The joy of church membership

The joy of church membership

The church that I serve has the wonderful privilege of welcoming five new members today. Five people will stand up in front of the congregation and confess that they trust in Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. They will make promises to serve the local church with their gifts. These are very different people, in age, in gender, and in cultural background. They include people who first heard the gospel in South Korea, in Ireland, in even in Australia. Membership admissions are a great time of celebration both for the people being admitted as well as the wider church family.

Our church has a set process to become a member. If someone expresses an interest in membership, they attend membership classes. These classes are led by a few different elders for different sessions so the potential new members get to know those tasked with eldership. The classes explain what our church believes as well as the history and distinctive features of our church. If someone becomes a member of All Nations, we want them to understand the promises they are making, and that takes time to explain.

After membership classes have been attended, each person wishing to move towards membership is interviewed by two elders. This is to hear how they came to trust in Jesus, to talk about what it means to be part of a local church, and to get to know them better so the elders know how to pray for them and care for them.

Many churches do not have a membership process like this; people just attend and get involved to a level they want. Why would our church have membership? There are some really good reasons for it:

  • There is a big difference between assuming that someone understands something and having that thing explained and discussed. Membership gives the church the opportunity to be clear on what the gospel is and what being part of a church means.
  • Membership reminds everyone that our faith is not just between one person and God. It is communal. We confess our faith in the church family and commit to serving in the church family.
  • There is a big difference between assuming things and publicly making promises concerning them. For example, although people who are married and people who live in a de-facto relationship have a lifestyle that looks the same, the promises the married couple have made in the past do make a difference. Having to bind yourself to promises made in public, even to things you previously believed in your mind, does make the connection more formal and binding.
  • Once people have made promises, they can be held to them. It is one thing to challenge someone about their lack of service in the church if they just come along; it is quite another to point out that they made formal promises to serve in the past. Making membership vows means you are making yourself accountable to keep what you say you will do.
  • Membership gives the elders and existing church members a better understanding of who is committed to the local church family. Churches often have quite a few people who are transient, moving in and out, and membership shows who is prepared to commit to the family instead of coming as a consumer. It also gives the elders the opportunity to get to know individuals better, to hear testimonies, and to have a pastoral baseline for oversight and care.

Some might object that church membership is not commanded anywhere in the Bible. That’s a true observation. However, involvement and serving in the local church is often assumed and commanded (in places like Ephesians 4, for example). The Bible does not describe our faith in individual terms as much as communal terms. We are to bear with one another and be patient with one another, for example; these are things we cannot do alone. We are to use our various gifts to build one another up. Membership is one helpful mechanism to help achieve these ends.

Our church also uses membership as an opportunity for the children who have grown up in the church to express their personal faith when they are ready to do so. It makes sure we don’t assume that someone is a believer, but that we take the time to explain things and personally interview people to find out what they believe.

I love it when we teach, interview and accept new members in the church. It reminds me that God has been working in peoples’ lives in all kinds of ways. It encourages me that there are faithful Christians teaching their children about Jesus as well as evangelistic Christians who tell their friends about Jesus. It reminds me that there are faithful churches and believers in all kinds of different countries around the world.

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