Church Membership: Is it for you? What Does it Mean?

So, you are thinking about becoming a church member…

It is certainly a very important decision—one of the most important you will ever make in your life. No other group of people can claim the Creator of heaven and earth as its Head. The church can and it will last forever.

It is appropriate for anyone to consider, in advance, the significance of this decision and to learn something about the many privileges associated with membership in the church..., and of course: the responsibilities associated with church membership. Jesus taught that it is important to "count the cost” of following Him (Mark 8).

It is always the case, "With privilege comes responsibility.” In a day when many approach life in the church like consumers, asking "How can this benefit me?” we need to recover Jesus’ emphasis on being servants.

Yes, there are rich and wonderful privileges associated with membership in the church. But there are also duties that accompany the commitment to follow Jesus Christ in the fellowship of other believers. It is important for anyone considering membership to know what to expect and what will be expected.

Always wanting to be in the will of God, we should begin by asking…

Is the concept of "joining the church” even a Biblical concept?
It may surprise some people to know that the Bible does indeed talk about "joining the church”.

Twice in the book of Acts, reference is made to a person "joining himself” to the church. The original word translated "join” means "to cement together, to unite” and refers to a formal relationship such as the joining of a man and a woman in a marriage covenant.

Furthermore, various things are mentioned in the New Testament that make sense only in the context of an official membership—"tell it to the church,” "when you are gathered together,” "if the whole church be come together into one place,” etc. All of these references suggest that the early church was a local assembly with a definable membership.

In Acts 2:47, conversion is defined in terms of "the Lord adding to the church such as should be saved.” Obviously, the Bible assumes that church membership is the will of God for every true believer. That leads to the next question…

Who should join the church and when is the right time?
How do you know if you are ready to join the church? If the Lord has done a work of grace in your heart, then you are not only qualified for membership, but called—simply by virtue of His gift of salvation—to unite yourself to His people. The call to separate oneself from the world and to identify oneself with the stigma of the cross is God’s will for every one of His children.

The church is for born-again believers. These are more than just intellectual believers in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. Belief means they have seen themselves in the light of His holiness and come to know they are indeed, a sinner in need of a Savior. They believe the Gospel truth that says the work of Jesus on the cross was for them personally and that by grace through faith, the righteousness of Christ has been accounted to them by God.

Needing to know before we act is relevant to membership. Some individual churches have "membership classes” whereas all will have some kind of interview process so as to inform candidates for membership of various doctrinal convictions or at least for them to have a basic understanding of the fundamental or core beliefs of the church.

Some self-evaluating questions are:

Do you believe in the sovereignty of God in salvation? Do you rejoice to hear the message of a successful Savior who actually secured salvation for His people on the cross and finished the work of redemption? Is the message that says "salvation is of the Lord” a joyful sound in your ears? Does the message that man is hopelessly fallen in sin and cannot recover himself by his own decision or effort agree with your experience? Does your heart resonate with the proclamation that salvation is by grace alone—not of works lest any man should boast? Do you hunger for the faithful and consistent teaching and preaching of God’s word?

If you can answer "yes” to these questions, then you are a candidate for membership, if you are not already!

How does a person unite with the church?
More often than not, baptism by full immersion marks the physical entrance into the fellowship of the local church. It is an opportunity for personal testimony as to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, in the presence of those with whom he/she will live, study, pray for and with, and worship together.

This public profession is a wonderful opportunity to testify to the great things the Lord has done for you and to "name the name of Christ” before others who have also given testimony to their Lord. 

The church of believers rejoices to hear someone relate an experience of grace and how the Lord has led to this point. To witness a penitent sinner submit to Christ in baptism strengthens the faith, inflames the zeal, and renews the commitment of the entire church. It also establishes a bond of mutual love and understanding within the fellowship—a unity in the Spirit that arises from participation in a common faith.

What difference will participation in the life of the church make in your life? First and foremost, it will enable you to fulfill God’s call to holiness by creating a setting in which it is possible for you to grow in Christ and to receive the spiritual nourishment you need to bear burdens and resist temptation. If it were possible for a person to get these benefits on his own, Christ would have never established the church.

Membership in the church also fosters a sense of belonging and identity. Having such a sense of identity has proved itself to be a great safeguard against sin. The awareness of having made a commitment to the Lord and other believers establishes a structure that makes it easier to be zealous and energetic. It gives a sense of responsibility, direction, and significance in life.

And then, membership carries with it the privilege of fellowship. Paul thanked God for "the fellowship in the gospel” that he enjoyed with the church at Philippi. The covenant relationship between fellow believers in the church is a reciprocal dynamic of giving and taking—a mutual ministry in which each shares to satisfy the need of fellow members, spiritually and materialistically. 

