Why Formal Membership in a Church?February 2011
by Ramona Garnes and John Lin
What’s the difference between an audience and a congregation? Meaningful participation. Deep commitment. Ownership and partnership. While an audience member can benefit from proximity to a congregation, the Bible speaks of conversion to Christ as “the Lord adding to the church” (Acts 2:47).
Did back-in-the-day Christians officially join local churches? Were they formal members of congregations? Or were they merely informal attendees? It’s a bit hard to know whether people in the early church had a membership class to attend, but what we do know is that kollao-, the Greek word for join, has clear connotations of commitment. The same word is used to speak of intimate relationships (Genesis 2:24) and joining to the Lord (1 Corinthians 6:17).
Membership in a church is not like membership in other organizations. Attending church is not like attending a meeting of a club. In those cases, members are consumers and audience members and the organization exists to serve them. The Church is completely different—membership means ministry and service, going from being a consumer to becoming a provider of God’s love and care to others. At Redeemer we take seriously that we are a church not for ourselves, but for others.
Here are a few Biblical reasons to consider joining Redeemer:
• You are not ashamed to identify with Christ or His people (Mark 8:38)
• You need to stop being an independent Christian (Matthew 18:15-17, Hebrews 13:17)
• You wish to participate in a stronger, more unified effort of God’s people
• You have greater opportunities to use spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4)
• You want to openly demonstrate the reality of the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27)
• You want to encourage new believers to make a commitment to the local body (Hebrews 10:24)
To be a member of a church is to make a public promise to live according to the Word and to support the work of the congregation. The Bible calls this a covenant. Every believer is part of the church as organism (the Spiritual Body of Christ), but only via a public promise can you be part of the church as organization. According to the Bible, a public promise, or covenant, is the basis for all society: marriage, employment, citizenship, church membership, friendship, etc., are all relationships of accountability.
Is there more to this accountability business? The Bible says church leaders are accountable for the souls of their flock (Hebrews 13:17). Therefore, early Christian leaders must have had a formal list of believers, a spreadsheet of members’ contact info, so to speak.
At the same time, believers have the benefit of being accountable to spiritual leaders, and of being under spiritual leaders’ care. Redeemer officers are accountable for members, and we surely enjoy the luxury of being cared for. Hebrews 13:17 says believers must “obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls.” This assumes a formal bond between believers and their Christian leaders.
Perhaps you are thinking, “I am accountable only to God.” True, only God has ultimate authority over you. But the doctrine of sin cautions us not to make ourselves sole judges over our own hearts. “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)
Another benefit of church membership is having a say-so in shaping ministry. Redeemer members choose officers and guide the direction of our congregation. Officers are elected (Acts 6:1-6) by “the people.” Formal membership entitles you to be involved in the government of our church as a voting member of our congregation. While congregational meetings are open to anyone who wants to attend, only members may pass resolutions, vote for changes to Redeemer’s by-laws, or nominate and elect officers.
Membership privileges may also include priority in pastoral and private counseling, church ceremonies like marriage, and opportunities to serve as church officers. Best of all for our growing number of parents, Redeemer members may baptize their infant children into the covenant family.
Still, what if you chose to not become a formal member? Well, if you decide to stay involved with Redeemer without membership, there will be no effort to pressure you into joining. Do not join unless you are ready to be committed! A broken promise is w orse than no promise at all.
We believe membership in Redeemer is a privilege. It is not required for participation in church activities, though it is a way for you to be involved as a participant and not merely as an attender. We encourage you to join our covenant family, but we do not intend to exclude anyone from family activities if he or she chooses not to pursue formal membership. Non-members may worship with us, attend meetings on the church’s future, be active in a home group or other ministry, etc. But while many regular attendees have been quite active in our church without a membership commitment, there is a big difference between serving an organization and being the organization.
So how do you move toward formal membership? The first step is the membership class, IN Redeemer. You can either watch our membership videos online at your own pace, to be followed by a Q&A session with elders on a Sunday, or you can attend a five-hour Saturday class at the Redeemer offices.
If all goes well, you will be able to schedule your public affirmation of Christ—and rise from the audience to step onstage as a formal member of the congregation.
Go to www.redeemer.com/membership for more information.
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