We’ve been asking that question quite a bit at Grace Life in recent days and I think the resounding answer from God’s Word and God’s people is “Yes! Membership matters a great deal.”
No, you can’t find a chapter and verse that says, “join a church” but the writers of the New Testament just seem to assume that people will understand that there is no other way to obey the teachings of the New Testament unless you are committed to a local body of believers. Can you be a Christian without being a member of a local church? Yes, but you can not be an obedient Christian unless you are committed to a local church family.
Think about this:
- If church membership doesn’t matter then church leadership is useless. What I mean by that is that if we are under no sense of obligation to a specified body of believers then how are the pastors to know who they are responsible for shepherding. The Bible tells pastors in Hebrews 13:17 that they will have to give an account to God for the people that they lead. But if pastors are unclear about who they are expected to lead, feed and care for then how can they possibly be a good and faithful pastor that pleases the Lord? I don’t think God will hold me accountable for every church but I do believe He will hold me accountable for Grace Life. But if membership is devalued at Grace Life then the Biblical relationship of pastor and church is horrendously undermined.
- If church membership doesn’t matter then church discipline is pointless. Unfortunately, there will be times in a church that a brother or sister will turn away from the Lord and will pursue sin. Jesus tells us in Matthew 18 that a brother or sister needs to go to that one in sin and call them back to the Lord. If they don’t listen then get another one or two to go and ask that person to turn back to the Lord and if they still don’t listen then you take it to the church. In I Corinthians 5 for example the church at Corinth has a man in the church who is sinning against the Lord and rather than being remorseful about his sin he continues unrepentantly and arrogantly in it. Paul tells the church to remove the man from the church. Paul does this in hopes that the man will ultimately be restored to God and to the church. We might call this “tough love” today. Our churches by in large don’t practice “tough love” or church discipline anymore. But shouldn’t we if the need arises? Have we become so people-centered rather than God-centered that we will retain members of our church no matter the cost? Apparently, membership in the church at Corinth mattered because Paul was banking on the idea that life outside the membership of the church would be so difficult and dark that the man would turn and repent of his sin and be restored. If membership didn’t matter at Corinth this tough love toward the man in sin would have been pointless. If there is little to no difference between being a member and not being a member of the church at Corinth why would the man care if he was no longer a member of the church? If there is no distinction between being a member losing your membership how would that possibly set the table for repentance?
- If church membership doesn’t matter then ministry is aimless. Who determines how our ministries are going to function? Who is responsible to provide accountability and support for those ministries? How do we know which people we need to invest ourselves in? In Acts 6 a ministry need arose. Widows were being overlooked and so the church had an election to determine who would lead this new ministry. Who got to vote in that election? It was probably those who were considered members of the church. Which widows did they go minister to? They ministered to the widows in their church. Even I Timothy 5:9 indicates that the church kept a list of widows that were in need of being ministered to. Without knowing clearly who our ministry leaders are and who it is among us that we are called to serve then we have this “buck-shot” approach to ministry. Our efforts are scattered and often effective.
- If church membership doesn’t matter then church gatherings are powerless. If we don’t live in obedience to the commands of Scripture relative to how to live together in God’s church Monday thru Saturday then why would we expect to encounter the LORD in transformational ways when we gather on Sunday? If our leadership, discipline and ministries are vague, ambiguous or even non existant then why would the LORD pour His spirit out on us when we gather together? We can not walk in disobedience and expect Him to bless us just because we all show up one day out of the week together at His house.
Membership does matter. I wish I had not had to spend so much time on what I think is really an easy question. But the reality is for far too long true, regenerate, biblical church membership hasn’t mattered to our church. I literally just got off the phone with a kind gentleman who joined our church 60 years ago. He hasn’t attended here in 50 years but he called to tell me that he wanted to remain a member of our church. My heart breaks for this man. Why has it taken our church this long to get serious about church membership? This man has missed so many great things that the Lord has done in this local church over the last 50 years and all the while he considered himself to be a member and obviously the church considered him to be a member and everyone went on about their merry way. What we really said for those 50 years is that membership doesn’t matter.
You can be a church member and not worship with us, not connect with us, not serve with us and not go with us and nobody will care. Well, the times have changed. We’ve repented and now we do care that people would be more than just a name on a roll but that they would be all that God has designed them to be for His glory. The man on the phone today hasn’t attended a worship service at Grace Life since the Kennedy administration but I am trusting the Lord to work in this man’s life and bring him back to being actcively involved in this church family. I sensed in his brokeness and tears that God is already drawing this man back into fellowship with His church.
This work of “re-membering” has not been easy. It has required hundreds of hours of prayer, work, thick skin and a tender heart. But it is worth it because the Lord is using this process to speak to people about returning to right fellowship with Him and His church while at the same time He is redefining for us what church membership is really all about. At the end of all of this I am confident that some who are lost will be evangelized, God’s people will be edified and most importantly Jesus Christ the Head of His Church will be glorified.