5 reasons to be a church member
Two cultural obstacles
Not everyone who attends a church is a member of that church. Have you ever thought about that? Just because someone goes to a local church, that doesn’t mean they are truly a member of that church. The church is a people. Can you be a member of a church if you have never actually said, “I commit to this faith family. This is my church. I am committed to them and they are committed to me.” Unfortunately, many believers in America are not committed members of local churches. And sadly, many churches have no defined process of how to identify, affirm, and bring in believers into their congregation.
To commit to a local church is very counter-cultural. First, we live in an individualistic society. This means that we are more likely to think about our own individual freedoms, rights, and privileges, rather than the needs and interests of the body. Second, we live in a consumeristic society. This means we are more likely to view the church in terms of what it can provide for us and give to us, rather than how we can sacrificially give to and serve it. In God’s wisdom though, meaningful church membership cuts the legs from under both of these impulses. I want to give five biblical reasons why you should pursue committed membership to a local church.
There is no biblical category for a christian that is not committed to a local church.
1) Membership visibly identifies you with Christ’s church
There is no biblical category for a christian that is not committed to a local church. You are not just saved into a relationship with Christ but into his people. But how are others to know this? How are people to know that you belong to the people of God? Membership allows us to create a “visible picture” of that invisible reality. Membership allows you to visibly and practically show others that you belong to Christ. You say, “I’m with Christ. I belong to him and have been brought into his people.” If you are not a member of the local church then you cannot create this visible picture.
2) Membership expresses the unity of the body
In 1 Corinthians 12, we are told that the body of Christ “has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.” Jesus prayed that his people would be one as he is one (John 17). Over and over again, Paul stresses the need for unity in the local church because it creates a picture of the unity we have with Christ (1 Cor. 1:10-12; Eph. 2:19-22; 4; Phil. 2:1-11; 2 Cor. 13:11; Rom. 15:5-6). Unless you are recognized as a committed part of the body, the unity you experience will be insufficient. You may be united to Christ and his body but you will never experience that in a real way. But in membership, you both express and experience the unity that exists in the body of Christ.
3) Membership places you under the care and oversight of spiritual leaders
All believers are called to submit to their elders, to be accountable to those in authority over them (Eph. 5:21; Titus 3:1-2; 1 Peter 5:5-7; Heb. 13:17). How will you know who you must submit to? And how will the elders know who they are accountable for? We all need those who can lead and guide us in the faith. But unless one is a member of a church, they will not receive this blessing and will be unable to obey the biblical commands to honor, serve, submit to, and pray for their elders. It is often through the leadership, comfort, and encouragement of spiritual leaders (spiritual undershepherds) that we feel the leadership, comfort, and encouragement of our great Shepherd.
4) Membership allows you to faithfully practice church discipline
When a professing believer stops believing the gospel or is living in unrepentant sin, believers around them are commanded to plead with them to repent and come back to Christ. If no repentance occurs, then the church is called to no longer associate with them and to treat them as an unbeliever (Mat. 18:15-17; 1 Cor. 5:1-5, 11; Gal. 6:1-5; 1 Tim. 1:20; Titus 3:10-11; 1 Pet. 4:17). Jesus orders this process in such a way that the local congregation is the final step in that painful process. But unless one is joined to a local church in a meaningful way, they cannot be separated from it. Church discipline becomes meaningless if there is no committed relationship between the members of the body. In fact, it can easily be harmful if individuals are disciplined without agreeing to receive such discipline. In biblical membership, you agree to work toward Christlikeness together and to go after each other if you fall away, creating the biblical environment for this process to occur.
5) Membership provides a clear path for the “one anothers” of scripture.
Interestingly, all of the communal commands we have assume that the readers knew who they were supposed to fulfill these commands to.
There are various “one another” commands in scripture (Jn. 13:34; Rom. 12:10, 16; 14:19; 1 Thess. 5:11; 1 Cor. 12:25; Col. 3:13-16, 1 Pet. 4:9; Heb. 10:24; Jas. 5:16). These commands describe what it looks like to be a Christian in relation to other believers. Interestingly, all of the communal commands we have (love one another, serve one another, etc.) all have the assumption that the readers knew who they were supposed to fulfill these commands to. If you are not a member of a local church, you have no intentional path to fulfill these commands. However, in membership, you have the biblical environment and the biblical recipients by which you can fulfill them.
The obstacle of personal hurt
Despite the biblical clarity on this issue, there is one thing that might make pursuing membership very difficult, and that is personal hurt. Perhaps you have seen membership done poorly or have even been hurt by churches that claim to follow the biblical guidelines. It is unfortunate that not more Christians have experienced the joy and blessing of church membership. And perhaps this hurt is causing you to stay away from committing to a church.
One of the things that breaks my heart is when people are genuinely hurt because the church isn’t faithfully being the church. But something that breaks my heart even more is when people allow that hurt to drive them from the family God has called them to.
But I want to encourage you to reconsider. Imagine that I once went to a doctor that was rude and insensitive and had no bedside manner. Imagine that he prescribed me the wrong medication and made my condition worse. I was very hurt by this. But then imagine that I later broke my leg and was in agony but I refused to go to a doctor because of my past experience with that one mean doctor? One of the things that breaks my heart is when people are genuinely hurt because the church isn’t faithfully being the church. But something that breaks my heart even more is when people allow that hurt to drive them from the family God has called them to. When Jesus saved us, he saved us into a people. We cannot live our lives separate from the local church if we are going to faithfully follow Christ. I pray that you would consider joining yourself to a local church and experiencing the joy of this blessing, for the glory of Christ.