October 18, 2017

Evangelical Untouchables 4: How Important is Church Membership?

untouchThe Evangelical Untouchables are seven diverse evangelicals who will give us a window into what’s happening in evangelicalism today.

Who are the Evangelical Untouchables?

Michael Patton is the director of Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, blogs at Parchment and Pen and is one of the teachers on The Theology Program.
Tony Kummer is on staff at a Southern Baptist Church in the midwest and blogs at SBC Voices.
Ryan Couch is a Calvary Chapel pastor in Oregon, and blogs at Small Town Preacher.
Kirk Cowell pastors a Church of Christ in North Carolina. He blogs at A Soul In Training.
Lindsey Williams is planting a PCA Church in North Carolina, and blogs at From Acorns to Oaks.
Matt Edwards is a small groups pastor in a Non-denominational/Bible church in Washington, and blogs at Awaiting Redemption.
Darrell Young pastors a Christian and Missionary Alliance Church near Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

This episode’s question: “Many evangelicals are abandoning the practice of formal church membership. What is your feeling about the practice of formally joining the local church? How do you relate your church’s practice to the mission of the church?”

profileMichael Patton (Independent/Bible Church): What is your feeling about the practice of formally joining the local church?

I remember in one candid moment not too long ago a church member asked me why he should join our church and I answered as honestly as I could at the time. I am going to share the answer I gave, but I want to fill this in with a little reminder of my background. Being a part of a non-denominational church and, for the most part, growing up in these circles, has made church membership somewhat of a formality, transferring a person from going to such and such church to really going to such and such church. It, unfortunately, has no traditional inherent meaning. For the most part, the most it does is qualify someone to teach, or to be an elder, or to be a deacon (yes, we have deacons).

I answered the gentleman by saying, “To be honest, it is really for legal purposes.” You will find this more often than you think among church leaders, especially those who have been burned in one way or another. You see, in order for a church to exercise church discipline and not get sued, you have to protect yourself. Sometimes that is what church membership is about. You sign that you will abide by the rules. If there is no speaking in tongues during service among our membership and you formally agreed to such, now we can more confidently usher you out. If you teach a Sunday School class and commit adultery, we are protected when you are removed from your position.

Of course, this is not all there is to church membership, but every church administration knows that legal council will tell you to have membership to protect yourself. Usually, in big “free churches” this is the straw that breaks the back of the undecided. Not too theological, but very practical.

Theologically speaking, we are members of the body of Christ, no matter what formality we have in our name. I think this is very important to keep in focus. Church membership is fine so long as it does not serve to alienate you from Pastor John down the road. The local church is simply a local extension of the universal body of Christ. Membership should always focus on this first so that the new members have perspective. No local church has ownership of any individual members. In this respect, ironically, I am normally more comfortable with local church membership in the “free church” (non-denominational) than I am when there is a particular tradition or denomination involved.

How do you relate your church’s practice to the mission of the church?

I feel as if my church does membership well. But, I have yet to become a member of this particular church we have been involved in for the last year and a half, so my comments here would not be too well informed (it is actually loosely affiliated with a denomination). However, I believe that my tradition normally keeps the universal body of Christ in perspective well. This is somewhat easy where there is no denominational pride involved.

Kirk Cowell (Church of Christ): In the church I attended as a little boy, church membership was essentially equivalent to certificate from the leadership testifying that you had fulfilled the requirements to be saved. I think there was a subtext to our practice that assumed that our congregation was the only outpost of the kingdom in our city (or one of a very few) and if you wanted to “go to heaven” you needed to be in good standing with us. That’s a pretty poor theology, and one that I’m happy to be rid of.

If your ecclesiological view is that there are many legitimate expressions of the kingdom–high church, low church, house church–and that God is calling people through all of those expressions (and that’s my view), then we need to rethink what church membership is–for that matter, we need to rethink what a “local church” is. I hesitate to stick the label “church” on our organization, as the church is much bigger than us. The “XYZ Church of Christ” is really a voluntary community of like-minded believers with some significant theological and stylistic similarities. We aren’t “the church”–just a tiny part of it. All of which is to say that if we drop the idea that church membership is an endorsement of your redeemed status, or a sign that you are in good standing with the One True Church, then we have the freedom to make it something much more useful and interesting.

I would like to de-couple membership from assent to theological propositions and instead make the salient issue one’s willingness to commit to the spiritual practices of the community. That’s essentially a complete reversal from what we do right now. At the moment, if you are properly baptized and believe that Jesus is the son of God, we’ll put you on the roll and you can be a back-bench, essentially non-participating “member” of our “church” for decades. I’m not necessarily critical of a person’s choice to do that–there are plenty of ways to work for the kingdom outside of our congregational structure, and if you want to show up for Sunday worship and never be seen other than that, I’m not interested in judging that choice. I just think we shouldn’t have such a low bar for members. What if, instead, membership meant that you were committing to follow the spiritual authority of our elders, to faithfully participate in Sunday worship, to pray regularly and to join a fellowship or accountability group? I’d love to say to people “There are lots of communities you can join. Many are good options. But if you want to join us, you need to realize that we hold ourselves accountable to certain expectations in order to maintain a robust spiritual life. If that’s a commitment you aren’t ready to make, you are truly welcome to join us for worship as often as you like. But membership here isn’t a casual thing. It’s a deep commitment to living together as the family of God for the sake of the world.” Church membership done in that way is one step away from viewing church as organization or event, and a step toward viewing church as people following the way of Christ together.

Tony Kummer (Southern Baptist): I’ve never been in a church that practiced real church membership. The 200-person church that baptized me actually had 1,200 members. Each SBC church hop since then has been the same story. All of them claimed to receive members, but none had a committee on math.

What was worse, I never found real community and belonging to these churches stunted my spiritual growth. The church I now serve is similar. We’ve made some strides over the last few years, but real spiritual fellowship is still very distant. Our church understands baptism and membership as implied by the Great Commission. But in practice, we don’t have it worked out.

I believe the New Testament church did have a clear sense of who was “in” and “out” of their church. People were removed from fellowship and welcomed back. How this translates to our modern context is a problem. The ancient church held private services in secret or small venues. Our churches hold public services in massive buildings that encourage anonymous participation. There is a wide gap between our formal church membership and the New Testament concept of the body of Christ.

