Are you a member of the church? This is not such a far-fetched question these days. Back in the 50s, even 60s, we were what might be termed as more of a churched culture.
However, changes are taking place and people often choose not to be affiliated with any church or religion for that matter. They are referred to as the “Nones,” meaning when filling out forms asking religious affiliation, they just check “none of the above.” But if you are a member of the church, then my next question would be, What does your church membership mean to you? This is the subject I want to spend a few moments talking with you about today – membership and what it means for the Christian. ‘
I believe church membership is one of the most important things the church needs to get right today in this 21st century if we’re going to be healthy and growing for the cause of Christ! Many churches are weak because we have members who have turned the meaning of membership upside down in their minds, and it’s time to get it right.
Some have come to think of church membership like membership in a club – such as a country club. You pay your dues each year and receive some perks and privileges. Certain amenities come along with it that you come to expect – the use of the pool, a discount on meals at the restaurant, a discount on a golf cart, or priority treatment on the golf course. Join the club and you will be served well.
Tragically, though, this understanding of membership sometimes gets carried over into the Church of Jesus Christ. It’s a view many church members hold. We hear in statements such as these:
▸ This is my church! You better play the music the way I want it!
▸ Look, pastor. Don’t forget who pays your salary.
▸ If you don’t do this program, I will withhold my check to the church.
▸ I have been a member of the church for more than 30 years, so I have a right to get what I want!
This kind of thinking is not biblical nor faithful to what God had in mind when He first envisioned His Church. It’s important to ask the question, Where did the term “member” come from when it comes to belonging to a church?
First of all, it’s not something that was just pulled out of thin air or taken from the business world. There’s a biblical background to using this term “church member.” It comes from a metaphor the Apostle Paul used to describe the Christian Church. Listen to his words again: “We are all one body. We have the same spirit; we’ve been called to the same glorious future. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and there’s only one God and Father who is over us all and in us all, living through us all.”
This is us, folks! We are one body – like the human body with its many members – all connected, all necessary. The same Holy Spirit has opened our eyes to Jesus Christ and to the telling of the Good News of what He did for us on the cross. We have one resurrection, one hope, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father watching over us all. We have the same glorious future together – eternal life.
We are the body of Christ – not an organization but a living, breathing organism. We have a calling and a mission to represent Jesus in this world and bring others to Him so they might be rescued from sin and death, and experience the abundant life God had in mind for us when He created us all in the first place. Each of us are body members. This is the origin of “church member.”
The human body has different members that do different things – like eyes, feet, arms, legs, and so on. Each is necessary and important for the body as a whole in order for it to function well. So also in the body of Christ are members who play diverse, yet needful, roles for the whole body. Each member is different and valuable for the common good. Each one has a role, a function to work together with the other parts like a body. Each member has a special gift, Paul tells us, to be used for the common good of the body. These gifts were given by the Holy Spirit when a person receives Christ into their life and follows Him as Lord and Savior.
Paul lists a few spiritual gifts in today’s portion of Scripture. He says, “However, he has given each of us a special gift according to the generosity of Christ. He is the one who gave his gifts to the church – apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers.”
In this particular letter to the Ephesians, you see, Paul is only listing a few teaching gifts. But oh how important those teaching gifts are for all of us! How important it is for the Church to have good, biblical teaching and doctrines to keep us in the truth so we don’t get confused by what the world and other religions would have us believe. God has provided us with teachers who help us stick to the Good News of Jesus and what He has done for us at the cross – dying to pay for our sins and rising so we might have forgiveness and salvation. We need to be reminded that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father but through Him. In this pluralistic day of ours, many are questioning this truth, even within the Church. We need to be reminded that Scripture is God-breathed and our only authority in matters of faith and life. If we are looking for answers, we need to look to the Bible.
However, not just teaching is important. In other places like I Corinthians or Romans, Paul lists a variety of other gifts people have been given to be used for the common good of Christ’s body. The Apostle Peter lists some as well. Here are a few: Serving, mercy, encouragement, administration, wisdom, knowledge, giving, leadership, assistance, healing, tongues of the prayer language, and interpretation of tongues.
