What is the point of becoming a member of a church? Why should I do it? What's the catch? What does it do for me? What does it require that I do for you? Does the Bible say anything about membership? These are some of the questions that you may be wondering as you consider church membership, whether at Abundant Springs or at another church you regularly attend and call home. With our Annual General Meeting just around the corner I want to encourage you to consider membership, so let me try to answer some of these questions.
What Does the Bible Say About Membership?
Does the Bible really say that I need to be a member? In so many words, no. However, there are numerous passages that do make a good case for church membership. First, let me point out Hebrews 13:17: "Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you." This verse raises the issue: who are these leaders I should submit to, and why do they have to give an account for my soul? If we refuse to accept any form of membership, we are refusing to put ourselves firmly in submission to any Christian leadership, and are also losing out on having that same leader committed to keeping watch over you.
Secondly, in 1 Corinthians 5:1-12 Paul brings up a matter of church discipline stating, "For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. Purge the evil person from among you." Here and elsewhere Paul clearly lays out a plan for church discipline. However, if a church does not have members, but just informal regular guests, how can church discipline be carried out?
In 1 Timothy 5:3-16 an organized system is put in place for enrolling and caring for widows in the church; Acts 2:37-47 shows that the early church kept numerical records of who was added to their midst; Acts 6:1-6 shows the early church holding elections to fix a problem; Romans 16:1-16 shows Paul listing those who he knows are a part of the church in a certain place. As you can see, the Bible does have a fair bit to say about Christians being in membership at their local assembly.
What Does it Do For Me?
While the ultimate goal of membership in the local church is not about what it does for each person, let me try to bring some of the benefits of membership to you. First of all, because churches work under the government's charity laws and have certain constitutions put in place, only members are permitted to vote in any church election or vote, including the Annual General Meeting, and even deciding who their pastor will be. Without membership, you lose your voice in the assembly.
Secondly, membership prevents you from getting lost in the crowd. When you commit to membership at your local church formal records are made that show you attend there and that you are a part of the family. Pastors have a responsibility to those who are family, or "of the household of faith" (Galatians 6:10) first.
Third, membership offers help. In Ephesians, Paul states that widows that belonged to the church should be enrolled so as to help them. Widows that did not belong and did not meet certain requirements were encouraged to gain help elsewhere. As well, when you become a member your local assembly commits to overseeing your discipleship. In other words, it commits to personally taking an interest in your growth in Christ.
Fourth, membership gives your church the opportunity to officially and publicly affirm that your salvation and baptism are credible.
Finally, membership ties you to your local church and places you in submission to the leadership there. Wait? What?! I thought this section is about what membership does for me?!? It is! This submission is essential for you to grow as a Christian. I believe Matt Chandler from the Village Church puts it best when he writes, "If you view church as some sort of ecclesiological buffet, then you severely limit the likelihood of your growing into maturity. Growth into godliness can hurt...But when church is just a place you attend without ever joining, like an ecclesiological buffet, you just might consider whether you’re always leaving whenever your heart begins to be exposed by the Spirit, and the real work is beginning to happen." Growth in Christ hurts, but it is worth it! You need to put down roots so that, when the winds blow you can stay put and continue to grow. Therefore, there are benefits to membership!
So What Is Expected of Me?
When you become a member you are formally saying, "This is my church--my family--and I agree with what it stands for." So it is important that you go to your church's website and find their statement of beliefs and read it. Make sure you agree with it, because you are deciding to make a commitment to this family to be a part of it!
When you become a member of Abundant Springs, you are expected to be a Christian who has been baptized in water. We also expect members to have been with us for about a year or longer before applying for membership, as we want to make sure you are serious about your commitment. In the membership package you will sign a commitment form which spells out what is expected of you. You will be saying:
"I will protect the unity of my church by acting in love toward other members, by keeping my conversation edifying, by following the leaders. I will share the responsibility of my church by praying for its growth, by inviting the unchurched to attend, by warmly welcoming those who visit, by praying for my pastor and his family. I will serve the ministry of my church by discovering my gifts and talents, by being equipped to serve alongside my pastor(s), by developing a servant's heart. I will support the testimony of my church by attending faithfully, by living a godly life, by giving regularly (tithes and offerings)."
Become a Member!
I encourage you to check out Thom S. Rainer's book I Am a Church Member for more insight into what this means for you. You can buy it on Amazon here. I would also love for you to apply for membership if you are a regular attender of Abundant Springs. Pick up an application at the church or download one here, fill it out, and drop it off at the church.