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  • Writer's pictureElijah Blalock

Why Be a Church Member?

Church

Church membership has fallen on hard times. Many churches have bloated rolls full of members who quit attending long ago, meanwhile, many faithful attenders never think of becoming members. In the eyes of many, it's a useless formality. Some churches have even done away with membership altogether.


I want to try to convince you to be a church member. This isn't going to be a theological defense of membership or a plan for churches to follow to rescue it. Instead, I just want to give some reasons why individuals like you and me should want to be members of a local church.


I need to give one big caveat: I'm going to assume your church has a biblical view and practice of membership. In many churches, this is not the case. But let's assume that we are talking about a church that takes membership seriously. Why should you be a member?


Belonging Is Better Than Attending

Churches are communities to which people belong, not events they attend. We could cite several verses to prove this point, but let's just consider one analogy from Romans 12:4-5: "Now as we have many parts in one body, and all the parts do not have the same function, in the same way we who are many are one body in Christ and individually members of one another." The church is compared to a body, with the members making up different parts. The parts of our body don't just come together every once in a while; they are members that belong to each other.


However, the church is not an ordinary community. There is a hard line that separates the church from the world. How do we know who belongs to the church and who belongs to the world? We should be inviting non-believers to join us in worship, but we would not recognize them as belonging to the church body because they do not believe in Christ. Church membership is an important way for us to recognize who belongs to Christ and this particular body of believers. They are not merely attendees—they are our brothers or sisters in Christ and a member of his body.


This is wonderful for a couple of reasons. First of all, it says that you matter! You may enjoy going to concerts, but your favorite artist doesn't need you personally to be there. But when a church receives you as a member, they are saying that you are a part of their own body. If you went missing, it would be a big deal! Your presence and prayers matter. Your gifts of time, talents, and resources matter.


Secondly, consider all of the times the New Testament uses the phrase, "one another." I'll give some examples: "Love one another deeply as brothers and sisters. Take the lead in honoring one another." (Rom. 12:10). "Welcome one another, just as Christ also welcomed you, to the glory of God." (Rom. 15:7). "Carry one another's burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ." (Gal. 6:2). "Let the word of Christ dwell richly among you, in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another through Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts." (Col. 3:16). We need one another. Life is hard. At times we may be discouraged, grieving, in need, or lacking wisdom. At some point, you will need a church to tend to your needs, and at another, a fellow church member will need you to tend to theirs. Church membership can't solve all of our problems, but it should guarantee that we never face them alone. Now, one may say, "We should treat everyone this way—not just church members!" In some sense, that's true. But we also need to remember we are limited people with limited resources. We don't even know about all the needs of our neighbors—much less do we have a way to meet them all. We have a special responsibility to fellow church members because we know them and they are members of God's household (Gal. 6:10).


You Need a Shepherd

The office of pastor is named by three titles in the New Testament, with "pastor" being the rarest one. The most common are "elder" (presbyteros) and "overseer" or "bishop" (Episkopos; translation of this term depends on the English version). These men were the teachers and leaders of the church and the apostles were not hesitant to tell believers that they needed to honor and submit to these men (1 Pet. 5:5, Heb. 13:17). Why? That's where the title of "pastor" may be most helpful. "Pastor" just means shepherd. Throughout the Bible, God's people are called his sheep. Christ, who is the chief shepherd (1 Pet. 2:25), has entrusted his sheep to undershepherds whom we call pastors (1 Pe. 5:1-2). In our individualistic culture, we are prone to think that we can be spiritually fed by ourselves if we pray and read our Bibles. This is not a biblical way of thinking. Sheep need shepherds, and God has provided them in his church. When you join a church, you get the wonderful privilege of having a shepherd whose job it is to protect and nourish your soul. While that can get uncomfortable at times, that is something we should all long for.


However, many pastors face a conundrum: they don't know who they are responsible for. Pastors are ordinary people. They are not omnipresent or omniscient, and they can't pastor everybody they meet. In 1 Peter 5:2, Peter tells the pastors to "Shepherd God's flock among you..." that is, not the entire flock, but the flock that is present with you. Is the pastor as responsible for the person who stepped into the church once as he is for the faithful member who attends weekly? Of course not, because the first person clearly does not want to be shepherded by that pastor. Yet, pastors often look out and see people who attend, perhaps even regularly, but have not joined. Do they want his care? Many pastors have been hurt by people who started attending and seemed to want his care and leadership only to disappear without warning. Membership signals to the pastor that you are committed to the church and willing to submit to his leadership and care. Becoming a member is a simple way for you to let the pastor know that you want him to look after your soul.


You Have a Mission

Christians have a mission to make disciples (Mt. 28:19-20). We must take the gospel to the nations. How do they do that? One important but often neglected way is to simply talk about it. Christians should personally share the gospel with their neighbors. It is good that more and more people are urging believers to do this, but we are still a long way away from seeing this practiced regularly.


But even if you are faithfully sharing the gospel, something is bound to happen. Someone you talk to will want to know what Christianity is all about. They want to see the church to get a sense of what Christians are like. When they come to church, what will they see? Let me start by saying that a perfect church is not possible nor is it desirable; a perfect church means sinners are not welcome. However, should our churches look exactly like the world? No, our churches should be different—set apart and holy to God. But again, anyone is allowed to come to worship. We know that an unbeliever who attends worship isn't a part of the church community, but how do we know who is? Membership! Membership helps us designate who the believers are. This helps our witness because it gives us a group of people we can point to and say, "That's what believers look like!" Just by joining a church and being a faithful member who worships, prays, gives, and serves, you contribute to the collective witness of that body. You are helping build and maintain a beautiful community that makes the gospel tangible.


By becoming a member, you also gain some responsibilities. It is also your job to make sure that the gospel continues to be preached and represented well. We could learn a lot from 1 Corinthians 5. A member of the Corinthian church was participating in a scandalous sexual sin, but the church did nothing about it. Paul told them to remove that person from their church. Why? It wasn't because Paul hated the man. He explicitly says he hoped that his spirit would be saved. Paul wanted the man to repent! But Paul also wanted the reputation of the gospel to be preserved. But notice that he didn't tell the pastors to remove the man; he told the church! It was the responsibility of the members to carry this out.


As fellow church members, we are responsible for looking out for the spiritual well-being of each other and protecting the reputation of the gospel. Sometimes that means we have to have difficult conversations and church meetings. It might even mean removing someone from membership who, because of their unrepentant sin, has tarnished the reputation of the gospel and made their own salvation questionable.


This is to say that your membership and your vote matter. Living faithfully in the community is a wonderful way for us to display the goodness of the gospel, but we also have a responsibility to protect our church's witness. Churches need faithful Christians who will go to meetings and vote in ways that make sure the gospel is not compromised with false teaching or brought into ill-repute with unconfronted sin. This does not mean that we should engage in constant witch hunts for sinners. Church discipline is tragic and it should be rare. However, at some point, it will inevitably be necessary in the life of every church. By joining a church, you sign up for that responsibility. It needs to be taken seriously. Naturally, we will want to avoid that sort of responsibility, but we can't. Too much is at stake! When churches are healthy and living out the gospel, the gospel looks beautiful, and sinners are drawn to it. But when churches look no different from the sinful world, when they compromise the gospel and tolerate blatant sin, the gospel looks ugly, and unbelievers will slander it. We should consider our membership to be an important part of our witness in the world.


There you have it: three reasons to be a church member. I hope this has encouraged you to join a church and be faithful there. I pray that our churches will again see that membership matters and strive to maintain a biblical practice.

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