Believers share their knowledge of Scripture, experiences, encouragement, counsel, spiritual gifts, material possessions, and prayers. (Acts 2: 42-47). Membership is about life and fellowship in covenant with other believers.
 
What does it really mean to enter into covenant with other believers?

Membership in the church is a glorious thing because it is an assembly of people who have made a covenant (or promise) to God and one another to uphold the principles of God’s word. Baptism is the first act of Christian fellowship—a "sharing in common” with other believers. When a believer is baptized into the fellowship of the saints, he/she is saying by that act, "I, like you, place all my hope and trust for salvation in the Lord Jesus Christ. I share your convictions of my own unworthiness and of His sufficient sacrifice in my stead. We are people of ‘like precious faith’.”

He is also making another confession to his brothers and sisters in Christ. He is saying, "I want to share with you in the mutual ministry of the church. I want to receive from you what God has taught you and to give to you what God has taught me.”
The mutual ministry of the church through active membership involves the act of uniting with the saints, and saying to them, "I realize that I am not self-sufficient. I cannot live the Christian life on my own. I need your prayers and encouragement, your knowledge of His word, the witness of your example, and your godly counsel. I wanting to be accountable, I want you to love me enough to gently challenge me when I begin to falter, to faithfully admonish me when I stray, and to help me to be faithful to the Lord.”

Membership is an open declaration that says, "I want to show my love for the Lord by serving His people. I want to offer my life as a sacrifice on the altar of Christian service. Whatever the Lord has given to me—whether my spiritual gifts, knowledge of His word, material resources, personal time, or experience—I want to invest in the cause of Christ by bearing the burdens of my brethren.”

Membership in the church is a covenant relationship. It is an agreement to take responsibility for one another. It is recognizing and being thankful that the Lord has given such an opportunity as the communion of saints to help us stay the course of godliness.

We are living in a day when many people want privilege without responsibility. But it is God that holds us accountable. It is nothing short of Divine Providence that has blessed us with such priceless blessings as the opportunity to congregate ourselves with His children, sing the Psalms ans spiritual songs, and hear it all as a joyful sound celebrating the redemption accomplished by Jesus Christ. Simply by virtue of the inestimable blessings we’ve been given, each believer is obliged to assume personal responsibility for the maintenance and forward progress of the church.

What will be expected of me as a church member?
Membership in the church implies activity and commitment. When one remembers that the motivation for godliness is gratitude for grace, then duty becomes a privilege. Being committed to the Lord Jesus Christ implies being committed to His church. In a very real sense, we serve Him by serving others. That being said, what, then, does commitment to the church involve?

1. Consistent Attendance at Public Worship

Hebrews 10:24-25 is one of the premier passages in the New Testament concerning the duties of church members: "Let us consider one another to provoke unto love and good works: not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.” Notice the connection between a concern for other believers and one’s church attendance habits: Let us consider one another…not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together… The point is hard-hitting, almost to the point of harshness: Absenteeism displays a self-centered spirit and lack of consideration for other believers.

Why should you worship with the church? Because the church is "the pillar and ground of the truth”. Here truth is disseminated as the word of God is proclaimed. Here, you may unburden your soul, for God’s house is "a house of prayer for all people”. Here, you may experience the presence of God and communion with the Lord Jesus Christ, for the church is "a habitation of God through the Spirit”. Here your questions find answers. Here your soul will find a haven of rest—a safe refuge from distress. Here God is praised.

Rarely is anything so discouraging to the heart of pastors and other believers as inconsistency in attendance at public worship. It sends a message of unconcern for the cause of Christ. It is serious enough to suffocate the fire and zeal of others as it produces a "domino effect,” that can weaken the commitment level of others. Predominately empty pews can be a deterrent for new comers. Perhaps the most tragic consequence of absenteeism is the missed opportunities for ministry as it hinders ministering and being ministered to.

David said, "I will pay my vows now unto the Lord in the presence of all His people”. He said, "I will praise the Lord with my whole heart, in the assembly of the upright, and in the congregation.” He promised, "I will give Thee thanks in the great congregation: I will praise Thee among much people”. How church members need to "exhort one another daily” to be committed to faithful attendance at public worship, "and so much the more as the day approaches”! As painful and perhaps unpleasant as it is to hear, every believer needs to know that church membership involves a commitment to faithful attendance.

2. The Practice of Personal Devotion
Church membership involves a personal commitment to pursue a daily walk with Jesus Christ. Unless a person stays connected to the Lord—unless he "abides in Christ” through the spiritual disciplines of Bible reading, prayer, and meditation—he cannot bear the fruit of Christian character. "Searching" the Scriptures daily saturates the mind with God’s word.

