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What Does Church Membership Mean?

May 16, 2013 Leave a comment

IAmAChurchMember_R2.inddChurch membership is a subject I’m passionate about, but all too often I’m not as passionate about the church itself as I should be. I Am a Church Member by Thom S. Rainer has reminded me both how important loving the church is and what this love looks like. Rainer’s book is short (less than 100 pages) and divided into six short chapters, but I Am a Church Member edifies the reader more in this short space than most books do in three times as many pages.

The six chapters comprise six statements in a church membership covenant. The new church member makes these promises upon joining a local church:

  1. I will be a functioning church member.
  2. I will be a unifying church member.
  3. I will not let my church be about my preferences and desires.
  4. I will pray for my church leaders.
  5. I will lead my family to be healthy church members.
  6. I will treasure church membership as a gift.

In these chapters, Rainer draws six significant conclusions about church membership from the Bible:

  1. Each church member should lovingly serve the church to which he/she belongs. “One of the ongoing questions you should ask yourself and God in prayer is: ‘How can I best serve my church?’ You should never ask yourself if you should be serving your church” (16).
  2. Each church member should lovingly promote unity in the church.”You have a responsibility as a church member. You are to be a source of unity. You are never to be a divisive force” (24). Promoting unity in the church means eschewing gossip and being forgiving.
  3. Each church member should love other church members sacrificially by putting his/her preferences aside for others’. “As you are overwhelmed by Jesus’ undeserved love for you that caused him to sacrifice everything–including his preferences–you will be able to do the same for others” (40).
  4. Each church member should pray for the pastor’s preaching, family, protection, and health because a pastor’s “day is filled with mountaintops and valleys. He is adulated by some and castigated by others. He needs our prayers” (46).
  5. Each church member should model sacrificial, loving service to his/her family. Even if you’re single, “you can be assured that others are watching you. How you love your church could have a significant spiritual impact on their lives” (63).
  6. Each church member should view his/her membership in the church as a gift from God. “Church membership is a gift. We respond to gifts with gratitude. And one key way we express our gratitude is to serve like Jesus did and like He told us to do” (74).

I found myself agreeing with everything Rainer was saying in this book. I was reveling in this book’s biblical messages in chapters one through three. I have emphasized in numerous sermons that every Christian has a role to play in the church to which he/she belongs. I have recently preached on the danger of gossip, and I have also preached about the importance of unity in the local church. But chapter four began to prick my own conscience. I began to feel the logs in my own eyes and was no longer so focused on recalling others’ specks. I don’t pray near as often as I should (1 Thess. 5:17). I don’t pray for my pastor as much as I should, even though I myself am–to a much smaller degree than he is–aware of the hardships and challenges of Christian ministry. This is to my shame, and I felt my failure keenly as I read this chapter. May God break my spirit to pray “without ceasing” for my pastor as I ought!

Chapter five was similarly convicting, particularly Rainer’s conclusion: “As a church member, I am not merely to like my church or serve my church well. I am to fall deeply in love with my church. Christ is the bridegroom, and the church is the bride. My commitment is to love that bride with an unwavering and unconditional love” (62). I realize that my love for the church sometimes wavers because Rainer is absolutely right: “Unconditional love is not always easy,” but I should nevertheless love the church unconditionally, which “means I will continue to fall more deeply in love regardless of the response. It means my love for the church will grow even as I may disagree with something or encounter disagreeable people” (62). O God, make my love for your church unconditional! Give me the grace to love your people even when it’s hard! You have loved me, unlovable though I am, and how often have your people loved me despite my many imperfections! Help me to see more often the logs in my own eyes than the specks in others’.

I Am a Church Member rouses me to closer examination of my own life because it is Bible-saturated. Rainer quotes Scripture on nearly every page and consistently draws his conclusions and applications from the Bible. I cannot more highly recommend this book to every church member, whether young or old. By God’s grace, I Am a Church Member will convict us and lead us to repentance. What more can we ask for in a book?

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