Lindsey Williams (Presbyterian Church in America): It does seem that the notion of “church membership” is becoming less and less popular in evangelical circles. The typical response I have heard is that the term “church membership” is nowhere to be found in the bible. To that, I would respond, you are exactly right. The term is nowhere to be found. However, the term “trinity” is also nowhere to be found in the bible, but does that make it any less biblical of a concept. To that I would hope our answer would be “no”. The question is not a matter of whether or not the term exists, but whether or not the concept exists, because theology is done on the concept level. While on the surface we don’t see “church membership” as we practice it today in the pages of the bible, we do in fact see a number of new testament practices which make a commitment to the visible body of Christ an essential part of the Christian life. The NT equivalent of “membership” was baptism as it was a practice signifying one’s membership in the body of Christ. In a normative sense, this was very much connected to the leadership of the church and provided a very clear distinction between those inside the church and outside the church. What the bible does not address is the reality of our current culture in which we are much more transient and thus switch churches frequently. We do see primitive forms of membership transfer when the apostle Paul encourages one church to embrace a visitor from another church as they travel to their locale (see Philemon; 1 Corinthians 16, etc.). There are a number of passages in the NT which imply the reality of being formally connected to a local body of believers. Hebrews 13:17 indicates Christians have clear understanding of the leaders they are to submit to. Matthew 18 implies a system of visible accountability for dealing with sinfulness (as does 1 Corinthians 5:12-13). It is very clear that baptism signifies one’s inclusion into a church (1 Corinthians 12:13), and in this same passage we actually do see the word “member” used. Virtually every major protestant denomination has encouraged “membership” over the years and I believe it is because they have come to believe the idea of church membership is based upon very biblical concepts and it is actually necessary in our transient culture to ensure that we as leaders can fulfill the command of Acts 20:28 to keep watch over the flock of which we as pastors are overseers. Practically, church membership helps me to know who the sheep are that I am called to pastor. We live in a culture of non-committal, and I have a very hard time thinking that the new push to not have formal church membership is based upon anything biblical when church history tells us otherwise and the culture of the day seems so only encourage the lack of a clear understanding of commitment in relationships. I don’t put church history on equal footing as the bible, but it is very helpful in figuring out if my interpretations of the bible are correct. I do think there is a big danger in American evangelicalism to basically “make out” with the church, without being willing to commit to her. In my opinion, this is just as dangerous as trying to co-habitate with someone without actually getting married. When someone asks me, “Why should I join a church?” my response is that they are asking the wrong question. The right question is “Why shouldn’t I join a church?”. Why shouldn’t I commit to a community that Jesus has made so clear that he has loved enough to die for (Ephesians 5:25)? Why shouldn’t I commit to loving the very people that Jesus loved. Why shouldn’t I commit to people who worship Jesus, when I have already agreed to commit to being a citizen of the United States? Furthermore, most of the NT epistles are written not to general Christians, but to specific visible churches. Those instances where letters are written to general Christians, there are passages (like Hebrews 13:17) which imply a commitment to the visible church. While the NT does not say, “Go join a church”, it is implied all over its pages. So I say, lets not “make out with the church”, but allow her to make a “honest” Christian out of us.

All of this being said, I think it is very important to make your church an atmosphere where people can explore Christianity without being forced to become a member. I am very willing to let people just come and not commit for a period of time, allowing patience for God to work in their lives and for the gospel to take root. However, I do want to make it clear (primarily through my actions) that my commitment level to “members” is different than my commitment level to non-members. I’m deeply committed to evangelism, and firmly believe in the church fulfilling the great commandment and the great commission. But I will treat the failing marriage of a member in our church much different than the failing marriage of someone who just “attends” my church. A member has invited me to be their pastor, while the “attender” has not given me such a privilege. I will then help the struggling couple who are non-members only insofar as they invite me to help them and as I feel able to do so in light of other priorities. I have found this to be a very helpful distinction in my previous role as an associate pastor in an established church. I want people to know that much like a marriage, there are certain benefits you receive from being connected formally with the church that you don’t by merely “dating” the church. But my ultimate goal is for everyone to grow in their commitment to the body of Christ as a reflection of his commitment to us. I will gently encourage people as they come to faith in Jesus Christ, to seek to fulfill the biblical principles of accountability by going through our best expression of establishing those relationships and modeling biblical community, aka membership. I have gradually learned to love the church, not because she is perfect, but because the One who loves her, being Jesus is perfect and loves her in spite of herself.

Darrell Young (Christian and Missionary Alliance): The first response we’ll hear from many on this subject is that church membership is not biblical. I’m not so sure. In 1 Timothy 5 Paul goes into a rather detailed set of instructions regarding the care of widows and who should or should not be “enrolled” into the church’s support. This may not relate to modern church membership but it at least makes reference to developing a list of people falling under the care of elders. Further, in discussing church discipline, Paul gives instruction in 1 Corinthians 5 to take the immoral man and put him out. You cannot really put someone out if they have not in some meaningful way been “put in.”

Aside from the modern legal issues around the running of an organization, there are some practical considerations. Without a system of membership, how do the elders know who is under their care? How many Sundays a month does one have to attend before pastoral responsibility is taken? Do you go with those who give money? Those who volunteer? Membership can give clarity to the leadership. This has actually been something we have emphasized to our people. Taking out membership is encouraging and helpful to the elders. It is a positive way of expressing submission in community. While an individual submits to the leaders, the leaders feel the collective accountability to the members.

We don’t think of membership as akin to a marriage commitment. It is simply this; while I’m here, I’ll be a part of this fellowship. To express this I’ll take the class, meet with the elders, shake their hand in front of the congregation in the simplest of ceremonies, and get my name on the list. Then I’ll get busy with my “time, talents, and treasure.” When I move I’ll take this up with my next church.

Now, here is the key for the way we are thinking about membership in our church and how it relates to our mission of making disciples. What is the number one criticism of Christians? Is it not that we are hypocrites? We can’t live by our own precepts. This takes us back to church discipline, which is directly related to evangelism. Evangelicals have dropped discipline partly out of fear of losing people. I suspect that the opposite has happened; we have lost people because we have dropped discipline. Membership facilitates the practice of church discipline. It does not guarantee it, but it can lend itself to a process where it is more likely. A congregation of holy people living and speaking their faith is the most vital component for carrying out our mission.

Matt Edwards (Independent/Bible Church): A couple of years ago Brooke and I moved from an apartment in Gig Harbor a house 20 minutes away in Port Orchard. The experience was exciting. For the first time in our lives we were homeowners. We had our own plot of land (and a picket fence to boot!). We had permanent neighbors. We finally felt “rooted.”

