact the wisdom of God. Sadly, most people don’t see it that way. Consider these steps of application this week, and I trust that you too will see how the events that take place within the local body of assembled believers are more important than the events that occur in the Pentagon, the Kremlin, the halls of congress, or any place else for that matter.
Soli Deo Gloria, dss