A healthy church presents church membership as a blessing and mandate for the believer. The blessing is that the church affirms the believer’s faith and builds the believer up in love (Eph. 4:11-16). The mandate is that Jesus requires Christians to submit to his authority by submitting to the church’s authority. You’re not truly a member of the body if you can simply detach at will. (See original quote.)
Every church should strive to be a healthy church. Why? Because it means healthy ministry and lends itself to healthy multiplication, meaning more and more healthy followers of Jesus. What is considered “healthy” in a believer is a topic of further discussion, but one of the tenets of a healthy church is church membership.
What is church membership?
Chuck Lawless defines church membership and says what it does in the life of the church:
- is a person’s public commitment to a particular group of believers.
- defines and builds the team that is ready to do the work of the church.
- offers a support system when people are going through difficult times.
- provides opportunities for spiritual growth under the guidance and accountability of other church members.
- challenges believers to use their God-given spiritual gifts alongside others God has placed in the church.
- grants permission to believers to offer input and direction for a local church body.
- provides a family in a rapidly changing society.* (Lawless, Chuck, Membership Matters, Michigan: Zondervan, 2005, print.)
Church Membership is such a robust topic, but I wish to highlight one specific area: fidelity. Your faithfulness to a local church is representative of your faithfulness to the Lordship of Jesus. We see many aspects of fidelity making its’ way through the Christian life, like the our fidelity in marriage has crossover with our fidelity to the Lord, but this specific area of fidelity: our commitment to a local assembly, is especially revealing to what and who we give authority.
We should not deny what the Psalmist already knew to be true, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof and those who dwell therein,” (Ps 24.1) everything that we have, everything that we are, and everything that exists, has existed, and will exist belong to the Lord. I believe the Apostle Paul succinctly defines it as, “Christ is all and in all.” (Col. 3.10) There is no disconnecting yourself, or anything from it’s true owner, and there isn’t any division that can change that. I was particularly moved in the opening quote by the last line, “You’re not truly a member of the body if you can simply detach at will.”
There are lots of great reasons to leave a church. For instance: heresy, corrupt leadership, the Lord is moving you elsewhere, but detaching at will, or because you don’t like the music, hate the new communion hardware, or so-and-so didn’t let you teach a Bible class, are not real reasons to leave a church. When we are not covenanted to a local assembly it means that we are without Biblical authority and oversight in our lives, which is not indicative of a growing body that is increasing in maturity (Eph 4.16,13). Church membership implies that we are deeply involved with the mission and vision of the local church, can articulate a set of beliefs, and trust in the care and shepherding of Biblically qualified elders. It means that we’re ready to worship (despite our preferences), to grow, to do the dirty work of building relationships, and to submit to Godly preaching and teaching. Show your fidelity to the Lord and His gospel by committing to your local church. Be a covenanted community.
What’s a covenanted community look like?
“The church is not finally something that’s for you and every member of your family by physical, natural descent, or that is yours as a citizen of this nation. Though all are welcome to attend, the New Testament teaches that the church in its purpose and membership is for believers, for those to whom God’s Holy Spirit has given the new birth and who join together in a covenanted community.” (Dever, Mark. Nine Marks of a Healthy Church (3rd Edition) (9Marks) (Kindle Locations 2225-2227). Crossway. Kindle Edition.)
A covenanted community is a group of believers who does the following:
- To care for one another physically and spiritually (Matt. 25: 40; John 12: 8; Acts 15: 36; Rom. 12: 13; 15: 26; 1 Cor. 16: 1– 2; Gal. 2: 10; 6: 10; Heb. 13: 16; James 1: 27; 1 John 3: 17; Deut. 15: 7– 8, 11)
- To watch over one another and hold one another accountable (Rom. 15: 14; Gal. 6: 1– 2; Phil. 2: 3– 4; 2 Thess. 3: 15; Heb. 12: 15; cf. Lev. 19: 17; Ps. 141: 5)
- To work to edify one another (1 Cor. 14: 12– 26; Eph. 2: 21– 22; 4: 12– 29; 1 Thess. 5: 11; 1 Pet. 4: 10; 2 Pet. 3: 18)
- To bear with one another (Matt. 18: 21– 22; Mark 11: 25; Rom. 15: 1; Gal. 6: 2; Col. 3: 12), including not suing one another (1 Cor. 6: 1– 7)
- To pray for one another (Eph. 6: 18; James 5: 16)
- To keep away from those who would destroy the church (Rom. 16: 17; 1 Tim. 6: 3– 5; Titus 3: 10; 2 John 10– 11)
- To reject evaluating people by worldly standards (Matt. 20: 26– 27; Rom. 12: 10– 16; James 2: 1– 13)
- To contend together for the gospel (Phil. 1: 27; Jude 3)
- To be examples to one another (Phil. 2: 1– 18) (See above Nine Marks of a Healthy Church reference)
While all of those things are achievable without church membership, the defining element for a covenanted community is that it is led by a group of qualified individuals that have submitted themselves to the leading of the Holy Spirit, to the integrity of the Word of God, and to the care and maturation of the body of Christ. The Bible illustrates a great need for qualified individuals in scripture (Titus, 1 Timothy 3, 1 Peter 5), indicating that it is God’s design for the local assembly to be shepherded by Godly individuals.
Church Membership Matters because:
- It gives us an outline for our personal discipleship
- Practicing submission, growing in community, and submitting to teaching are all areas of Christian discipline.
- Forces us to grow within community
- You’re invested into a family. This entails relationships.
- Helps us practice submission
- By trusting in the authority of Elders, who are led by the Spirit, you are practicing submission to God’s Will.
- Grows us in areas of transparency and vulnerability
- Relationships imply messyness. A growing community has hard conversations and prays about difficult subjects. It also allows accountability, stamping out public sin where present
- Pushes toward healthy commitment
- You’re agreeing to something much bigger than yourself. You’re aligning yourself to a Biblical mission of the church and helping the church complete its’ work in evangelizing the nations.
- Increases our capacity for meaningful service
- Every person should be serving, but membership aides in a vested interest in seeing your church flourish
Gateway Church has a desire to be the healthiest church it can be, positioning itself to be the brightest light in NE Benton, Arkansas.
Upcoming Covenant Membership Class opportunity:
February 12, 2017
February 19, 2017
February 26, 2017
Sign up this Sunday!