But moving from Gig Harbor to Port Orchard was also a bit scary. Our housing expenses tripled. My commute quadrupled. We were displaced from one community and transplanted into another. It was a bit traumatic. But the worst part of the whole experience was . . .

I had to quit the gym in our old neighborhood.

Is there a harder thing in the world to do than quit a gym? The queue that forms at the membership cancellation desk truly is “the line of shame.” And as you wait in the line of shame behind the 300-pound guy and the lady with four screaming kids, you notice that everyone walking by gives you that look. You can tell that they would wag their finger in your face if it was culturally acceptable. You’ve failed. You’ve given up. You’ve quit. And the form that you fill out to cancel your membership always has at least one question on it like:

Why are you quitting the gym?

I no longer care about my appearance. My next errand is to buy a Mumu.
I think health and wellness are highly overrated. What’s so bad about a heart attack at 50, anyway?
I have abandoned all hope of ever returning to my pre-baby weight. I mean seriously, who am I kidding?
I don’t have the energy. Work out? Ha! At my age, it’s a good day if I even leave the house.

But now that I say that, perhaps there is one thing more difficult than quitting a gym—quitting a church. I don’t know what it is about formal membership, but once your get on the role at most churches, Saint Peter himself has to write the church secretary a note to get you off. I kid you not; five years ago I went to a large church in Dallas where Billy Graham was on the role (or at least that was the rumor). I used to tell people that someone needed to call Billy. I hadn’t seen him in church in quite a while and I was starting to worry that he was backsliding.

Have you ever received “the call” from a church that you used to be a member of, but hadn’t attended for some time? “Hi, this is Brother Bob from First Church of Springfield. We haven’t seen you in a while and we were just wondering how you were doing. We miss you around here.” And you’re thinking, “Well, ever since I moved away from Springfield 18 months ago, I’ve been going to church here in my new town. But thanks for checking up on me. It’s good to know that if I suddenly died in my apartment that someone from my church would come check on me within two years.”

How were you a “member” of that church in any way but on paper?

Believers Fellowship does not have formal membership, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have membership. We say, “Those who have believed in Christ and have chosen to fellowship with us are considered to be a part of our church family. Therefore any Christian is a ‘member’ of Believers Fellowship by virtue of his or her continued participation and ministry in the church.” In other words, if you’re here, you believe, and you’re involved, you’re a member.

How do you relate your church’s practice to the mission of the church?
It’s been said that while previous generations believed and then looked for a place to belong, this generation needs to belong before they can believe. I agree. Most people today need to be accepted by the community of faith before they will make a confession of faith. Thus there will always be unbelievers in our faith communities. (Unless, of course, we abandon the mission and just talk amongst ourselves.)

But are these unbelieving members of the community members of the church? I would have to say “no,” even if they participate in the life and ministry of the church. There has to be a difference between those who are truly a part of our church and those who just ape our Christian devotion. How do you distinguish between the two groups? I don’t know. What do you call the crowd of people that hang out with us, “worship” with us, take communion with us, but don’t believe? I don’t know. But I’m glad they’re here. That means we’re doing our job. (Perhaps Matthew 13:24–30 applies.)

But then again, getting people to sign their names on a form to become “members” doesn’t solve that problem, anyway.

Ryan Couch (Calvary Chapel): The only church I’ve ever been a part of that practiced formal membership was the Conservative Baptist Church, where I came to Christ as a teenager.

Calvary Chapel as a whole does not embrace the practice of church membership. I think there may be a few Calvary Chapels that have instituted the practice but by in large it’s not part of our tradition or ecclesiology.

For our church locally I think we have always seen church membership as something that happens on a spiritual level, we are baptized into one body (1 Cor. 12:12ff) and any effort to duplicate that falls short of the intended goal. Obviously church membership does not equate salvation, so the motivation generally falls under the category of discipleship. For which I have absolutely no qualms whatsoever. If the leadership of a local church believes that they can best fulfill the Great Commission by practicing formal membership then they would be sinful not to do it. Transversely if a church institutes or perpetuates membership so that they can obligate people to attend, serve, and give more faithfully I think they are traveling down a slippery slope.

I want people to identify with Jesus first and foremost. We are in fact Christians, which means that our identity should never be with “Calvary Chapel” or any other denomination. That being said the absence of formal membership does not insulate a church from this isolationist paradigm. My movement has been very guilty of turning its nose up at other Christian groups and that is a shame. Therefore in light of this desire to simply identify with Jesus and no man or group we have chosen not to adopt the practice of formal membership, and it hasn’t been a hindrance any in of the above areas of concern.

However in light of the Bible’s ambiguity regarding the subject I believe that each individual church needs to hear from God as to what practice will help them best achieve the mission of the local church.

Our mission at Calvary Chapel in Prineville, OR has been to make disciples of Jesus; to inform people that the kingdom of God has come near (Luke 10:11) and to allow the Holy Spirit to revolutionize lives with the power of the gospel. In keeping with that mission we want to bring broken people to His kingdom, which is far bigger than what we’re doing here. We are dedicated to pointing sinners to Jesus and allowing Him to covenant with them individually from which will flow a spontaneous response of faithfulness in the local church.

Comments

  1. First an observation then a few questions for the Untouchables. “Becoming a member” of a church as far as I can tell is foreign to the NT. Every instance where membership is referenced, believers are spoken of as already being members. Since there is no command to “become a formal member”, doing so would be extra-biblical and subject to a believer’s conscience.

    What, then, would you tell a Christian that desires to obey the bible, but objects to formal membership out of conscience? Also, what level of obedience to Christ can be obtained through “membership” that isn’t already inherent in baptism?

  2. I find that supporters of formal church membership invariably wander into using words like “imply” when defending the notion. Quite frankly, formal church membership of any sort is absent from the NT and that is doubly true of the whole system of “church membership” that we have concocted. What links the Christian with other Christian is fellowship, not membership.

    The reality is that we are so used to the tradition of church membership we assume it must be in the Bible and when we can’t find it, we resort to “imply” and “infers” to defend the tradition. If you want to have “membership” in your church, have at it. There are lots of pragmatic reasons you can give to do so. Just don’t try to cram the concept into Scripture.

  3. Steve,

    That’s precisely why we haven’t adopted formal membership.

    I don’t think there is any level of obedience to Christ that can be obtained through membership. I think Lindsey makes some great points about dating the church and yet not committing to the church, but I think even he would admit that you don’t have to formally join the church to avoid the consumerism that pervades the church.

