Sunday, January 21, 2007

Membership--Why Bother?

All the time, I talk with people who are hesitant to join the church for one reason or another. Here are the most common reasons that I hear:

  • I don't need to commit to a local church; I'm a member of the "universal church."
  • I'm already committed to the church; I don't need to stand up in front of everybody or have a piece of paper to make it "official."
  • We're not a congregational church (i.e., a democracy), so membership doesn't give me any benefit over non-membership.
  • I don't tithe (giving 10% of our income to God), and I'm not ready to yet.

I believe that church membership is very important for every Christian. Each of the above statements, while they sound sensible, fall short under scrutiny. Let me tackle each one separately, and then I'll outline what I believe to be the benefits of church membership.

1. All I need is the "universal church."

There is such a thing as the universal church that includes all Christians in all places and times. Everyone who is a Christ-follower is automatically a member of the universal church. But the Bible never even gives the slightest hint that this is enough to meet our spiritual needs. Every time Paul wrote a letter it was to a local church that met at a specific location--the church in Colosse, the church in Philippi, the church in Corinth. Paul was originally a member of the church in Antioch and was specially commissioned, along with Barnabas, to plant more churches throughout the Roman Empire. The local church is where the New Testament expects Christians to be.

Just like when you were born, you were automatically a member of the human family. But you didn't belong to a local family until someone chose to take you home from the hospital. It's not enough to belong to the human race--you need a family to support you, to teach you, to encourage you, to discipline you, to enculturate you. You need a local church family for those same reasons.

Only in America do we have church-hoppers who go from church to church and never stay in one church family. We need to put down roots and choose to commit to a local church. That's what membership is--a commitment to being a part of a local church.

2. I don't need to make my commitment "official."

Really? For those of you who are married, how would your spouse feel about that statement? Many Christians are just "dating" the church, just shacking up. Just like a wedding makes a marriage official, membership makes our commitment to the church official. Until we take that step, there's something lacking in the relationship.

When people are willing to live together but not willing to get married, it demonstrates--in and of itself--a lack of commitment. Either the couple feels the relationship may not have what it takes to make it for the long haul, or they're afraid of failure or abandonment, or they just don't want to go through the hassle of getting married. All of those things fall short of the kind of unconditional love that God says should characterize our lives--the kind of love he demonstrates for us. We need to fall in love with the church. If we're Jesus' followers, we'll love the same things he does; he loves the church so much that he died for it. Does it have flaws? Certainly! Find a marriage partner for me who doesn't. But we can choose to love it anyway.

The truth is, if we really are fully committed, we should have no problem saying so.

3. If I can't vote on stuff, what good is it?

It's true, we don't vote on much as a church. Only three things:

  • Elders
  • Changes in church structure
  • Referenda from the denomination

We are not a congregational church (majority rule) because we believe that such a system imposes a political philosophy (which has value in certain contexts) on a spiritual entity. Democracy is not appropriate for what the church is.

Voting, elections, boards, committees--what do these things all have in common? Politics, gridlock, bureaucracy, trouble. I suppose if we want our church to be about as efficient as the government, we could consider such a system, but I think we want to aim higher.

Our political system has as its foundation an understanding that different interests all need to get along, so opposing candidates compete in the arena of ideas for the hearts and minds of the voters. Whoever carries the day gets to implement their plan... but only for a season. Soon enough, the other guys carry the day, and they undo everything the previous administration set up.

The church is supposed to be unified. There should be no competing parties, opposing philosophies, and divergent interests. We're supposed to all work together to accomplish our mission. Can there be differences of opinion? Of course! But we talk about them in an attitude and atmosphere of love and generosity. Church membership is not supposed to be a vehicle for gaining power and a "voice." It is a commitment to a faith community that in turn strengthens our commitment to God.

4. I'm not a tither.

Well, tithing is a great habit to develop in our lives, but it's not a requirement for church membership. Tithing is one of the commitments you are encouraged to make after taking the Journey 201 Class, but it doesn't have anything to do with membership, which is the commitment you're encouraged to make after taking the Journey 101 Class.

Essentially, anyone who has committed their life to Jesus and is willing to act like it can become a member of PCC. It's that simple!

Hopefully, you see that these objections are hollow, but what do we gain by joining?

  • An opportunity to serve in key roles that advance the mission, vision, and values of PCC. No one can serve on a Core Team (the 8 ministry teams that are responsible for overseeing all the ministries of PCC) unless they are a member.
  • A commitment from the pastoral staff that we will encourage and support you spiritually, knowing that we will be held accountable by God for you.
  • The option of taking subsequent Journey classes (201, 301, & 401), where you can learn about the habits that you need to develop for spiritual maturity, how God has shaped you for ministry, and how to talk to others about your faith.
  • A place to love and be loved, to give and be given to, to serve and be served. We need each other. We weren't meant to do this without belonging to a community of faith.

If you want to sign up for the next membership class (Feb. 18 & 25), click here. I make no apologies in saying it might be one of the most important decisions you ever make.


Taryn said...

Thanks for discussing this difficult subject. I know membership is not talked about often. I think this points out great reasons for joining the family and showing commitment to our local church.

Pastor Scott said...

I know it CAN be a difficult subject--many people feel strongly about not becoming members. However, the way our church is structured, people are really missing out by not joining the church. There are so many opportunities that are just not open to them merely as attenders--the Journey Classes, the Core Team ministries, and more. I want people to be able to experience all the wonderful blessings of diving in with both feet and making a real difference with their lives. In so many ways, membership is just like marriage--you can have a good relationship without it, but if we're going to experience God's best, we have to take it to the ultimate level, where we're fully committed. Thanks for your thoughts, Taryn!