Today at the church Makasan Presbyterian, where I am a co-pastor, we welcomed in a new member of the congregation. Abram, whom I work with on the homeless shelter, was officially made a member of the church. This despite his already having been a member of the ad hoc committee which runs the church. This got me to think about what is important about membership of churches.
I find the concept odd. Membership tends to imply that you get something for being a member. Because I am a member I: Get to shop at Sam’s Club; call AAA for a tow; exercise at the gym. Membership tends to make people think about what is in it for them. This is not what a church should be about.
I have worked at churches for 15 years. It always amazes me that people who have not been inside the church in decades will still expect you to jump when they call for a wedding or a funeral. Or others who do attend expect the Pastor to meet all their wants and desires. They will refuse to allow the worship to change even when they admit that the change will attract new members. I have even heard people say they would rather close the church than change.
It is amazing how many churches looking for a new pastor will state that they are looking for someone to help them grow the church and attract new members. Sadly, too often, what goes unsaid is they want this growth and new members as long as they look like them and act like them and want worship like they do.
Churches are not much better. They put rules and regulations in front of people seeking to qualify people before accepting them as members. They require people to jump through hoops. They only want mature Christians. I do not think this is what we are called to do. We need to accept people as they are and help them mature. To me attendance and involvement are much more important than “committing”. We should not be looking to raise up more members of our church we are called to raise disciples of Jesus.
I struggle with most churches’ definition of membership. I do not think standing in front of the congregation and pledging to be faithful is what it means to be a member. Too often I have watched these people not engage and not attend regularly. And I saw others who never formally joined the church become mainstays in keeping the church serving the kingdom of God.
In my sermons I often use encouragement to preach with your actions and not your words. Jesus asked which of the 2 sons did the bidding of the father, the one who said yes and never did or the one who said no but then did the task? Church membership to me is taking part in the life of the church. Helping to point people to Jesus.
Do not get me wrong. I am thrilled that Abram officially joined the church. But the truth is he was already a member. He leads the prayers of the people each week. Leads bible studies and even has preached. Today was a procedural step in church business. Not a step in his faith.
God Loves that Abram is teaching and learning. The truth is God would love him even if he did not commit. God loves us all and so do I.