I have been thinking a lot about membership lately. The below is taken from a section of a draft membership document we are working on. What are the main expectations on church members?
Hebrews 10:25 says, we should not neglect ‘to meet together, as is the habit of some’. The reason is because our meeting together is one of the primary ways we fulfil our obligations as church members. It is very hard to encourage, build up, challenge, edify or any of the ‘one another’ commands when we don’t meet with the other believers to whom we have committed. We expect regular attendance when the church gathers together.
In Acts 2:42 we see the things the early church prioritised. We find they devoted themselves to teaching, fellowship, the Lord’s Supper and prayer. These are the activities that make a church, a church. In Luke 22:19, Jesus commands his disciples to remember and proclaim his death in communion. In 1 Corinthians 10:16f, Paul makes clear this is a corporate meal that constitutes a church. In communion, we renew our commitment to Christ and his people. The Lord’s Supper marks off a group of people as a church and distinguishes them from the world around them (even the world meeting with them inside their building). By drawing a line between the church and the world, baptism and the Lord’s Supper make it possible to point to something and say, ‘there is a church’ rather than ‘there are some Christians’. This, then, makes communion an affirmation of commitment by the members to one another as well as by the church to all who partake that here are Christian people that constitute one church.
Attend members’ meetings
When we join the church in membership, we enter into a family relationship (cf. Rom 8:14-17; Eph 2:19; 1Ti 3:15). Most people are not interested in the budget or the decorating decisions of other families that they don’t know and to whom they don’t belong. But your own family budget really matters and the state of your own family home, whilst not interesting to anybody outside, does matter to you. As a member of the family at Oldham Bethel Church, you have an active stake in the running of the church. As a member, this is now your family home along with the other members. Consistent attendance at members meetings is not only a way for you to have a voice in the affairs concerning your family, it is a direct outworking of our commitment to one another.
The bible tells us to pray ‘without ceasing’ (1Th 5:17). We are called to pray for each other (Eph 6:18; Jam 5:16) and for our leaders (Col 4:3f; 1Th 3:1; Heb 13:18f). If the church is the sum of its members, this means we are called to pray for the church. That is, each individual member as well as its wider work and mission. A great place to do this is in the regular church prayer meetings. However, we should also commit to doing this privately in our own time.
The bible is full of instructions about giving. Jesus taught his disciples to give (Luk 6:38) and Paul directed the churches to take a collection for the work of ministry (1Co 16:1f). There is no set amount we must give, as Paul noted in 2 Corinthians 9:7, ‘each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver’ (2 Cor 9:7). Some of us have been granted much by God others have comparatively little. The bible does not say those with little don’t have to give at all, instead we’re told to be generous (2 Cor 9:6). Whilst each member is to determine in their own heart what generous giving looks like for them, we expect every church member to give financially to the work of the gospel.
Our church vision statement says we are ‘a church of disciples who make disciples of Jesus Christ by allowing God’s word to do God’s work by God’s Spirit’. If we are to be a church of disciples who make disciples of Jesus Christ, this necessarily involves each of us in the work of ministry. The bible is full of commands to build up the church (1Th 5:11) and to reach out to the world with the gospel (Mat 28:19f). We, therefore, expect every member at Oldham Bethel Church to serve joyfully in the work of ministry. Where there is service to build up the body and where there are opportunities to reach out with the gospel, we expect each member to be involved in such work.
Are you asking your members to vow to these requirements? If you do then you must make sure you don’t create stumbling blocks for unfaithfulness. (Ecclesiastes 5) As the world’s government makes legislation to inforce legislation or legislates morality, once you begin to be very specific you create, like the Pharisees, extra requirements.
If your gut reaction to that is to ask for a definition of regular, I would sense that membership candidate hasn’t really grasped the point of covenant commitment. It feels a little like being asked, what’s the minimum I have to do before you consider it a problem? In the context of committing in membership to the church of Christ, it’s probably the wrong question. It seems crass and, perhaps, motivated by a spirit that isn’t all that interested in regular attendance but wants to make sure one’s duty can be done with minimal inconvenience.
There are two reasons we don’t want to quantify it. We don’t want to quantify it because scripture doesn’t stick a number on it. We follow Heb 10:25, which doesn’t quantify it but nonetheless demands regular attendance when the church meets. The other reason we don’t want to quantify it is in line with the above. We don’t want to create a bunch of religious dutiful adherents who believe a certain magic number means they have ‘made it’ and ‘done the necessary’. We want people whose hearts want to meet together regularly and are moved to action because of this, quantifying it as a minimum of 3 times per month, for example, undercuts this.
“We expect regular attendance when the church gathers together.” How do you define or quantify “regular”?
We do have weekly communion
One way to simplify 1 & 2 is to have weekly communion.
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