What does healthy church membership look like?

I have previously written about why we should not baptise those who would not join the church in membership. We noted that baptism was biblically and historically considered to be your entrance to the visible, local church. To grant baptism without membership is to say one can identify with Jesus and his people at one point in time but not to do so in an ongoing way. This post was followed up with a discussion on whether local church membership was biblical. There, we saw that a true church exists where there is right teaching of the gospel and right administration of the ordinances. We also saw both biblical example and imperative that demand membership of a local church body. I now want to look at the question of what healthy church membership looks like in practice.

In his short little book I Am a Church Member, Thom Rainer outlines six key attitudes that should underlie our church membership:

  1. Be a functioning member: Rainer notes 1 Cor 12:27 calls us to be functioning members. He notes we are all necessary parts of the whole and, though different, still work together for the upbuilding of one another. He differentiates between ‘paying your dues’ and getting benefits like a country club and, instead, serving and working to build up others in the church. Fundamentally, we are members of the church so that we can be a blessing to others.
  2. Be a unifying church member: We must recognise that a church full of sinners means that there will be no perfect church. We are called not to be a source of dissension and gossip but rather to be an encouragement to our brothers and sisters. We are to avoid gossip and back-biting and instead be those people ready to forgive and ready to encourage.
  3. Be a selfless church members: Rainer points out that church is not about getting our preferences and desires met. Rather, the Biblical mandate is to servant-heartedness. Philippians 2:5-11 calls us to have the mind of Christ in our attitude to serving others in the church. We are to put our own preferences and desires aside to build up and serve others.
  4. Be a praying church member: We are reminded that the pastor and elders are people too. Members, in line with the call to serve others, are also called to pray for their leaders. They should be people active in prayer about the work of the church.
  5. Lead your family to be good church members: Rainer calls us to help our families love the church. He suggests that healthy church members will encourage their families at home to pray for the leaders and the work of the church. He calls us to emulate the unconditional love of Christ for his church despite all her imperfections.
  6. Treasure church membership: Rainer encourages us to see church membership as a gift, rather than an entitlement. It is something Christ gives to his people from which we should have no entitlements and expectations but rather we serve for the upbuilding of others and in so doing, grow in Christ.

Here are six attitudes then that should accompany our church membership.

In his book, What is a Healthy Church Member, Thabiti Anyabwile offers 10 marks of a healthy church member:

  1. Expositional listener: if expositional preaching is preaching that takes the main point of the passage and makes it the main point of the sermon, expositional listening is to listen for the main point of the passage and accept it as the main idea for our personal and corporate lives as Christians. Healthy church members will be people who listen to sermons to hear the Word of God, letting him set the agenda on teaching, and to submit themselves to what it says rather than what we feel about it. Anyabwile says expositional listeners will be those who cultivate this attitude by meditating on the Word in our quiet times, reading good commentaries, talking and praying with friends about the sermon after church and acting on the sermon throughout the week (among one or two other things).
  2. Biblical theologian: on top listening to preaching that takes the main point of the passage and applies it to the hearer, biblical theology concerns itself with the overarching themes of the Bible. Knowing the grand themes of the Bible helps us to avoid strange readings and errors by over-focusing on particular passages. Anyabwile encourages us to grow in our knowledge and love for the grand themes running through the Biblical accounts.
  3. Gospel Saturated: the healthy church members will know and love the gospel of Jesus Christ. We will want to hear the gospel and go out and share the gospel. From the gospel flow the other themes of scripture. The healthy church member orders their life around the gospel, shares the gospel and guards the gospel from imposters.
  4. Genuinely Converted: in the bid to increase our membership rolls, some churches can be lax on assessing whether their members truly know and love the Lord Jesus Christ. Conversion is not a matter of a moment’s decision, it is an ongoing state of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. Only those who are genuinely converted, and have properly come to a lasting faith in Jesus Christ, can be healthy church members.
  5. Biblical Evangelist: the healthy church member is an active evangelist. They have a right view of conversion but also accept that it is a work of God to bring about new life in an individual. They recognise that they are called to be faithful to Christ’s call to ‘go’ whilst resting in the fact that it is his work to effect.
  6. Committed Member: a healthy church member is committed to a local body of believers (see previous post). Anyabwile offers biblical data explaining that committed member is called to attend regularly, seek peace, edify others, admonish others, pursue reconciliation, bear with others, prepare for the ordinances and support the work of ministry.
  7. Seek Discipline: Anyabwile emphasises the fact that discipline is not about ‘punishment’ but rather the ongoing state of being a disciple. It is primarily about pursuing godly discipline. The vast majority of church discipline is formative, that is teaching and encouraging, allowing scripture to form and mould us. It is positive. However, there are times when corrective discipline is necessary. The healthy church member is open to discipline, recognising it as God’s means of forming us together as his people, with hearts in submission to his word.
  8. Growing Disciple: nobody will ever advance to complete Christ-likeness this side of glory. Therefore, every church member should be a growing member. Each of us should be growing in our walk with Christ and developing Christian character. We grow in our Christ-likeness by abiding in him, using the ordinary means of grace and participating in the local church.
  9. Humble Follower: a healthy church member will be one who willingly and humbly submits to their leaders. They honour their elders, they show open-hearted love to their leaders and they are teachable. A healthy church member will patiently participate in selecting leaders, they will obey and submit to their leaders, they will follow the example of their leaders, they will pray for their leaders and they will support healthy participation with other ministries.
  10. Prayer Warrior: healthy church members are prayerful church members. They will pray constantly, in the Spirit, for labourers and leaders, for the saints, for those in authority and for those who abuse and persecute them.

I would encourage you to get hold of both books for a more fulsome discussion of what constitutes healthy church membership.