Every member is powered and gifted by the Holy Spirit to do something in the life of the local church! God never intended for the clergy to do all the ministry. It was never His intent for the pastor to use his gifts and everyone else to sit and watch, applaud or criticize. We all are called to ministry for the common good in the Church. Notice, there is no gift of sitting and watching, being spectators, demanding, waiting around for people to serve us. Spiritual gifts are meant to do something for someone else, functioning for the common good. They are mutually interdependent just like a human body. The eye can’t say to the hand, “I don’t need you,” as Paul says in I Corinthians. We need each other to be effective for Christ in the world. In fact, the Bible makes it clear that if one part does not do its job, the whole body doesn’t function very well. We all lose out.
The motivation behind using what God has given you in the church, of course, is love – love for Christ and what He has done for us – and love for His Church that He loves. You know He loves His Church. It’s a big deal to Him. Paul tells us in I Corinthians 13, right in the center of talking about gifts, It’s all about love.
Paul then goes on in Ephesians to share an important truth with those of us who are willing to be functioning members of the body. Under His direction, the whole body is fitted together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow so the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.
First of all, notice it’s under His direction. He’s talking about Jesus Christ. He is the head of the body, the control center. He is the Lord of the Church. We walk to His drumbeat, and as each member of the body uses their gifts, the whole body then benefits, Paul tells us. It grows healthy and mature and full of love. As you, as a member, involve yourself in the life of the church by exercising your abilities, you become a blessing to others in your local church.
Paul doesn’t tell us this, but there’s a bonus to consider. Jesus talked about the beauty of serving one another in the church and the joy that comes along with it. There is joy in serving others and making a difference in others’ lives for the cause of Christ as you operate out of the sweet spot God has given you.
I think of Kate headed off to college this year. She has figured out she has a gift of hospitality and mercy. She is good at making people feel like they belong and someone cares that they are there. She just returned from a mission trip with a large group of teenagers. Typically a few hang back out of shyness and don’t get connected. Kate noticed one particular person whom she did not know. So she reached out, made the approach, and befriended this person who looked very alone. At the end of the trip, this person told her their relationship became the high point of her trip. She felt like she belonged.
I think of Chuck. He has strong leadership skills with team projects. He ran our last two building programs. We couldn’t have completed the project without him using his gifts. The funny thing is, when I thank him for all he’s doing, he typically says, “Well, thanks for letting me be a part of it. This is fun!”
Being a biblical member of the church means being a person who is always on the lookout to contribute and serve in order to make the body stronger. That is what church membership is about, according to Scripture.
So, where does one begin? First, pray and ask God to reveal your gift, your special abilities and where you might use them in your congregation.
Study Scripture. Use a commentary with it. Examine sections on the gifts to learn what they mean. You could take an inventory. Perhaps your church has a tool for it. If not, get on the Internet and Google “spiritual gift inventories.” You’ll get all kinds of things to look up. Try the short forms.
Ask someone who really knows you spiritually about your area of giftedness, then try it out by serving roles requiring that gift. What kind of satisfaction is there for you? What kind of results occur for the kingdom of God? That is what church members do.
Talk to your pastor. Ask God where you can use your gift, your abilities.
I came across this little article I found to be very thought-provoking. It was written by a woman named Elyse Fitzpatrick. She wrote, “My husband and I had the wonderful opportunity to vacation in Europe. In about 3 1/2 weeks, we visited 13 different nations. When we’d enter a country, we would get our passport stamped, exchange currencies, learn a few key phrases, and off we’d go to visit the locals. We’d wander through outdoor markets, peruse museums, and sample the cuisine. We’d exchange a few niceties with the local folks, sit on the steps of the cathedrals, watch the life of the town go by, take a picture or two, and even purchase something to remind us of our time there. Then we were off to another place. We had a wonderful vacation! Our hearts weren’t changed in any significant ways by these visits, but then they weren’t meant to be. We were tourists.”
It seems to me that what I just described is very close to many people’s understanding of the congregational life of the local church. On any given weekend, many tourists can be found in church. They pop in for 45 minutes or an hour, sing a chorus or two, and exchange niceties with the locals. They sample some of the local cuisine. They might purchase a book or CD to remind them of their visit. And then they race to their cars to get to their favorite restaurant or rush to their home before the game. For many people, church is simply about being a tourist. Our land is becoming filled with tourist-friendly churches.
A personal question for you, dear friend. What role are you playing in your local church? Are you a functioning member or a tourist? We need members. Amen.
Rev. Steve Kramer