  4. Steve Scott, I’m not Untouchable, but I’ll take a swing at your question, since I should be doing something else:

    I thought being baptized meant explicitly becoming a ‘member’ of the community whose leader Baptized you – hence the whole “I follow Paul” / “I follow Apollos” necessitating Paul to chidingly remind them of whom the first Christians were being baptized in the NAME OF. The Essenes baptized people all the time – you had to be baptized in order to become one of them, actually. John the Baptist baptized the people who came to listen to him, and they claimed him even when he explicitly told them what he was really doing.

    So if I’m not making this up, it follows that being baptized has always meant formally becoming one of a definite number of followers, joining a PARTICULAR group, foremost and before to any superlative metaphysical significance that it may have. In our case, being baptized Christian means joining a group of Christians, not appelating to oneself any kind of ontological category like ‘Christian believers’ or whatever.

    Objecting to ‘formal membership’ is kind of a philosophical misunderstanding of what makes a person a Christian, as far as I can see.

  5. Oops, I think I used a wrong word in my first comment. I should have said, “…what level of obedience to Christ can be expected through ‘membership’ that isn’t already inherent in baptism?” 🙂

  6. Scott Miller says:

    I like the first response – very honest – that we need membership so that if we discipline someone (even if he is acting like a crazy person) we won’t get sued.
    I had an incident about 10 years ago where the church we were going to considered my kids to be members because they had been baptised there, but not me, because I had not come forward to be formally accepted into the fellowship. Although I had gone there for over a year and even gave regularly.

  7. I want to know what the various untouchables think of the 9Marks/Mars Hill Seattle reasons for church membership – which boils down to: as a Christian, you should be involved in (and part of) a local church, and if you’re going to be involved with and part of that church, you need to be a member. (I’m sure you can easily Google their reasons why they believe this to be so).

  8. NOTE TO COMMENTERS:

    You are always welcome to address questions to either the Untouchables or the Gangstas, but when I signed them up, I never told them that they were obligated to monitor to comment threads and answer questions. So toss out the questions, but don’t be disappointed if you don’t get an answer. Real life and all that.

    ms

  9. Understood, iMonk. I’ll be mindful of that in the future.

    When I agreed to join my current church, I did so with much reluctance; I had never been in a church that not only had membership but also had expectations of its members, and codified them into the membership covenant, and expected you to keep up your part when you signed it. Before going to where I am now, church membership was agreeing to the basics of the faith and signing a card.

    I read up on Mars Hill’s membership (and Driscoll’s Reformation Rev book), and read 9 Marks of a Healthy Church, to familiarize myself with the concept, along with taking our church’s membership class.

    I signed it only when understanding as fully as I could what I was getting myself into…but the trepidation came from all of the potential ramifications of my choice regarding church discipline. There are potential negatives, to be sure, but that is the case with anything in ministry. I trusted that my church’s leadership could be trusted to do the right thing, and so far the positives have far outweighed the negatives (both in real life and in my mind).

    I believe church membership has many benefits. I would urge church leaders to exercise grace and love, because discipline shouldn’t be about punishment and bringing the pain, it should be about restoring a wayward brother and helping getting him back on the right path.

  10. Kenny Johnson says:

    Personally I like the idea of church membership, because I believe the congregation has a right to vote on major issues facing the church, to elect its leaders, etc. Without a formal membership, how do you make sure that those who are voting are actually committed to the congregation? How do you prevent and outside influences from influencing the church, etc.

    People keep saying that formal church membership isn’t in the NT. But couldn’t we say the same thing for the position of the Sr. Pastor?

  11. I pastor a rural baptist church where 40 will show up on Sunday Morning. 80 are on the members list. It used to be about 150 until we finally decided to notify folks and make deletions. We had folks on their who we had not seen in decades. Folks who had died, folks who had joined other denominations but not told us.

    The biggest fight we had was some folks wanted to stay on so they could get a burial plot. Our plots are free. If you do not have a church cemetary consider yourself blessed.

  12. Teenage Mutant Ninja Tertullian says:

    I don’t understand what legal difference “membership” makes, except for congregational elections or what have you. (Or if you have to sign a disclaimer in order to receive “church discipline.”)

    For example, if a non-member speaks in tongues at a non-charismatic church, why would that prevent them from being ushered out? And if your kids are considered members through baptism, how could that possibly have any legal standing?

    I think a lot of people turn to churches looking for “community,” but this usually isn’t realistic, unless the church is very small, ethnic, or cult-y. Typically, they offer the *trappings* of community, but after the kiss of peace (or handshake of peace), people turn away again. Which is entirely normal, except the image that gets promoted is one of this cozy place like the Cheers bar, where everybody knows each other and supports one another. No amount of hymn-singing can turn members into actual friends.

  13. Teenage Mutant Ninja Tertullian says:

    Let alone “lovers” (like the romantic “dating” analogy from Williams.

  14. ….i thought most of us following imonk were well beyond the church membership thing……i refuse to reopen the left-side of my brain…..

  15. In a more mainline setting, membership serves several functions.

    1. Many churches are incorporated as nonprofit organizations, and membership helps clarify eligibility to be an office holder in the corporation.

    2. Helps to set and maintain minimum baptismal and catechetical standards.This is an attempt to see to it that believers are baptized and properly taught.

    3. Most importantly it helps in those churches that place a heavy emphasis on Pastoral visitation and care. Who exactly, given a limited amount of time, is the Pastor responsible for shepherding? In churches that believe “everyone is a minister”(read that as Pastor) via the”equipping of the saints”this isn’t as important.

  16. treebeard says:

    Interesting discussion. Thanks iMonk and Untouchables.

    I have been attending a large Vineyard congregation for quite awhile. They have membership, including a process one must go through to become a member. I haven’t yet taken the plunge. And honestly, the reason is that membership means some form of committment, and allows for church authority. For the time being, I enjoy being an anonymous uncommitted irregular attender.

    My previous experience was in a group that claimed not to have any membership at all, but to simply be representative of the entire Body of Christ. So they would appear to be a non-denominational Christian group, similar to what was described in the New Testament before there were any denominations at all. Yet once you were there long enough, you were definitely a “member,” not just of the Body of Christ but of that particular church. Attendance was taken for small and big meetings, disapproval was implied for members who did not consult the elders before making big decisions (school, marriage, job, moving to a new city, etc.), leading brothers would impose strategies for “gaining people” and you were expected to participate. In other words, you were a member whether you wanted to be or not, there was just no formal membership list. The phone list did serve as an informal list of members, and only a few had the courage to say, “Don’t put me on your list.” (I’ve since left that group, but this word is true: You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave.)

