Pastor Eddie Lowen of Westside Christian Church in Springfield, IL. has written an excellent article on what membership in the local church means. We have used it with full permission from Eddie as well as Westside Christian Church
THE MEANING OF MEMBERSHIP by Eddie Lowen
Recently I reviewed my memberships and was surprised by how many I have. I’m a member of Sam’s Club. In fact, Sam’s Club allows me to enter the building only if I produce a membership card (which features the only photo of me that is worse than my driver’s license photo). I can’t even spend money at Sam’s Club without my membership credentials! They take membership seriously. But I don’t visit Sam’s Club often.
I also have a membership at The Oaks Golf Course. Sound impressive? Not really. It’s a humble golf course where a membership costs a few dollars more than a normal round of golf. It’s their program for encouraging more frequent play. It hasn’t worked well in my case – I haven’t played golf there in several years.
The books I buy at Barnes & Noble are discounted because of my membership with that company. I’ve bought quite a few books, but thanks to a new e-reader my last 12 book purchases have been electronic books. Over time, I seem to have accumulated memberships: health clubs, civic organizations, insurance groups, alumni entities. And, I know people who hold membership in 3-4 times as many groups as I do. One guy showed me his wallet, which was literally bursting with membership cards. I think he needs to attend Members Anonymous, if there is one.
Some people are members of seemingly everything. They have social memberships, business memberships, memberships in Christian organizations, charity boards, community service groups, employee-related memberships, country club or dining club affiliations.
But in this universe of memberships, what does it mean to be a member of Christ’s Church, specifically, West Side? Is it a one-time sign-up making you a member for life? Is it a social membership? Is it a membership with automatic renewal? What about the fees? Whether you’re new to West Side or a decades-long member (or a potential member), you need to be able to express what it means to be a “member” of WSCC.
Some people claim church membership is a man-made affiliation. But the New Living Translation of Ephesians 2:19 reads, “You are members of God’s family. We are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. We who believe are carefully joined together, becoming a holy temple for the Lord.”
There’s that word: members. It’s in the Bible. But what does it mean? Well, there are a couple things that membership cannot denote in a healthy church. Membership doesn’t denote special privileges. Our culture views members as those with elite status, but church membership is not about elevating my wishes over those of others. Christ calls members of his body to think differently. As last summer’s teaching series highlighted, the ways of Jesus are upside-down when compared to worldly thinking.
Philippians 2:3 reads, Don’t be selfish. Don’t live to make a good impression on others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourself. The elitist view of church membership thinks, “My preferences are being placed before those of others.”
But the biblical view thinks, “You first. God will take care of my needs. I’ll get my joy from seeing you receive what you need.” Church membership doesn’t denote literal ownership, either. Some clubs and organizations have what are called “equity memberships.” To have one, you are required to purchase a small percentage of the club. It’s similar to buying stock in a company like GE or Wal-Mart. If you decide you no longer want an equity membership, you are permitted to sell it and leave.
Last week, a ministry friend told me of someone who angrily left his church and demanded a refund of his giving. He saw himself as an owner with equity. Because something was done differently than he wished, he wanted to cash out. That’s sick, but it’s a poignant indicator of how people’s thinking about the church can become warped. Preachers and other church leaders are as susceptible to this distorted way of thinking as anyone. Those who pour a lot of their time and energy into church can begin to think it is ours in an unhealthy sense. We must all guard our hearts.
People who purchase equity memberships vote on policies and decisions. They say, “This is my club,” or “This is my organization. It belongs to me.” But the church can never belong to a person or a group of people. Colossians 1:18-19 (NLT) says, “Christ is the head of the church, which is his body. He is the first of all who will rise from the dead, so he is first in everything. For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ…”
Here’s what membership means: Membership means I am partially responsible for my church. If my church needs something, I have an obligation to ask what I can do. If my church has a vision for ministry, I am called to help make it happen. I can’t enjoy all the benefits of a healthy congregation while excusing myself from serving, praying and giving to bring about good things. And, no matter how devoted others are to those actions, a significant part of the need is mine to fill.
Membership means I am accountable. If you place membership at a church, you are granting the leaders of that church the right to challenge you to grow. You are giving your fellow members the opportunity to call you to devotion and authenticity.
Membership means I matter. Although some people have unreasonable expectations of their churches, every member has a right to expect the church to care. In Acts 6, some widows were being overlooked because of their race. They called out the church leaders and the problem was corrected. Even sincere leaders can overlook needs and miss the chance to love people as God intends. If it ever happens, find a gracious way to let your church leaders know.
If you are interested in becoming a member of South Shores Christian Church, please contact a pastor via the information below.