I grew up in a church that did not have formal membership. I appreciated the fact that by becoming a Christian that I was already a member of the body of Christ, and thus, a member of the Church. That was big “C” Church. Over the past few years, I have come to appreciate, as well, the more intentional commitment to a local church (or, little “c” church) by means of church membership. Now, I find myself a pastor who is in charge of the membership process. I have come to the conclusion that membership in the local church matters–and I’ll tell you why.
Membership is nothing like joining a country club, a civic organization, or a branch of the military.
I have discovered that joining a local church has more to do with three very important things–all starting with the letter “c.” How appropriate. Being a member of the local church reflects the community that we already are. Becoming a member of the local church is agreeing with what the scriptures teach us–that we are a part of each other, need each other, and are joined together as members of a body–the Body of Christ–with Christ as the head of that Body. Being part of the local community is really part of my statement of faith.
Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. –1 Corinthians 12:12
Being part of a community means that I belong to something, or some others, that is bigger than myself. It means that I am able to partner with brothers and sisters in the gospel of Jesus Christ–just like the Apostle Paul did with the Philippians (and others of course). Being a part of a community means that there is a level of accountability that I have with my church. I’m held to biblical standards and as a community partner, can offer accountability to another. There is a mutuality rather than an individuality with regard to being a member of the local church.
Perhaps the greatest reason I join the church has to do with the commitment that I make to my fellow parishioners.
Membership in the local church is a commitment to each other. It is a commitment that I make that states that I will live out my Christian experience with this particular local body of beliers. It means that I believe in this church, I support this church, and I serve with these in this church because I believe in the mission of this church and its vision. Living out our faith in a local context keeps our faith from becoming too abstract. Surely, I could say that as a believer in Jesus Christ that I’m a member of His Church. That is true. But if you never attend a local church, get involved in serving, and develop relationships with others, you are missing the point of the Church. When your faith is so abstract, your faith can become rather flimsy. (see James 2:17) Committing yourself to a local church is a healthy alternative to living out your faith in isolation. It’s putting your faith into action.
“…Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” –James 2:17