To this day I can remember the interview with the deacon at the Assemblies of God church I grew up in. My family, of which I am gladly the youngest child, had just completed the multi-week membership class and we were taking the plunge to become members of the church. Its just what your do as a Christian, right?
Thankfully, for the reputation of the church, I was only made a “junior member” and had to wait until I was 18 to obtain full membership. In the ensuing years, I actually became a gospel believing and professing Christian and have been a “member” at a few churches. I have to put that in quotes because each church had its own understanding of membership (from none, to name only to actual, accountable membership). And now as a pastor of a church in transition, membership is an important part of the life of our church going forward.
I will one day tell stories of the guy that left the church because he couldn’t be considered for eldership because he refused to be a member, or the time that only “leaders” could be members and that was just for insurance reasons… But the purpose of this post is to recommend the little book Church Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents Jesus by Jonathan Leeman. This short book is a perfect primer for church membership for churches thinking through the process of having members, those thinking membership isn’t biblical and everyone in-between.
Leeman knows church membership. He has written more extensive material like his book The Church and the Surprising Offense of God’s Love (I still have the copy Michael Lawrence gave me when I was part of a church plant that was toying with membership). This new volume is part of the vastly beneficial 9Marks Building Healthy Churches series and it brings church membership to the digestible and biblical level.
Leeman’s writing is casual in this books and many of the stories are from his experience in church life. The book is accessible and worth a read. Here are some choice quotes:
“We’ll start with what the local church is not. If you are a Christian, the local church is not a club. It is not a voluntary organization where membership is optional for you. It is not a friendly group of people who share an interest in religious things and so gather weekly to talk about the divine.”
“A local church is a group of Christians who regularly gather in Christ’s name to officially affirm and oversee one another’s membership in Jesus Christ and his kingdom through gospel preaching and gospel ordinances.”
“It’s true that a Christian must choose to join a church, but that does not make it a voluntary organization. We are, in fact, obligated to choose a local church just as we are obligated to choose Christ. Having chosen Christ, a Christian has no choice but to choose a church to join.”
“How should we respond to the person who claims to belong to the body of Christ universally but never actually joins a body of Christ on earth? We should say the is self-deceived and should repent.”
“Churches must not look for the people who are never jerks, but for the people who admit that they are jerks and are willing to fight it.”
“It’s not as if there is some area of our life that is exempt from considering the interests of others better than our own. Specifically, we should give ourselves to our churches publicly, physically, socially, affectionately, financially, vocationally, ethically, and spiritually.”
Leeman also gives you helpful insights into church discipline and if membership should look the same at each church. One area I would like to hear more on is member longevity and committing to a church, through membership, for a long time.
Grab the book. It’s helpful.