At First Pres, we are not at all pushy about church membership. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever asked anyone directly if they were ready to join–although I state at the end of every worship service that “The invitation to follow Jesus Christ is always an open one, as is the invitation to be a part of First Presbyterian Church. If you’d like to know more about what it means to follow the living Lord Jesus Christ and to take that journey with this particular group of believers, I would love to tell you more.”
That’s not the way I’ve always operated. At my previous call, I had an almost formulaic approach to church membership. If a person or a family visited more than three times, I would contact them and see if we could visit about the church and what membership meant. I haven’t done that here at First Pres Argenta because so many of the people who come through our doors are still trying to recover from wounds received at other churches. When I say “Come and worship just the way you are,” I really mean it and would never want to disturb someone’s recovery by seeming to push the commitment of membership on them.
But in my efforts not to push, I have failed to demonstrate the importance of church membership. And because membership in our church is not a rigorous process (our Book of Order states:
A congregation shall welcome all persons who trust in God’s grace in Jesus Christ and desire to become part of the fellowship and ministry of his Church. No person shall be denied membership for any reason not related to profession of faith. The Gospel leads members to extend the fellowship of Christ to all persons. Failure to do so constitutes a rejection of Christ himself and causes a scandal to the Gospel. G-1.0302),
and since our congregation doesn’t draw a distinction in the way we treat members vs. non-members, it might seem like membership is no big deal, when it is, in fact, quite a big deal.
So why church membership?
1. Membership lets your freak flag fly. Church membership makes visible your commitment to Christ. Commitment to anything is becoming a rare commodity and commitment to the church is becoming even more so. What used to be a token requirement of any good citizen is now a radical move.
2. Membership means embracing community. The triune God we worship–Creator, Christ and Holy Spirit–exists in community. Jesus called a community of men to follow him. Paul wrote most of letters not to individuals but to communities of faith. The journey with Jesus is not meant to be made alone.
3. Membership keeps us accountable to one another. In his book The Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, Mark Dever writes, “Church membership is our opportunity to grasp hold of each other in responsibility and love. By identifying ourselves with a particular church, we let the pastors and other members of that local church know that we intend to be committed in attendance, giving, prayer, and service. We allow fellow believers to have great expectations of us in these areas, and we make it known that we are the responsibility of this local church. We assure the church of our commitment to Christ in serving with them, and we call for their commitment to serve and encourage as well.”
4. Membership gives you a voice and a vote. When you are member, you have voice and vote in any congregational meeting. You have voice at stated session meetings to speak to issues that are important to you. You are eligible to be ordained as an elder and to serve on the session.
So once again, the invitation to follow Jesus Christ is always an open one, as is the invitation to be part of First Presbyterian Church. If you’d like to know more about what it means to follow the living Lord Jesus Christ and what it means to take that journey with this particular group of believers, talk with me at any time. I would love to tell you more.
–Rev. Anne Russ