If you asked a large group of Christians what “church membership” is, you’d likely get an answer that sounds a bit like this: Church membership is being a part of a church. If you asked that same group what their role is as a member of Christ’s church you may hear: I am supposed to show up at church.
While these answers are not entirely wrong, they resemble an iceberg in that the majority of its mass is still under the surface. We need to look deeper below that surface.
Church membership comes with many connotations. Some may think it’s like belonging to a country club with perks and privileges, others may view it as a ticket to heaven, and others think they are church members simply because they show up to special events and attend the Easter and Christmas services.
Scripture makes it clear that members of the church are set apart from the world; operating their lives in an entirely counter-cultural manner (2 Corinthians 6:14-18). Members are committed to Christ and each other (Romans 12:1-5), they submit to leaders and those leaders will answer to God one day (Hebrews 13:17), and that is serious business! Biblical church membership is not about celebrity pastors boasting big numbers and exposes any system in which shepherds do not know, or are not caring for sheep. Conversely, membership is not about armchair Christians punching their ticket to heaven because they have their name on the membership rolls. The picture of membership in the New Testament forces us to wrestle with this vital question: Is church membership a big deal, and if so, should I or my church be taking it more seriously? Sometimes, the idea of church membership is a mist to leaders, and therefore, it’s a fog to those they lead.
To help you better understand how to serve and lead the body of Christ, here are six commitments that we should embrace as church members. For the sake of this article, let’s call them “high” commitments because they signify the extraordinary purpose that God has for every one of His children. You could assuredly add to this list, but these six can help lay a foundation for clarity.
1. A High Commitment to GATHERING
If you could summarize the life of a church member in just one sentence you could say, we gather to worship and we scatter to witness! Those are essential for every member of the body of Christ. Gathering together with the assembly of believers is not merely suggested, it’s commanded (Hebrews 10:24-26). We stir one another up when we gather, we celebrate the ordinances when we gather, we become the manifold witness of God’s glory when we gather, and we are shaped by the preaching of God’s word when we gather. In the “old days” people took church attendance so seriously that even on vacation they would find a local church to assemble with and meet previously unknown “family” in Christ. These days, it seems people ditch church if the coffee isn’t up to their standards. Be different. Be highly committed to gathering with believers on the Lord’s Day.
2. A High Commitment to DISCIPLING
Making disciples is something that happens in many different forums. Some churches use a small group method to enable life-on-life discipleship, others use other organic methods. Churches may differ in programmatic methodology, but there is nothing sinful or wrong about “vehicles” for discipleship so long as they are in line with biblical theology regarding discipleship. Every church member is commanded to live out the Great Commission as witnesses for Christ (Matthew 28:16-20; Acts 1:8). We are to sharpen one another, confront one another, bear the burdens of one another, and even rebuke one another. A church member with a high commitment to discipling (both for them and others) is certain to see God use their proximity to others as a means of grace for growth!
3. A High Commitment to SERVING
Church members and “serving” should not be an oxymoron, but too often it is. Have you ever heard of the 80/20 rule? Some have wisely applied this to serving in the church as they estimate, “20% of church members do 80% of the work.” That may sting, or trigger a defense mechanism of personal excuses, but let’s get brutally honest for a moment: serving is not suggested, it’s commanded. And far too many of us don’t put a high commitment on this Christian privilege. You’ve been given a gift by the ultimate Giver! God the Holy Spirit Himself poured out a grace gift upon your life and knows that the best way to achieve your God-glorifying purpose on earth is to serve. 1 Peter 4:7-11 captures the picture of Christian service as Peter commanded the church to “employ” their gifts in serving one another. What’s more? Peter dared to command this to a group who was living through horrific persecution. When we meditate on that reality, we can surely put aside our slothful (first world) excuses and excitedly embrace the mantle of “doing the work of service” (Ephesians 4:11-16).
4. A High Commitment to GIVING
Jesus said our heart is where our treasure is (Matthew 6:21), and of course, He’s right. But when it comes to money, we could certainly conclude that nothing quite wrestles with our hearts like our wallets. In the world today, greed wins. Therefore, in the church today, giving can bear witness to our hearts that we are separate from the world. The lusts and fleeting pleasures of this world will seek to lay hold of the Christian’s resources, but the true Christian does not succumb to such temptations. Church members are living for an eternal kingdom. They are, if rich, eager to use money as a method for advancing ministry (1 Timothy 6:17-18). Church members are eager to share; pouring themselves out for others as a sign of Christian love (1 John 3:17). Paul paints the picture of generosity for all walks of life and income levels that should be common in the church today. He writes of poor believers who were eager to give — even if only a small amount — knowing that God would provide for their desire to give. 2 Corinthians chapters 8 and 9 give us foundational truths to motivate our commitment (and understanding) regarding generosity. For the church member, giving is never about the “amount,” it’s always about the heart. What does your commitment in this area indicate about your heart?
5. A High Commitment to PRESERVING
Preserving unity is an important commitment for every church member. We must guard against division of all kinds. This may come in the form of confronting sin and enabling church discipline and restoration (Matthew 18), exposing those who sow discord amongst the church because you hate what God hates (Proverbs 6:16-19), or confessing your own sin of gossip and divisive habits. Whatever the outworking of this high commitment, a church member who labors to preserve church unity is a mighty weapon in the hand of God. Unity is under constant assault in the church. Satan hates church unity. The world, under his spell, hates church unity. And false teachers most definitely hate church unity. A church united in truth stands strong against all threats. One final thought deserves mention here: relational unity should never replace or transcend essential doctrinal unity. In other words, no church or church member should ever sacrifice sound doctrine and promote unity that overlooks essential truths. We tolerate people who are seeking genuine answers in a spirit of love and patience, but that doesn’t mean tolerating false beliefs or dangerous doctrines in order to “preserve our unity.” That is false unity.
6. A High Commitment to REACHING
If we gather to worship and scatter to witness, surely reaching the lost must be a high commitment for every church member. There are 168 hours in any given week, and at least 1 of those hours is devoted to sitting under the preaching of God’s word. What we do with the other 167 hours can make a massive impact on eternity! What a joyous privilege. Whether going or sending, every member can participate in spreading the gospel at home and abroad. We are armed with the gospel and must live unashamed. It has power beyond anything this world has ever seen — the power to raise dead hearts and bring all who believe to life (Romans 1:16-17). The church will do many things “better” in heaven than we do on earth but there is one thing that we will not do better in heaven. In fact, we won’t get to “do” this in heaven. That is, reach the lost.
While there is still time, let us live on mission in these ways as members of Christ’s body. Embracing these high commitments could not only change your life, but it could also change your church.