Meaningful Membership Matters
Why church membership? It is a question I have been asked over and over again throughout my time in ministry. It is a good question. After all, there is no explicit mention of church membership with detailed instruction found in the Bible. Though there is no specific biblical mandate, I believe that church membership is found throughout the pages of the New Testament. As we look through Scripture, it becomes apparent that not only is church membership encouraged, but it is also how the Christian is able to live the life that they were called to.
I believe one of the reasons why this is even a question in the first place is because churches do not take membership seriously. If you were to look at the membership rolls of churches, you are likely to find people who have not attended in years. Some have walked away from the faith. Others have gone to other churches. It is not unusual to find church rolls with people who have long been deceased.
When churches have meaningful membership, the question of membership falls to the wayside. The reason? People see the importance of church membership in the daily life of the believer. Membership matters, but only if it is meaningful membership. Here is why.
Pastor the Flock
The elders (pastors) of a church are charged with various responsibilities. Peter gives instruction to elders in 1 Peter 5:1-4. They are to shepherd the flock of God that is among them, exercising oversight in a kind manner. An elder is charged with equipping the saints for the work of ministry (Ephesians 4:12). An elder must give instruction in sound doctrine and be able to rebuke those who contradict it (Titus 1:9). He must oversee the church (1 Timothy 5:17). He must visit the sick and pray for them (James 5:14). They are to judge doctrinal issues amongst the church (Acts 15:6).
Hebrews 13:7 says, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”
Elders will have to give an account for the flock that was entrusted to them. How are they to give an account if they do not have any idea who is their flock? Membership helps the pastor know who to shepherd, who to equip, who to instruct, who to oversee, who to rebuke, who to visit and pray with, who to judge doctrinal issue when they arise.
From the other side of this coin, membership helps the church member know who to follow. There are an amazing number of teachers all over the internet, but we all need a pastor to shepherd us. Meaningful membership helps to define the flock.
Nobody likes this term, maybe that is why churches hardly ever practice it. Discipline is different than punishment. Discipline leads to correction, growth, reconciliation, and unity. God actually disciplines the ones he loves (Hebrews 12:6). Punishment comes from anger and frustration. We look at church discipline as punishment. We don’t want to punish anyone, so we refuse to practice it. But, like I said earlier, discipline is a very good thing.
Matthew 18:15-17 explains the process of church discipline. If a brother sins against someone the person is to go directly to the one who sinned. If they refuse to listen, you are to take one or two others with you to talk with the brother again with witnesses. If that does not move the brother, you are to take them in front of the church. You see that? The church. They only way we can practice church discipline is if we are a part of a church, if we have covenanted together to be held to the standards of Christ. If there is no membership, what is the point of church discipline? By the way, the hoped-for result of church discipline is to regain a brother (Matthew 18:15), not to shame or embarrass them.
For other texts on church discipline, check out 1 Corinthians 5, 2 Corinthians 2:6, Galatians 6:1, 1 Timothy 5:19-20, 2 Timothy 3:5, Titus 3:9-11.
Unite in Mission
Throughout the New Testament we see local churches working together to fulfill the mission of the God to reach the world for the Gospel. Probably the most notable of these is the church in Antioch. All churches should strive to be like this church. It stands as an incredible example of fulfilling the purpose of God in the church.
Antioch was the home church of Paul and Barnabas. This church was gathered together in worship when the Holy Spirit called Paul and Barnabas to the mission field. This church spent time praying and fasting and then eventually sent them out to the nations. From this local church the Gospel went forward to places it had never been before. God could use anyone, but he chose to use the local church to fulfill the mission.
There are plenty of other examples of churches uniting together for the good of the world around them. For instance, the church in Antioch also took up an offering to help the church in Jerusalem (Acts 11:29). The churches in Macedonia and Achaia sent contributions to the poor among the saints in Jerusalem (Romans 15:26), as did the churches in Galatia (1 Corinthians 16:1). The Roman church was able to help Phoebe (Romans 16:1-2). The church in Jerusalem helped the church in Antioch with doctrinal issues (Acts 15).
Over and over, we see local churches uniting together to work for the good of the Gospel. Meaningful membership allows people from all walks of life to join together for the common mission of God. We were not meant to do this alone.
Commitment to Community
We were made to live in community together. God for all time and before there was time has been in constant community with himself. The Triune God has delighted in the relationship of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We are created in his image; we were created for community. The local church gives us the avenue for us to live out our lives in community.
The Bible is full of one another passages. I just did a search on the internet and found 59 one another commands. The vast majority of these verses refer to those within the local church. And even if it isn’t implicitly stated, we are to fulfill these commands especially with those within the household of faith (Galatians 6:10). We are commanded to love one another (John 13:34), serve one another (Galatians 5:13), forgiving one another (Colossians 3:13), be at peace with one another (Mark 9:50), encourage one another to love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24-25), and pray for one another (James 5:16). This is just a sampling of them.
Meaningful membership calls us to commit to live out this life in community with others. Commitment is something that is going out of style in this world. The Christian life though is one of commitment and perseverance. As we are committed to the community of believers in our local church, the world takes notice of that because it is so different. Meaningful membership helps us to live our lives in a committed, loving, community.
It Holds Us Accountable
We need people to check up on us. We need people to help us stay on the path of a disciple of Jesus. A local church is able to hold us accountable. James 5:16 tells us to confess our sins to one another and pray for one another. 1 Thessalonians 5:11 commands us to encourage one another. Luke 17:3 tells us to rebuke the brother in sin. This ties into the community, church discipline, pastoring, and even uniting in mission.
As we unite in meaningful membership, we are able to be held accountable and help keep others accountable. We all need help following Jesus. Meaningful membership helps us stay accountable.