Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Church Membership: Privilege & Responsibility

Church Membership Privileges -- What Church Members Receive:

1.      The Ministry of the Body. The church takes responsibility to love and care for its members. This includes pastoral care from the church’s leaders, but also includes the one-another ministry of members. Ephesians 4:16 indicates that believers grow to maturity only through the ministry of the whole body.
2.      The Blessings of Corporate Worship. While personal worship should be a part of every believer’s life, Christ promises to meet his people when they gather in his Name (Matthew 18:20; 1 Corinthians 5:4). The preaching and teaching of gifted pastors, the observance of corporate ordinances, the edification of praying and singing together, and the pleasure of fellowship should all be part of what happens when the body gathers (Acts 2:42).
3.      The Blessing of Corporate Accountability. Not only are pastors charged to watch over their flocks (Hebrews 13:17) but members of the body are also to watch over one another (Hebrews 12:15), making sure that no one falls prey to bitterness. In the end it is the church which takes responsibility for discipline. It is possible for churches to become harsh and judgmental, but the greater danger today is the opposite extreme where we look the other way and see marriages and families fall apart with no one to say a word.
4.      The Blessing of Corporate Confirmation. The Body is designed to provide corporate confirmation of God’s guidance for an individual (for example, Acts 13:1-3). However most do not seek it. Most Christians struggle at some point in their life with finding God’s will for a particular situation. If relationships in the body are what they should be, one should be able to see God’s guidance with others to confirm one’s sense of guidance.

Church Membership Responsibilities -- What Members Give

1.      Covenantal Commitment. Members promise to love and care for the people who will be loving and caring for them. It will involve faithfulness in attendance, praying and caring for others, patience, and caring for the church’s welfare as a whole which includes informed participation in the church’s business (Hebrews 11:25).
2.      Use of Spiritual Gifts. Members are to discover and begin to use their spiritual gifts for the good of the body. One of the ministries of the body is to help individuals discover their areas of giftedness by advising, teaching, giving feedback and opportunities (Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:7, 27-30).
3.      Serve the Body. In addition to using their spiritual gifts, believers are called to serve the body in some of the common duties of the Christian life. Everyone is called to pray, love, serve, teach, forgive, and forbear with one another (Romans 12:9-12). Everyone is called to witness and serve in the ministries of the church (even the nursery!)
4.      Stewardship. Members practice stewardship of time, energy, and money. The time and energy involve a commitment to faithful attendance and service. The commitment to financial stewardship is to proportionate giving of one’s income (1 Corinthians 16:2). The Scripture sets that level at 10%, called a tithe. Faithful stewardship may also include support of other ministries as well within the church (2 Corinthians 9:7).
5.      Voting. Part of a members’ privilege and responsibility in congregational polity is to vote on matters affected the church’s life and health. Such matters include voting on who is to be baptized and admitted to church membership, who is to be disciplined, who is to be recognized as leadership (calling and ordination), and decisions with major financial consequences (budgets, buildings, etc.) There are both biblical and practical reasons to desire congregational input (Acts 6:2, 5-6; 2 Corinthians 2:6-8). 

The tendency to see church business meetings as boring and something to avoid betrays our weak understanding of church membership and our lack of commitment to meaningful membership. The business of the church will be boring to those who have no concern for the church other than getting what they can from the church. On the other hand, business meetings are things to be avoided if they involve gatherings of church members who show no signs of being regenerate. But those who love Christ and are in covenant relationship with a local body should be eager to gather, pray, seek God’s face together, and vote to see God’s guidance of the body. 

Pastors and leaders should train their people to be able to handle such a responsibility in a competent and godly manner, and the participation of members should benefit the leaders, in confirming what they have felt was the Lord’s will or giving them a check, to rethink what they thought. In the same way, participation should benefit the members, as it is one means of living out their covenant commitment and strengthening their sense of personal ownership in the life and health of the body. Voting is one reason we want to be careful about baptizing ever younger candidates. Believers’ baptism is for members who can believe on their own. How does it look for us to baptize candidates whom we say are old enough to be saved but are too young to discern God’s will about voting on an item of business?
When is it right to leave a church?
With the serious covenantal commitment in church membership, what would be proper grounds for breaking such a commitment? It must be more than mere convenience or minor disagreement. Three reasons cover most cases: (1) geographical move, (2) a call to minister (we may leave one church when we believe God calls us to minister elsewhere), (3) such a serious problem in one’s present church that one cannot be an effective agent for change but can only be damaged by the situation (moral failure, doctrinal problem, toxic spiritual atmosphere).