The sixth chapter of the new project, Learning to Walk. As before, your comments and feed back are always appreciated:
Our culture glorifies the “Rambo” figure. We want an independent hero or heroine that will face overwhelming odds and emerge victorious. That might work for Hollywood in a world of scripts and special effects, but it’s not at all effective in real life. The truth is, that we are meant to be a part of something; we were made for community.
One of your first steps as a new follower of Jesus is to commit to membership in a local church. This isn’t like joining a team that’s in competition with the other teams. Your salvation has made you a member of The Church, but you will need to partner with a group of local Christians to really discover your identity and calling, and to leave a legacy of faith in your world.
Church membership isn’t about numbers. We shouldn’t keep a membership roll so we can boast about how many people we “have” in our church. Membership in a local church is about commitment: your commitment to Christ, his mission, and his people, as well as your commitment to grow up in your faith.
You made your confession of faith in a church, I’m assuming—among a group of people who are learning to follow Jesus. Someone invited you to church, or maybe you just started going on your own because you knew that “church” is where you go if you’re looking for God. In any case, someone invested in you by sharing their faith journey, teaching you about the Gospel, and maybe praying with you. Perhaps you’ve already been baptized in the presence of that local church and celebrated your new faith together (if not, then ask your pastor about baptism). That’s a great start, but that relationship doesn’t end there.
When you become a member of a local church, you are declaring that group to be your family. Though you’re not related by a father’s blood, you are now related by the blood of Jesus Christ and are all a part of the family of God. Your commitment to membership is a commitment to grow with this group of people. That commitment says, “you can count on me to be here, and be engaged.”
Like any other family, it’s not perfect. There will be people you butt heads with, people you disagree with. There will be fallings out, disagreements, and conflict. If church families were perfect, we wouldn’t have half of the New Testament (which frequently addresses problems in the churches). Church families are not exempt from conflict, but rather, they use conflict constructively and grow closer together through it as God works in all things for good (Romans 8:28).
In your church family there will be those of you who teach, preach, counsel, pray, and encourage; and people who are generous with their time, talent, and treasure for the benefit of their brothers and sisters in Christ. As we all work together in the mission of Jesus Christ, we all grow together to give the world a clearer picture of what it means to live in redeemed relationships with God and with one another. We’re like a window into the kingdom of God.
Church membership means a commitment to protect the unity of the church by acting in godly love toward other members, refusing to gossip, and following Christ under the guidance of church leadership. It’s a commitment to share in the responsibility of the church by offering your time, talents and treasure for the purpose of Christ. Membership is a commitment to participate in the life of the church by discovering your identity in Christ and actively fulfilling the calling of God on your life. It is also a commitment to support the testimony of the church by being a part of the local community and living according to God’s word.
Being a member of the church doesn’t end at regular Sunday attendance, but extends to small groups and other interactions with your church family. These interactions build community, strengthening the church and nurturing the individual. Churches can be accused of being cliquey, but most often there are simply groups of people who take their membership more seriously and therefore participate more in the life of the church, and are therefore more connected with each other. We sometimes say, “Brothers who sweat together, stick together.”
Your commitment to membership is a commitment to be a part of something bigger than you. It’s a commitment to grow in your faith and to be an active part of God’s great purpose. Making a commitment to be a member in a local church does not mean that your life revolves around the programs of that local church. Your life is directed by God. He may place you in one fellowship now, and then move you to another later. We need to follow God, but we need to be sure it’s God we’re following.
Leaving a church should be a difficult decision. We should never leave on a whim, or in the heat of conflict. You’ll only wind up taking that baggage with you to the next fellowship. When we leave a church, we should be sure we are being sent out by God, and we should secure the blessing of our church and church leadership. It’s called leaving well.
Neither does this commitment to a local church mean you can’t visit other churches or participate in events with other churches or groups. In fact, it’s that kind of fellowship with the greater body of Christ that should be encouraged. Your commitment is to Christ first. Your commitment to a local church fellowship is a result of your desire for and commitment to Jesus.