    Anyway, that soured me on the concept of membership. But ironically, that church which had no membership probably got away with a lot of abuse because there were no formalities. The church I am attending now, which does have formalities (including a class that is mandatory in order to become a member) appears to have fewer abuses, and it seems that the extremes that I observed in my former church are prevented. My point is, I wonder if a church with a formal structure – a process to become a member, an official membership list, a specific heirarchy of leadership that is out in the open – is healthier than a church that pretends not to have these things, and thus has no checks and balances.

    I’m very interested in what the untouchables have to say about this comparison. Sorry that my comments are always so darn long. I’m trying.

  17. Dave138 says:

    It would be interesting to hear an Auburn Avenue/ Federal Vision response on this particular topic, but I don’t know if they’d be Untouchables or Gangstas. I do think the notion of Covenant is very important to this topic.

  18. Scott Eaton says:

    I find this idea that membership is necessary because it informs the elders who is under their care to be rather weak. I hear this all the time and have even said so myself to try to prop up this tired and irrelevant idea of church membership.

    We have people who have been extremely active participants in our Christian community for years, yet are not members. Their reasons for this are numerous, but there is no doubt that they are a part of “us.” And there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that they love us and we love them and that they would receive encouragement and support from the body and the elders.

    I think it becomes rather obvious rather quickly who is committed to our local body. They show up! They make friends! They participate in community life! They serve! They give! They love other members of the body!

    Does placing their name on a “list” change this? Not a bit. So I would say that any elders/pastors who are actually paying attention to the community should be able to easily discern who is actually a part of their community (church).

  19. Teenage Mutant Ninja Tertullian says:

    More on the “community” analogy–a big difference is the existence of authorities, whether it’s just one guy or more of a committee. The preacher talks at the congregation, but only in a few liberal denominations would anybody feel that they have permission to talk back–which is very unlike ordinary community, but the norm for various forms of performance and entertainment.

  20. What did Jesus have to say about membership?

  21. Membership may not be specifically mentioned in Scripture, but many of the Epistles were directed to specific Churches in specific places, meaning the Church in Corinth or Ephesus or wherever, meaning the clergy and parishoners, so saying there is no membership in Scripture is hard to accept. Also, very early there was a process for becoming a Catholic in the Church with a lengthy process of catechesis ending in accepting the person into full communion. This process has always existed since the foundation of the Church in Acts. Maybe the Untouchables don’t deal with that, it just seems obvious to me. AnneG in NC

  22. ProdigalSarah says:

    What would be an appropriate way to ask to be removed from membership of a church? I have thought about writing a letter to the pastor. At this point in my life I feel I shouldn’t be a member.

    After a lot of prayer I’ve come to understand that I still have some unresolved feelings from childhood church experiences. I find that my resentment to the actions of the current church reflect it, and is the issue more than the actual situations. I need to resolve this stuff, and have found it helpful to visit a variety of churches.

    I reached the point where the thought of going to church was becoming too stressful. I can’t let church sidetrack my journey with Christ. That must come first.

    Also, what do you do when you have come to understand that there are still some very old and deeply buried resentments, but you’re not quite sure how to get past them. I don’t even think this is an issue of unforgivness. I have searched my mind and prayed and prayed and I can’t think who I am supposed to forgive. This stuff is too old and too buried, but it still intrudes on church experiences.

    I don’t know if anybody has an answer. But for the pastors out there, please understand that things may not always be what they seem with members of your congregation. Some of us carry around very old and moldy baggage, so old and buried that we scarcely understand how to find and get rid of it.

  23. A lot of Christians seem to be spiritual polygamists–moving on from one church body to another without formally “divorcing” from the previous church. I didn’t want to become one, so when I wished to remove my name from the membership roll of the traditional reformed congregation in order to join an independent Bible church, I called the pastor to request it. Imagine my shock when he told me that there were only 3 ways to do it:

    1. by letter of transfer to a church with the same doctrinal belief
    2. through church discipline (after a formal 2-year process)
    3. by death

    I suggested that it might be easier for everyone if I just died. He was not amused.

  24. ProdigalSarah says:

    On the sign-in pad at out church you can check, Visitor, Regular Attendee or Member. I am always surprised to see that people who are pretty active in the church are not members. I just didn’t know any better at the time I joined.

    I suspect that once I figure out how to become a non member I may never join another church. Unless, of course, I feel God’s Spirit leading me to do so. No, I didn’t when I joined this church. I simply thought membership was the correct thing to do.

    On being baptized into the church you attend, I was baptized in a Southern Baptist church when I was 9. I told this to the pastor when I joined this church and he thought that was sufficient, even though this is not a Baptist church. The church where I was baptized no longer exists.

  25. Sharon says:

    ProdigalSarah
    “Also, what do you do when you have come to understand that there are still some very old and deeply buried resentments, but you’re not quite sure how to get past them?”

    I think you have to talk about them & express how you feel – even when you don’t know where to start. I think that involves finding a community where you *know* you can share these things because they share their pain too.

    I think membership is being involved in each others lives, not names in a book.

    Sharon

  26. Lindsey Williams says:

    I’m honestly not exactly sure where to begin with all of your questions on the issue of membership, but I will restate my assertion that church membership is crucial to fulfilling the biblical characteristics of a church. A number of you keep getting hung up on the point that the term “membership” is not found in the bible, but let me remind you that the following words are also not in the bible: trinity, bible, omnipotence, omnipotence. So to make the point “Jesus never talked about membership” is a cheap excuse to not engage in the conversation. Insofar as membership is nothing more than a means of designating clearly who is and is not in the church, this concept is assumed all over the pages of the Scripture. Let me ask you a series of questions: How else would you ensure that a Christian is living out the command to “obey their leaders and submit to their authority” (Hebrews 13:17) if you haven’t made a decision to place people in authority over you? How else would you ensure that you have accountability structures in place should you be struggling in some sin if you haven’t made a decision to invite people to “covenant” or “commit” to having your back (Matthew 18; Galatians 6:1)? How else would you live out the command of 1 Corinthians 5:12-13 if you have not made it clear that you are actually in the church to begin with? I know some of these issues are very taboo to talk about in our individualistic & non-committal culture, but I think every Christian actually would love to have people who were so committed to them that they would go through fire and water for them and their family if they were in trouble, in need, or in crisis. I know that this is not the picture that most people have of membership, but please don’t abandon the concept merely because you have been hurt by the church in the past. Don’t abandon the concept because it may actually require commitment out of you. Is it really a mere coincidence that the issue of church membership is being challenged at a time in American history where our culture is more “non-committal” and individualistic than ever? Perhaps our concerns over church membership are not really due to our careful exegesis of Scripture, but our pain over past experiences or our prevailing culture that we have been more influenced by than we realize. As a pastor, I think there are tons of crappy examples of “membership” within the church, but I have also seen how beautiful it can be when you know that people have your back and you see them more as a “family” than spectators in movie theater. I have personally been hurt by the realities of church membership in very significant ways, but when given the option of leaving the church altogether or staying with it, I chose to stay in the church. Not because I was hoping it might be different the next time, but because I believe Jesus loved the church enough to commit to her (which in includes me). And if Jesus can commit to the church, then I can as well. If this answer does not address a question you have already posted, please post again and I will try to answer it. I find this particular question very important as it relates to the Christian life and also much debated, so I will try to respond with my perspective for what it’s worth.

