“Why become a member of a church, I attend the service isn’t that enough?” This is an actual question that I have heard. I want to explain how, as a Pastor, I respond to such a claim. Let me break this down into four apparent areas of confusion. I should also mention that this thinking is based mostly from the American/Western culture and without backing that up with firm data, it may be more conjecture and observation; however, it is a mindset in churches that I have been involved with and comments heard among other pastors. One should also know that this article is not intended to be exhaustive, but to address some elementary thoughts pertaining to church membership. And so, what is the importance; I mean, why join?
It’s Not All About Me
The letters which Paul wrote to the Christian churches all had an underlying thought—unity in Christ. Basically, the people were to be unified together as a whole and think less of themselves than others. It was also evident that these churches, some more than others, had dysfunction to some degree or questions regarding either doctrine or theology. Some churches even had dissension among the members. It seems today that we’re in the same boat—meaning, things haven’t changed much. However, instead of looking at the Body of Christ as an imperfect bunch of hypocrites, we need to view it as a growing, breathing, living body of individuals that also are growing. What does that mean? It means that while the body grows, so does the spiritual walk of the individual—they are simultaneously developing. To think that infants remain infants is absurd thinking; of course they will grow—they will grow in stages: first the infant, then the toddler, the adolescent, and on and on until adulthood and even until the golden years of maturity.
So, to think that the Church does not need members of spiritual wisdom—assuming you are not showing up because you are wiser than the others, is assuming incorrectly. The church needs all stages of believers to continue thriving. Think about it, if the Church were filled with all mature believers, would they have the zeal and passion of the new believer? Probably not. However, if the Church were filled with all new believers, would it have the wisdom and maturity to shield from false doctrines and theology? No, it would not. Therefore, all are required not only attend, but become “koinonia” with the Church. The abiding presence of Christ is recognized in the Greek term, koinonia, to be intimately a part of Christ’s fellowship. Fellowship is membership; otherwise we’re talking about being an acquaintance, and abiding.
It’s a Living Body
All of the body parts equal the whole. Each person is uniquely gifted. Paul expresses this thought to the Corinthian Church (1 Cor 12), that each believer plays an important role within the body. The Body of Christ is not some institution or organization, but a living breathing organism, glued together by the Holy Spirit of God (Eph 1:13). Besides the command to “not neglect to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb 10:25), is the understanding that if the hand decided not to become part of the body, we would say that’s absurd too. Well, it is. What we do not find in Scripture are people from the Antioch Church saying, “I’m going to worship with the Church at Stephen’s house today and next week the Church at Priscilla and Aquilla’s?” We don’t see the Church in Jerusalem having people go to Antioch to worship either, and while that may seem like an argument from silence, we do have many writings regarding the early church and their fervor to worship with one another and die for one another. I’m not saying that we don’t have more choices today, we do, but my point is that each person became a member of their local church and served it, as serving Christ.
Pastoring the Flock
As an under-shepherd, Christ is the true Shepherd, how can a pastor pray and watch over a sheep, which has no intention of resting with the flock? He cannot. Of course, the inevitable phone call will come in, “Miss Sheep’s sister’s friend’s cousin was just admitted into the hospital, are you going to make a visit?” To which the Pastor scratches his head and thinks, “Who is Miss Sheep?” Forget about the actual person in the hospital for a second, the pastor doesn’t even know Miss Sheep because she has not taken the time to enter the fellowship as a member, but visits from time to time. This takes advantage of the pastor, making him no more than a sheep and a goat herder; not that visitation isn’t a gift, and edifying to all, it is. But don’t miss the point, a pastor cannot possibly know who is in the flock if they are not a member and more than likely, no one in leadership is praying for them. They’re merely a drifter, a church shopper, or a Lone Ranger, and do not understand the importance of having Biblical leadership watch over their very souls for protection. As disciples of Christ, believers are expected to be under the leadership and mentoring of a pastor/elder. The pastor’s position is one, which is to be taken seriously, if he acknowledges God’s call in his life. But a pastor is not a watchman of a sheep that is not of his fold, nor wants to be corralled.
While I placed covenant last, it should be first. The underpinning of our relationship with Christ is based upon covenant. It should not surprise you then that our relationship, to love and be one with another and in Christ, is about covenant. The fact that we are baptized into one body and also partake of communion with one another, leads us to understand that the Church is in covenant with one another and with Christ. A covenant is an oath, a bond. When a believer becomes a member, he or she pledges to have the same bond into the mystical union with God and one another—we become one as a living body. To stand outside of this covenant is merely to be an observer, which people can do prior to joining. For this reason, the early church had membership services on Easter, to welcome in the newly baptized and those who went through teaching about the church—this is why some churches have membership classes. But why is this important or necessary you may ask? If a person never becomes a covenant member of the family of God it does not jeopardize their salvation; true, but it does jeopardize their well-being, spiritual growth, development, and ability to intrinsically unite with Christ, through Christian brotherhood (i.e. bonding).
May the God of all peace give you understanding and wisdom and bring you into the fellowship of believers, where you are. God’s blessings!