Recently someone asked me to clarify the “benefits” of being a member of the church (I think their question sounded more like “what’s in it for me?”). I suggested that my answer was “nothing” and that I am more inclined to talk about the “responsibilities” of being a fully devoted follower (aka disciple) of Jesus Christ . Reading Rick Warren’s book The Purpose Driven Church several years ago helped me clarify the question of membership. So I pulled his book off the shelf, turned to the chapter “Turning Attenders into Members” and reacquainted myself with some valuable lessons (see pp. 309-329). Let’s explore …
First, let’s pay attention to the word member. “Member of what?” one might ask. We understand joining social clubs, country clubs, and civic organizations. Is membership in the church any different? Yes it is! C. S. Lewis reminds us that membership is not induction into a cold institution, but is becoming a vital organ in a living organism! Scripture teaches us:
- “For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another” (Romans 12:4-5).
- “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 6:15a).
- “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27).
Being a member of a living body is a difficult concept for USAmericans to grasp. We have been
raised on the Lone Ranger and far too often we think we can be Christians all by
ourselves. This is because we have confused “believing” with
“belonging,” that is, many see Christianity as a set of ideas, not as
discipleship (aka followership) of Jesus Christ as Lord. When we “member” ourselves into the church the organism adapts to welcome this addition of life! (Essentially when someone joins the church it re-members itself in a new way as the living body of Christ in the world.)
Membership in the church then involves making a commitment to another person or institution. Rick suggests that the following questions are probably on people’s minds as they explore making this commitment:
- The question of acceptance: Do I belong here?
- The question of friendship: Does anybody want to know me?
- The question of value: Am I needed?
- The question of benefit: What is the advantage of joining?
- The question of expectation: What is required of members?
At one time, and maybe its still true for our church, joining the
church meant choosing to conform to a specific set of doctrines,
disciplines, worship styles, hymn choices, and a long list of accepted rules and regulations for members. On one hand this keeps things “decent and in order,” but it confuses who is in charge. Christ is the head of the church! Thriving churches
today are asking not for conformity, but commitment to Jesus Christ. So why commit
when I can just come and join the fun on Sunday mornings?
- Membership identifies a person as a genuine believer. “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19). “So we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another” (Romans 12:5).
- Membership provides a persons with a spiritual family to support and encourage their walk with Christ. “My
friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have
received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of
gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted. Bear one
another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:1-2). “And
let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds,
not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but
encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25).
- Membership provides a place to discover and use their gifts in ministry. “For
just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of
the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the
one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–Jews or Greeks, slaves
or free–and we were all made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:12-13, see Paul’s fuller discussion of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:4-27).
- Membership places a person under the leadership of godly leaders. “Obey
your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your
souls and will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with
sighing–for that would be harmful to you” (Hebrews 13:17). “Keep
watch over yourselves and over all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit
has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that he obtained
with the blood of his own Son. I know that after I have gone, savage
wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock” (Acts 20:28-29).
- Membership gives a person the accountability they need to grown in their faith. “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21).
Using Rick’s “purposeful” language and the poetry of the “g’s” from Willow, the benefits offered to a believer by the church can be stated this way:
- Grace-filled worship helps us focus on God. In offering ourselves
to God in worship, we are prepared spiritually and emotionally for the week
- Group fellowship helps us face life’s problems with the support and encouragement of other Christians who know us by name.
- Growing discipleship helps us strengthen our faith as we learn truths from the Bible (The Way, the Truth, and the Life found in Jesus) and apply those principles to our life.
- Gifted ministry helps us discern our talents and use them in service to others to build up the body of Christ.
- Generous mission helps us fulfill our call to invite friends, relatives, acquaintences, and neighbors (known and unknown) into Christ’s family. God’s desire is that all people will become part of the the family.
Membership makes you a part of God’s family. In Christ we are made God’s sons and daughters. In 1 Timothy 3:15, Paul refers to the “church of the living God” and to the “household of God” in the same breath. Elsewhere he suggests, “You are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19). Without the church I am child without a father or mother; membership gives me a new family and a heavenly Father.