  27. ProdigalSarah says:

    “but I think every Christian actually would love to have people who were so committed to them that they would go through fire and water for them and their family if they were in trouble, in need, or in crisis.”

    My family has been in crisis for the past couple of years. We have gone through a situation that no family would ever want to endure. My pastors are very much aware of our family situation but have never so much as called. The only time I have received a call from the church was when they wanted to know how much I planned to pledge financially.

    I have volunteered at the church quite a bit, worked in their food program and sit with the elderly in the nursing home. I read a lot and donate tons of books to their library.

    Yes, I would love to be a member of a church that would be there to listen, and who might be willing to offer some advice on these older issues that still plague me. The truth is, this is not that kind of church. On the two occasions when I desperately needed to talk with somebody, I called the church and left a message and my call was never returned.

    Even more than what I have experienced, the thing that bothered me most was when the pastors announced the death of a church member. They described him as a man who attended regularly but was a quiet man and they really don’t know anything about his life. For some reason this troubled me more than anything I have personally experienced.

    I would love to be a part of a community and would work like crazy if such a place as you described existed. I simply do not find it at this church. I realize that some of the problem may be because of my own unresolved issues and some of it could be because of the unpleasant nature of our family situation. I only know that this church indifference is not helping me to resolve those things that I need to resolve within myself. I will not allow any of this to influence my relationship with Christ. That is where I need to stay focused. The rest, either I will resolve it somehow, or I will not.

  28. I’m part of a “church plant,” a start-up church. In my denomination, the Assemblies of God, if your church has fewer than 25 members, it’s no longer “sovereign”—that is, independently owned and operated by the church body; its legal ownership shifts to the AG. (Otherwise the last member standing might find himself saddled with all a church’s debts—or find himself the owner of a few million dollars’ worth of church building.) So if we want out from under the denomination’s direct oversight, we need to increase our membership rolls.

    We haven’t been pushing too hard. People are, of course, non-committal. If you’re a “member,” people realize they will be called upon to (a) financially support the church, (b) take positions of leadership, (c) be involved in church government, (d) be more personally accountable to the church, (e) have to embrace the AG’s theological stance on certain issues, and (f) be open to church discipline.

    All those things, to many, are galling. People value their independence. People hate to submit to others’ authority. We also largely have an attitude that church should be fun, and obligation sucks the fun out of it. Those of us who actually want to grow the Kingdom want to do it on our own terms, not yoked to—when it gets right down to it—a cumbersome institution that will, more often than we care for them to, tell us no, and hinder our growth—our independent growth.

    But right there, I would say there’s no scriptural basis for independent growth in Christ. Jesus tells us to love one another. There’s no love without commitment. There’s no true Kingdom growth without love. We Christians have to work together if we’re going to accomplish God’s will. Admittedly, this doesn’t always mean join a church, but frequently, a church is the organization the Holy Spirit is currently using to grow the Kingdom.

    (Parachurches and charities are great at doing good works, but the people in them aren’t being reciprocally ministered to by the organization. The clients, not the employees, get all the love, and the employees burn out fast. Most do their jobs for pay, not out of love, and consequently the group gets the job done, but doesn’t grow the Kingdom any more than incidentally.)

    Our phobias against commitment and submission—yeah, to be fair, often based on bad experiences with bad churches—need to be overcome if we’re going to be part of what God’s doing. How can we preach commitment to Jesus when we ourselves won’t commit to His programs?

  29. John Edwards says:

    Although several of you make a case for not having church membership, I believe I have to agree with Darrell on the practicality of membership. Many feel a preference for a democratic congregation with elected deacons and pastorial staff confirmed by the congregation. Also, committees designed to encourage those who have not attended recently to return (and there are a few that did not move to Springfield) have to be bounded in some way. My church addresses this issue by double booking. We have formal members that have voting rights etc. but we do not shun those that prefer not to join. Rather, we have a second list of Church fellowship associates that we use for information mailings and acounting purposes etc., if you elect to be included. Seems to work fine and each individual can choose.

  30. Steve Newell says:

    In my view, membership with a church is in part an agreement that one agrees with that church’s doctrine.

    Since many churches have taken a minimalist view of doctrine, both in articulating what they believe (“statement of beliefs”) and what they teach/preach, there then must be other factors on which people come to a church. It could be factors such as demographics, church social activities, personality of the pastor, etc.

    This is no different from a local church wanting to be “non-denominational” because they are unwilling to associate themselves with a larger church body based on a common confession or set of doctrines.

  31. Teenage Mutant Ninja Tertullian says:

    Lindsey Williams: “I know some of these issues are very taboo to talk about in our individualistic & non-committal culture, but I think every Christian actually would love to have people who were so committed to them that they would go through fire and water for them and their family if they were in trouble, in need, or in crisis. I know that this is not the picture that most people have of membership, but please don’t abandon the concept merely because you have been hurt by the church in the past.”

    I notice you put the emphasis on the believer’s obligations to the church, rather than the church’s obligation to the believer. In fact it is not realistic to expect a church to “go through fire and water” for its members, although this may occur from time to time on an informal basis. For example, a few years ago there was some church that would pick a name out of a hat and pay all of that person’s debts. Nice of them, to be sure, but notice that if they made this a regular thing, people would join just for that, and the system breaks down. (The same things happened to fraternities and “friendly societies” in the days before actuarial-based insurance.)

    As for the notion that Christians ought to “submit to leaders,” what sort of leaders do you suppose this means, and how much submission? Some might argue that this no longer applies, due to changed circumstances, or that it has only a limited application. And do we get to pick the leader? Anyway, you can see the can of worms that this opens, and perhaps appreciate the perspective of egalitarians / anarchists who avoid hierarchical religions…or at least avoid submitting to those on offer. (Can’t I be my own pope?)

