Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Are You A "Church Member"? - Really?

Call it a pet peeve if you wish. Actually it is more of an outrage to me. Every time I hear it, it just goes right through me, and the older I get, the more it bothers me. What am I talking about? The sad concept that some people seem to have about "church membership". While I am not what many would consider an expert, and I certainly am not highly trained in ecclesiology, I do have some experience in the field. Growing up as a PK (Preacher's Kid) and having been in pastoral ministry, myself, for more than 38 years, give me some perspective in the matter.

It is strange how some professing believers view the church and it's purpose. Furthermore it is really weird how some relate to church membership.

First of all, if we are true Christ Followers, church is not something we "go to". The church is what we are. The church is WHO we are. It's the Body of Christ. The Bride of Christ. Not an organization, but an organism! Christ bought it with His own blood and gave his life for it. The word "ecclesia", translated church, appears roughly 100 times in the New Testament. Since it is used 90 percent of the time in the context of a local body of believers, one can only surmise that the "local church" is very important to our Lord. That is why we should take it seriously too!

The Great Commandments (Matthew 22:37-40) and Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) cite the responsibility of the church when it comes to:

  • Worship - " 'You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.'"

  • Ministry - "... 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' ..."

  • Evangelism - "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations..."

  • Discipleship - "... baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you..."
Why then, do some take their relationship to the church so lightly? I run into it all the time, and I'm sure every other pastor does as well.

"I'm a member of ______________ Church", folks will proudly announce. Yet many times the same people (although in good health and living in the community) never darken the door, give no money to accomplish the mission of the church, and don't even know the pastor, or other church members. But their name is on the Roll Book, and that's good enough for them.

Maybe they think their "membership" status gives them a certain standing in the community. Perhaps in their minds, their "membership" ensures a beautiful place for their kids to get married, and guarantees a minister for their own funeral service. Some may even mistakenly think that baptism and church membership is their "fire insurance policy" for eternity. Folks with this mindset are missing the whole point.

Having served in pastoral ministry over half of my adult life, I have heard the the following comments, ad nauseum.

"I grew up in that church." (Apparently not spiritual growth)

"I was baptized when the church was still meeting in the basement." (but they haven't been back many times since that blessed event)

"Mom really loved that church. She took us there every Sunday". (Now they faithfully show up EVERY Easter Sunday morning and on Christmas)

"We're not going anywhere right now, but we sure do love the folks down there at the church. Is 'Brother So and so' still going there? He was my Sunday School Teacher." ("Brother So and So" has been dead for 20 years)

"I learned a lot of Bible verses back in Sunday School." (How have you applied them to your life?)

"I know my church will always be there for me." (But when was the last time they were there for the church?)

"I know we need to get back involved, but the kids have something going on just about every day of the week." (Remember when parents taught children that it was important to put God first in their lives - and then modeled it in their own behavior?)

"My name has been on that roll book for a long time!" (The big question is, "Is your name written down in the Lamb's Book of Life?")

Yadda, yadda, yadda. You get the idea.

Now, don't mistake what I am saying here. Sitting in a church building does not make someone a Christian any more than standing in a garage will make them an automobile. But our relationship to the Lord and His church IS important.

Here is the question, nay rather the questions, I would ask these so called church members. If you are a follower of Christ, wouldn't you want to spend a little time each week with other believers? Don't you think it is important to love the church that Jesus loves? Where else can you go for public worship, and fellowship with other believers. Where else can you get such a steady diet of the Word of God? What other place can better serve as a base for personal service, and provide better resources for evangelism? Does Hebrews 10:25 mean anything to you at all? How about Malachi 3:10? (Look 'em up)

Our church has two categories of members - "Active" and "Inactive". Sadly the "inactive" list is nearly as long as the "active" roll. The "Active" list is subdivided into "Resident" and "Non Resident" members. Some provision should be made for "non resident" members who are in the military, away at school, or on the mission field or doing some type of ministry out of our area. However, if it is just someone who has moved away permanently, they should unite with a local church where they now reside. After all, that is a tenet of our church covenant.

The biggest shame of all, in my opinion, is the "inactive" category. These folks aren't shut ins or home bound people. These are folks who have allegedly accepted Christ as their Saviour, been baptized, and added to the church roll, but yet for some reason they take no part in the work and ministry of the church.

I have tried to simplify and clarify to the members of Westmoreland Baptist Church, what I believe the MINIMUM REQUIREMENTS should be to call yourself a member of our church.

  • A born again experience with Christ and a personal relationship with the Father through Jesus.

  • Scriptural believer's baptism (immersion) - publicly identifying with the Death, Burial, and Resurrection of Jesus.

  • Regular attendance at Worship Service

  • Belonging to a small group (Sunday School or other small groups) for informal Bible Study and relationship building - relationship to God and other believers.

  • Taking part in at least one ministry of the local church. (many from which to choose)

  • Giving systematically and proportionately of your finances to the work and mission of the church.
Is that too much to ask of a "church member"? I think not. If you need scriptural references for the above list, just let me know and I'll be happy to provide them for you.

It's not about "going to church" or how we "do church". It's about BEING the church. If your name is on the "Heavenly Church Roll", you should be no less than an active member of a local body of believers.

Anything less is shameful.

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