Most church planters and pastors very quickly discover that there are always some attenders and new converts who have initial resistance to church membership. With their new-found freedom in Christ, some feel that local church membership is unnecessary since they now belong to the “invisible” or universal body of Christ. Yet, it is important that new believers be knitted into the local body of Christ. Christ clearly showed his discontent with secret admirers or distant followers. He listed His disciples by name and number. Here are some further reasons for membership.
Membership as a visible reality
Christ describes His church as a visible, identifiable reality on earth. The New Testament talks about the church by name and place, (Corinth, Ephesus, Galatia, etc.). Conversion is connected to a public faith encounter. Water baptism visually expresses an inward reality. The Lord’s Supper is a public visible proclamation. In the same way, church membership is a public, visible expression of belonging to God and to one another.
Membership as a unity statement
In church membership, the believers declare their unity of faith and common understanding of the Scriptures. The members exercise an accountability to one another for biblical faithfulness and spiritual integrity. Membership declares an attitude of submission, humility and acceptance of body life.
Membership as a recognition of need
Individual Christians tend to develop blind spots in understanding and interpreting Scripture due to environment, attitudes, background, training, experiences and personal desires. The church body provides a wholesome corrective to such individualism. The total of spiritual insight and understanding of a united Christian body exceeds anyone’s individual understanding. We need to be tied to other believers for spiritual balance.
Membership as a growth facilitator
The process and act of officially joining a church is an occasion of personal growth. Membership is to a church what student enrollment is to a college. It is a commitment to rigorous growth and involvement.
Membership as a sheepfold choice
Membership identifies one’s willingness and readiness to be shepherded. In this shepherding process, the human shepherd/pastor knows who are in his sheepfold, and the sheep know who is their pastoral shepherd to whom they can turn to for pastoral care, spiritual guidance and protection.
Membership as teamwork
The united cooperative action of believers achieves more results than uncoordinated individual efforts. When the church works together as a body using its varied spiritual gifts, the Great Commission of going, preaching, baptizing and teaching is best achieved. Church involves doing together what cannot be done alone. Membership brings order to this cooperative effort.
Membership as a commitment
A significant commitment change happens when a person takes the step of moving from being a church attender to being a church member. Church attendance does not have the same level of ownership, connectedness, involvement and responsibility that church membership expects. It is much easier to walk away from church responsibility, accountability and even regular attendance if one is not committed as a church member.
Membership as the New Testament model
A church with members best reflects the New Testament church model. In the book of Acts, repeated reference is made to people accepting the Word or believing the gospel and being added to the church.
Membership for historic continuity
The church, through its members, has formed a historic church chain from biblical times to the present. Throughout history, God has used the church to preserve and to propagate the gospel of Christ. The church today needs to ensure that the present link in the chain is strong so that those after us will have the same privilege of being part of the historic church. As Christ was prepared to give His life for the establishment of the church, so we should be prepared to be part of that church in every possible and visible way.
The church is different from all other institutions, in that it was established by Jesus Christ. He said, “I will build My church.” The church is God’s choice way of presenting Himself and His ministry of redemption to our neighbourhoods.
—James Nikkel is church extension director for the B.C. MB Conference.