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Church Membership

posted Nov 14, 2017, 10:10 AM by First Baptist


In recent days, I’ve had two conversations about church membership.


In one, a married couple expressed an eagerness to become official members of FBC. They both see formal church membership as an important part of their discipleship and understand there are both privileges & responsibilities of being members.


In the other conversation, a friend was seeking information about why there is even such a thing as formal membership. He had a perfectly reasonable question: Why isn’t every regular attender automatically considered a member?


Different Approaches


Some churches do that. Actually, what they do is eliminate membership altogether; meaning, people come & go (and participate or not) as they please.


Other churches not only have “members,” but membership comes with a clear set of expectations. For example, to be a member of one of the largest churches in America, you must agree to tithe (or give 10% of your income to the church). In addition, your membership is only good for one year; each year, it must be renewed.


The Mushy Middle


As to FBC, we are in the mushy middle. In other words, we have membership, but it doesn’t mean a great deal. For example, the church’s bylaws do not require that the church’s most important roles be filled by members. The bylaws also permit people to “drop out” (i.e., have nothing to do with FBC for a long period of time) and still retain their membership.


Personally, I think we should get out of the mushy middle and have membership mean something. While I have some ideas about what that meaning should be, I assume others do as well, and I’d like to see the congregation work together to reach a consensus about that.


The Bible & Formal Church Membership


I would not be in favor of eliminating membership altogether because its practice is strongly implied in the New Testament.


For example, soon after Pentecost (the birthday of the church), the church in Jerusalem started a food distribution ministry for widows – not for just any widow, but for those affiliated with the church. Surely they maintained some kind of membership roll to know who qualified.


In addition, all the New Testament passages dealing with church discipline have very little meaning without formal church membership.


Speaking of which . . . after a bit of hemming & hawing on my part, here’s what I told my friend in my 2nd conversation:


The primary, biblical purpose of formal church membership is to give the church the ability to take it away.


Really? Yes, really.


Removing a person from membership due to unrepentant sin (or sin from which a person refuses to repent despite repeated pleadings & warnings) is the final tool in the church’s tool box to try to get their attention and bring about a change of heart. Doing so also provides a necessary warning to the rest of the church body not to engage in that particular sin.


The church that refuses to take this step when necessary either (a) doesn’t take sin very seriously or (b) doesn’t really love the person who is sinning.


Would you want to be part of a church where either of these is the case?


Pastor Dan