I tried to tackle a monster topic yesterday. Church membership. In my experience, there are about three different groups of people when it comes to church membership. Let me say at the very beginning, I love each of these groups. I have probably been in each of these groups at some point in my life. My prayer is that my words were edifying and not discouraging, whichever group a person might find themselves in.
What are the groups? First, there are those that have no problems joining a church. Maybe they are already members or they are new to the church and will quickly pursue membership. Then there are those who need to have every question answered before they join. I applaud them. I think you should have as many questions answered before you join anything, especially a church (although, I will say, at some level this can become an excuse for you might not ever get every question answered).
The last group are the skeptics. They either do not feel like they have to sign on some dotted line to join, or simply, they just do not see the need to become a member. This is the hardest group to talk to for many reasons. But the one that seems most difficult to crack is that they tend to listen to any message with a filtered grid, having already made up their mind on the issue of membership. They see no need for it. They would even say that since the Bible does not say we should become members, it is unbiblical to join a church.
As you might be able to tell, this can be a difficult subject. At the most basic level, I just do not get it. You see, most of the skeptics that I have talked to in the past, are people who are deeply committed to the church. They are serving. They are engaging. They just do not feel like they should have to sign their name to prove they are committed. They say their actions speak for themselves. And I agree at many levels. We need more of them in our churches. But I just keep coming back to this quote by John Piper:
"If you want to say, 'OK, I believe the New Testament says, 'Be a part of a community, give yourself to ministering there and receiving ministry there, and advancing the cause of the gospel there, and upholding the name of Jesus there, and doing mission there,' and I'm part of that,' then to resist putting your name on the line for that is probably not a biblical conviction. It's probably an American, independent, give-me-elbow-room, don't-get-in-my-face-too-often conviction, which I don't think is biblical."
I just do not fully grasp why those who are so engaged and love the church, would resist making their commitment to the church formal and vocal. Could someone please help me?
One of my main points in this message is that membership is someone announcing "I want to be shepherded." That is why I said it is our invitation. We would long for someone to announce to us that they want us to shepherd them. They want to formally engage with us and make their intentions clear that they are committed to us and want us to commit to them.
I do think the principle of church membership is biblical. You will need to listen to the message HERE in order to get the entire argument, or download my notes HERE. I also acknowledge that while it is a biblical principle, the way we do it is a cultural phenomenon. I do not think that people in the city of Thessalonica signed on the dotted line to be part of that church. But they also had no options. If they were Christians in Thessalonica, they were part of that church. Period. When we have several "Christian" churches in an area, it becomes necessary to clarify.
In the end, I think the main reason why people do not become members is that church leaders do not take church membership seriously. They water it down to mean almost nothing. If a church is going to say that membership matters, then the leaders had better be willing to back it up to actually mean something. I hope with grace and mercy, that would be the direction we move towards as a church.