  32. Scott M says:

    I’m confused by the number of people who seem to expect to find in the NT text explicit instructions on the order and structure of ‘liturgia’ (a transliteration of the word I understand is actually used in the NT), details on membership and the like. The NT has many sorts of texts, each with a purpose that is either clearly stated or easy to divine. No text in the NT has the purpose of capturing the details of worship in the same sort of specificity that the Torah gave to tabernacle/temple worship. I didn’t really realize that people expect that for some reason and because it’s not present they assume that no such structure or order was taught by the apostles.

    That’s a bit of an odd perspective to hold. Most of the earliest churches began in the synagogues and met there until they were kicked out. That’s pretty well outlined in Acts. The exception is the church in Jerusalem, which actually met in the temple for a pretty good while. We have a lot of historical information on the shape and practice of the early church and it looked an awful lot like synagogue worship with the addition of the Eucharist. With the exception of a few places where there were problems, like in Corinth, the texts in the NT simply assume everyone is following the worship practices as they were given. Even in Corinth, Paul just writes to correct the problems. Elsewhere, he writes the exhortation to a church to hold to the ‘paradosis’ or tradition they have been given by him whether orally or in writing.

    Membership falls in the same category. Synagogues had (and still have) memberships. The synagogue leader knew who was a member and who wasn’t. (And thus also knew who to kick out when they kicked the church out over time.) That same model, marked by the baptism of Jesus, is historically what the church used as they followed the ‘paradosis’ of the apostles. (As an interesting side note, the NT uses ‘paradosis’ or one of its variants 13 times I believe. Most English translations translate it ‘tradition’ when it’s used negatively and ‘teaching’ when it’s used positively. Not that English translators have ever had an agenda or anything …) Yes, they had members. And they shared a common order and structure to worship. That uniformity could only have come about because it was in fact what the apostles taught as they founded churches. And we actually know an awful lot about both things. We even know more today than we did four hundred years ago from a historical perspective. We just choose to screen much of it out.

    Or so it seems to me.

  33. Prodigal Sarah,
    “Also, what do you do when you have come to understand that there are still some very old and deeply buried resentments, but you’re not quite sure how to get past them?”
    We call it the Sacrament of Confession and Reconciliation. It is amazing the healing that comes through that Sacrament. AnneG in NC

  34. Lindsey Williams says:

    Teenage Mutant,

    While I did not make this clear in my previous posts, I think one of the problems is that we go too far in making a distinction between the “believer” and the “church”, when the NT Scriptures speak of us being the church. What I am speaking of is the church’s obligation to itself, and I actually do believe it is realistic because I have seen the church in action. It happens both formally and informally, under the direct authority of the leadership and even without the pastors in the church knowing it. I will agree that it is much more rare in our day and age, but that does not mean it is not possible. Is it far from perfect? Of course. But part of the problem is that Christians have given up on longing for a church to be this for one another. It has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. I can say that church’s I have been a part of in the past actually take care for their own people, and not just pulling a name out of a hat. It doesn’t mean that we pay for everyone’s debt (as sometimes that may be the worst thing to do), but it means that we seek to shepherd and care for one another. I suppose the biggest reason why I can’t make myself say, “It is unrealistic for a church to do this” is the fact that the NT church seemed to actually do it (Acts 2:42-46; 2 Corinthins 8:1-4) and we are called to do the same. It may be a longer process for some churches than others to get to the point of following this biblical command, but it doesn’t mean it is something we should strive towards (much like personal holiness).

    In regards to submission, I have never heard a serious scholar claim that the charge to submit to some form of leadership no longer applies. The point of membership is that it actually means you CAN pick the church that you will submit to. There are tons of cans of worms involved in the issue of submission, but to use those difficulties as a means of not placing yourself under someone’s care is not a good reason. I just don’t see how one can get around the clear biblical teaching of submission. I say this for pastors as well. For that I find catholicism very dangerous, because the pope is not under the authority of another person either. So I think the whole basis of “being your own pope” is based upon a catholic doctrine that in itself is unbiblical.

  35. I have mixed feelings about membership rolls. I like them because they do help identify people who have made a commitment to a local body of believers. I have no problems with those who are not ready for that, whether it be still church seeking, or other reasons.

    Where I see some of the problem lies is the commitment of the church to its members. Are you just a number on an offering envelope or are there ways designed to help the members become small group communities within the body?

    I don’t have any answers, though. I suspect that the balance depends upon local needs, circumstances and even history. It is definitely easier for a church where there is a lot of moving in and out, to have ways to get the new people active and known, than in one where the whole area is very stable without much moving in and out.

  36. Church membership is a fascinating topic for me and I’m glad to see all the comments. It’s clear to me that there is more involved here than simply “is membership biblical?” I see in the comments a number of factors: WHO defines what a “member” is; WHO gets to determine when, how and for what purpose somebody is a member; the relationship between church and kingdom; to what extent do pastors have authority; what the true nature of the church is; where is the line drawn between individuality and individualism.

    What troubles me most is that most membership systems I’ve encountered allow for a two-tiered system of commitment to Christ, with a resulting artificial class system of treatment of people. There are the “spiritual” members and the “not-so-spiritual” regular attenders. In my experience and thought, most membership systems actually create the problems they are designed to avoid. Shepherds seem to have an inherent mistrust of sheep and devise systems to guard against their sins to “protect” the church from them, while sheep seem to have an inherent mistrust of shepherds and avoid their systems that hold them in suspicion in the first place. All this divides the body into unneeded camps. The solution? Well, it won’t be easy.

  37. To maintain a local church, there are certain “business” sort of things that have to be done. The first deacons were appointed so that the disciples could get on with the spiritual teaching without being tied up with the business of the church. These “business” issues, while a necessary evil, often interfere with the ministry that’s taking place. Nevertheless, grass has to be cut, buildings have to be cleaned, the bills must be paid – and I believe membership rolls must be maintained. Even if it’s not a formal practice, one of the necessary evils in an organization is to know who is and who is not a part of it. It is a flaw in some churches that the business dealings, membership issues included, overshadow things like Bible teaching and sharing the Gospel. We need to downplay the things that matter less, but still acknowledge they matter.

  38. I can attest to the benefits of church membership – as a member of a church Lindsey Williams formally helped pastor. On many occassions, I have been corrected, encouraged, prayed with, cried with, and loved deeply by elders at my church.