3. Participation in Ministry to Others

Ephesians 4:11-16 outlines the dynamics of church function in terms of "every member ministry in the body of Christ.” It works like this: The most basic function of the church is the preaching and teaching of God’s word. As the word of God is faithfully and accurately taught, the saints are equipped to minister to one another. As each part of the body fulfills its respective role, the body as a whole grows to maturity in Christ.

Each member of the local body is responsible for using the spiritual gifts they have been given to minister to the rest of the body. Each must be interested in the "one another” passages of the New Testament—each should be involved in burden-bearing, intercessory prayer, daily exhortation, showing hospitality, visiting, esteeming, admonishing, loving, helping, teaching, communicating, and serving one another. This is real "body life” with every joint supplying the needs of the body so that is built up by love.

4. Protect the Unity
Another area of personal concern to every member should be the unity of the local church. Ephesians 4:2-3 urges each believer to "endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” by maintaining an attitude of "lowliness, meekness, longsuffering, and forbearance”. If you have ever experienced the heartache of disunity, you know that unity is a priceless commodity. Nothing so discredits the church’s witness to the community as strife, tension, and conflict among the membership. Every member must take personal responsibility for peacemaking within the fellowship. Do what you can to foster harmony, silence gossip, and promote a general spirit of goodwill in interpersonal relationships. Refuse to be a part of divisiveness. Guard the unity.

5. Sacrificial Giving

As a church member, you should be involved in the sacrificial giving of your resources to the church. Jesus said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive”. Paul said, "God loves a cheerful giver.” If we have freely received God’s gifts of grace, we ought to freely give such grace to others in confidence that God will sufficiently supply our personal needs. In a very real sense, giving is an act of worship.

Such gifts help in the spread of the gospel, the care of those who are in need, the purchase of necessary items in the function of the church (like hymnals, bibles, cassette tapes, etc.), and the general maintenance of the building (e. g. utility bills, lawnmower maintenance, cleaning supplies, items for the lunchroom, and many other background needs in the daily function of the church).
The happiest people in life are those who give sacrificially and cheerfully, never asking if it pays. God is faithful to return such an investment in a myriad of blessings.

6. Personal Evangelism
First Peter 2:9 indicates that God calls people from darkness into His marvelous light and separates them to Himself as His special people to the intent that they may proclaim His praise. Telling others what great things the Lord has done for you is a privilege and responsibility of every believer. Like the early believers who "went everywhere preaching the word”, every follower of Christ is called to be zealous for the expansion of the kingdom of God. The Thessalonian church "sounded out the word of the Lord” so effectively that it had become public knowledge. Each believer should equip himself with the necessary knowledge so that he will "be ready to give an answer” to those who inquire about his faith.

Of course, the best opportunity for witnessing is within your own family and circle of influence. Jesus told the wild man to "go home to [his] friends and tell them what great things the Lord had done for [him]. Andrew first shared the news of Messiah’s advent with his own brother Simon Peter. But even beyond the sphere of immediate influence, every church member will periodically encounter people in hospitals, shopping malls, airplanes, and elsewhere in which opportunities to speak a word for the glory of God are afforded. It’s always a good idea to have taped sermons and some quality literature with you for these spontaneous opportunities. Spread the good word of God as widely as possible. Invite others to attend public worship with you, saying, "Come and see.” Participate in the labors of those who are doing the work of evangelism by your monetary assistance.

7. Assisting in the General Upkeep of Church Property
Finally, It is helpful when every member is willing to assume responsibility for the general maintenance of the building and property. Many people would be surprised at the amount of backstage activity that is necessary in the weekly life of the church. Housekeeping chores never cease. There are carpets to be vacuumed, trash cans to empty, song books to straighten, floors to sweep, paper supplies to purchase, furniture to dust, hedges to trim, flowers to water, walks to sweep, light bulbs to change, etc., on a weekly basis.

Of course, there is a blessing to be found in this more mundane but necessary part of church life. Though the building is not the church, yet it is a place consecrated to the worship of God. The interest we show in the meetinghouse and property is a part of the witness we give to the watching world. I would encourage each member to take a personal interest in these various responsibilities so that the work load is distributed as evenly as possible.

In the final analysis, the duty of the church member is to do whatever you can to promote the welfare and prosperity of the church for the glory of Christ’s worthy name. May it be said of us as it was said of the people in Nehemiah’s great project, "The people had a mind to work.”

- Michael L. Gowens, Pastor

Grateful thanks to Pastor Michael for the use of his work

For more of Michael's work, including the status and stand of Old / Primitive Baptists,

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