Thanks to my friend, Wayne Jacobsen, I got a chance to discuss church membership on a Moody Radio Network broadcast this morning. In preparation, I asked the members of the Summit community for their thoughts. I’ll post a few of them.
I am for membership. The Good News of my membership in all the corporate identity pictures of the Scriptures is one of the enduring gifts of my time at Regent College. It is truly good news to be a member of the Body of Christ, the family of the Father, the people of God, a royal priesthood, the Shepherd’s flock, one loaf, etc.
However, organizational membership does not guarantee true membership. Nor does it guarantee the members will treat one another as such. For example, how do we reconcile “membership” with actions like “firing” a pastor?
It seems to me that formal membership is a luxury of a church not under persecution. Unless we consider and hear from the church in persecuted places and times on the subject of church membership, our discussion will be incomplete as best.
I am all for stronger unity and deeper community. But I have little confidence in formal “bonds” being a sufficient catalyst for the “together bonds” Paul mentions in his letters. Unless we have the real stuff in the heart affecting our relationships, we are doing little better than putting people in chains.
According to Jeff (P4):
As a “hybrid outsider”, I am not a proponent of membership in a specific institution other than the body of Christ as a whole. I have yet to have anyone who has been able to support a scriptural mandate for local institutional membership without bending the scripture dramatically with personal bias to support their inferences. Usually it is the requirement for fellowship that gets transmuted in their minds to membership (which doesn’t bear up to critical thought)..
Vinnie (Gathering 242) remarked:
I can say that I’ve been greatly impacted by your oft-repeated statement of “belonging before belief.” When I was in the traditional church, I hated the song-and-dance that went along with meeting a fellow believer from another church. You know what I’m talking about: the inevitable questions about one another’s churches that were really just thinly veiled ways to judge one another based on doctrine. Moving into a model that doesn’t force me to buy into a set of beliefs to become an actual member has liberated me to relate to other Christians more easily as part of the universal Body of Christ. The bottom line to me now is this: Has Jesus accepted you at his table? If yes, than we a belong together, end of discussion.
Danielle says (Southside):
My single thought on membership is that we are members of one another (this goes back to the “one anothers” you have often spoken of). We are not members of an organization, club, group, or even house church. We are members only in that our connectedness defines membership. Walking thus journey together with Jesus as our guide, in and of itself makes us members.
Geoff (69th Street) thought:
God led me to house church precisely because I recognized that the Spirit was showing up in a very real way in a small group that I was leading, in a way that I didn’t see him showing up in more traditional structures. There was worship, fellowship, prayer, and community in a way that I hadn’t seen it — right there in my friend’s living room. The thought occurred to me, “wait a sec, maybe this is what church is supposed to look like. The Holy Spirit is clearly showing up after all”. It all seemed very Acts 2ish to me. So I endeavored to find out more and the Lord lead me … At our house church there is clearly both structure and “membership”. It just looks way more like something God put together than something a committee voted on. And that’s my two cents.
From Xea (Southside):
A lot of what membership means to me is being among people that are learning and practicing commitment and building trust together, while we pursue a central goal.
The four stages of community reflect to me that perhaps membership is a process. Is a person (or group) in one stage less a member than a person in another stage? Some who start out committed to membership bail out later. Others are participants through the process but do not explicitly recognize their own commitment or membership until the later stages.
Skip responded (East Vancouver):
My first reaction is that membership = institutional. The whole idea of organic is that things that need to happen in the Body of Christ happen naturally, spiritually. As the body functions with the nourishment that it needs, it grows. God gives the increase, orders the relationships in the ecclesia as he sees fits and as we learn to listen together. In my opinion, formulas seem to get in the way of that happening. The idea of a membership role/record, whatever, that needs to be tracked seems to be based upon a non-organic mindset, a formulaic approach to controlling the populous.In my experience, membership was a way to determine who is in and who is out. It was also a way to say who had access to certain trusts. Also, if you are “in” and want to take advantage of our blessings (pastoral care, being seen as approved, given time, etc.), then you also must follow our rules. I can see that if you have a structure, building, organization, etc., that people want to be a part of, then there are certain rules, procedures people must abide by. But, that’s one of the very things reasons I left the institution. I didn’t think those things were necessary, but in fact, in most cases, a hindrance (in some cases, detriment) to the way body life was intended to unfold.
And, finally, Sarah’s (Gathering 242) thoughts:
A few thoughts on membership. I think it is human tendency to throw structure and programs at problems or needs that come up. If we can get everything organized and formalized ahead of time, once and for all, it will save messyness and error down the road. Or that’s the intention, I think. The trouble is that relying on highly structured things is similar to a back brace, I think. Braces are helpful when weak, temporarily, but if worn too long they actually increase one’s weakness and causes injury. So in the particular of membership, I think there is a need to commit to a community of believers. Without some form of commitment, you end up being a tumble weed, instead of a tree. What that commitment looks like, however, is difficult to define. Membership Sunday where you read a written commitment to the leadership and they read another one back–I see many problems with that. The trouble with any structure is it inhibits growth. The process and substance has already been done for you, you just assent or not. If not, you leave. Relying on and listening to the Holy Spirit, while exhilarating, is also scary. You could hear wrong. But I think there is merit in intending to follow the Holy Spirit and falling flat. I personally like formal declarations. The night at group in March or so when I committed to the group–that’s when it was finalized for me. As Vinnie said in his note to you, I belonged before that, but that was the point when I committed to that belonging.I don’t know how much of that makes sense. Basically, I think commitment is important, but needs to be at the prompting of the Holy Spirit. A one size fits all to membership, doesn’t fit all and inhibits growth.