    Last year, I went through the most difficult experience of my life, an event I am still struggling to recover from. The church assigns an elder to each member of the church. You are notified by mail who that elder is, their phone number, and their e-mail address and are invited to contact them at any time. Right after it happened, my elder spent time each week for several months counciling me through the predicament.

    (Lindsey by this point had left this church to plant the church he is currently involved in; however, he also – good friend that he is – encouraged me later when I went to see him.)

    I do not see my church as perfect, and there are times I struggle with decisions that are made, where the church puts its money, how it deals with evangelism and loving the lost, etc.; however, I am committed, as a member, to pray for my elders, deacons, and pastors. I encourage them. I submit to their authority (as long as they generally lead according to biblical principals). I tell them when I think they are wrong. They do the same for me.

    None of this happens perfectly, of course. There are times when a person in leadership at my church has said something hurtful to me, and likewise, I’ve said things and done things to the leadership (and other members) that I’m not proud of. But, because I’m a member, I don’t give up because I know they won’t give up – and because I love The Church (big “C” Church).

    This is my experience with church membership, and I am blessed by it.

    I realize I have not addressed the theological arguments. I just wanted to share from personal experience that church membership can be VERY effective to those who may have been burned by it.

  39. Lindsey Williams, I’m not sure exactly what you mean and this is off topic, but the Pope is actually WAY more accountable to a whole lot of people, 2000 years of Church History and, most important, to God and Jesus through the workings of the Holy Spirit. He’s actually more accountable than the average pastor in a local church, especially one that does not associate with a larger body. I can go point by point through history to illustrate if you like, but there are people much better equipped than I here to do the same. So, what exactly do you mean? AnneG in NC

  40. BrianD asked about 9 Marks’ philosophy of formal church membership. I think their philosophy is worth responding to.

    First, there is nothing in the 9 Marks document with which I strongly disagree. I’m not going to come out and say that they are doing membership wrong. They present one way of handling church membership.

    Second, our rejection of formal church membership does not equal a complete rejection of church membership. I agree with the folks at 9 Marks that people should be committed to a local body and that living in Christian community is essential to spiritual growth.

    However, I disagree that church membership has to be institutional and not simply organic. The exegetical support that they give for formal, institutionalized church membership is unconvincing. Our position is that everyone who believes and participates in the life and ministry of the church is a member. Thus all of the “one another” passages that 9 Marks lists would be applicable to those church “members.”

    The main reason that we don’t have formal membership is that we don’t see how formal membership necessarily increases commitment or unity. It’s a form versus function discussion for us. Certainly, commitment and unity are important. But the 9 Marks literature implies that you can’t have commitment or unity without signing on the dotted line. That has not been our experience. There is remarkable commitment and unity at our church despite not having formalized church membership. I have been a member of other churches that had formal membership and I did not find them to be more committed or united. In my experience, formal membership leads to a proliferation of church “members” who are not a part of the daily life of the church. The form doesn’t fulfill the function for which it was created.

    Since we don’t have a biblical basis for formal church membership, and since we can’t see how the form “formal church membership” contributes to the function “unity and commitment,” we don’t do it. If we were ever to switch, it would be for practical reasons like decisions regarding financial support (see Darrell’s response).

  41. Tom Schwegler says:

    I don’t insist that formal church membership is necessary; in fact, my current church does not practice it. However, I have a practical question for those who reject it; what becomes of your “members” when they become too old and infirm to attend? Defining members as “those who show up, contribute and participate” works great with people who are younger and/or healthier, but those who are shut-ins or living in nursing homes can no longer meet this criterion. Do you consider that they have left your church because they no longer attend? Do you simply hope that other people remember them for old times’ sake?

    This may not be a big issue in churches that are relatively new or relatively small. But successful churches have a way of becoming older and larger, and it seems to me that, once a church passes the point where everyone knows everyone else, it becomes easier for shut-ins to slip through the cracks unless there is some record of their affiliation with and commitment to a particular congregation.

  42. Jeremiah Lawson says:

    Tom, to piggyback on your question, shut ins can and are overlooked even in churches that have formal membership. Especially in an age where donations can happen on line and sermons can be downloaded a formal member could be at a megachurch and no one would notice they are shut in for health reasons because the measures of activity (giving, attendence, and participation) become impossible to track in a way that accounts for shut ins. A person might be able to give on-line, hear a sermon on-line, and have a kind of “virtual” fellowship that is easy to dismiss if it isn’t the only means you have of staying in touch. Ergo, a shut in of that sort can be treated as though a non-member even though a member.

    All that is to say that I can see how the situation of shut ins could be a challenge for either approach to membership. In an era where it’s possible to get junk mail before you can read or years after your dead it’s not surprising.

  43. My primary problem with formal church membership is that it doesn’t leave much room for Christ’s literal headship over His body and His individual “members” — to place us and move us about according to His wisdom and purpose.
    Say you have a membership at the First United Church of God’s Chosen Darlings, and the Holy Spirit has made it clear to you He desires to place you in a different fellowship that is not institutionally connnected to your present church fellowship. How do you go about obeying God without hurting feelings or being regarded as a traitor or turncoat? The combination of formal membership and a policy of jealous possessiveness when it comes to those members creates negative reactions within the church whenever Christ does His thing and redeploys some valuable members and faithful tithers from one situation of service to another.
    In this way, Western churchianity has become much like the world of competitive sports. We share the same love of God — just as football fans all share the love of football — but we’re divided by our desire to see the home team shine over everybody else. And crossing that field and cheering for another team too often means becoming an enemy to those who once embraced you as a brother or sister in Christ.
    Maybe, rather than concentrating on upping the numbers on our membership rolls, we should focus on training people up in Christ and then sending them out with prayer and love to do the work He has called them to do. After all, if we are genuinely serving and following Christ, then we are on the same team, regardless of whether or not we choose to see it that way.

  44. This is an odd question for someone who gathers with other believers in our homes. We have no “organization” to join.

    The membership I am part of is that I RSVP’d for the great wedding one day.

    Brian

  45. Hey Brian,
    Greetings in Christ, my fellow heretic. May God bless your homes, families, and friendships.
    I’m surprised every time people actually show up in my humble abode to worship God and share the fellowship of Christ. Generally, I try not to count them, though sometimes I do run out of cushy coach seats and have to go hunting for sitting devices of various kinds (not excluding milk crates and bean bags). As far as membership rolls are concerned, I can’t imagine formalizing and contractualizing my closest and most valued friendships in that way.