CHURCH MEMBERSHIP IS BEING PART OF THE FAMILY OF GOD
“I’m so glad I’m a part of the family of God,
I’ve been washed in the fountain, cleansed by His blood,
Joint heirs with Jesus as we travel this sod,
For I’m part of the family,
The family of God.” 1
How often many churches sing that chorus! It is usually while we greet guests or as a departing postlude to the worship experience. Whenever it is sung, it is a reminder of our salvation; our communion with Christ Jesus and the “membership” we have in the family and Kingdom of God. It is a great chorus; but what does it mean as we think about church membership?
Verse two of this song reads:
“From the door of an orphanage to the house of the King,
No longer an outcast, a new song I sing,
From rags unto riches, from the weak to the strong,
I’m not worthy to be here, but praise God I belong.”1
What does it mean to “belong”? What do people mean when they belong to XYZ Baptist Church?
Over the last five years, I have had several conversations with church leaders or disgruntled church members who aske me, “How can I get my “church letter” and take it with me to another church?” A “church letter” is not a credential of your salvation. A “church letter” is an exchange document as a courtesy between church organizations. You can transfer to another church with or without a “church letter” and join by statement of your faith. However, the church-to-church letter is an important document of courtesy that is often sent even though some denominations do not practice the shared information.
A “church letter” states a valuable fact about a transferring church member. It ususally states that the member is “in good standing” or “active”. This is a valuable attribute to any church member. One’s attendance and doctrinal soundness are worthy to be observed and transferred when requested.
Active church membership is very important to the governance and structure of any church. For Baptists, being totally autonomous denominationally, and independent of each other, means they are self-governing. Even on a church’s articles of incorporation, the question is asked – “Do you have members?” Membership has its privileges – is a true statement, especially in member-led governance, because the membership makes the decisions – not a board. Being a member of a church and staying active gives you responsibility to help your church make operational and business decisions that advance the cause of Christ locally and around the world.
Church bylaws begin with membership, for after all, a member-led organization has to have members to function. Qualifications, duties and responsibilities/expectations of membership set the tone for all articles and sections that follow in the bylaws. Bylaws explain the procedure of accepting and discipling members utilizing the biblical principles
found in scripture.
Being in the family of God through salvation and being in the family of God through church membership may be a misconception for many. Some church members “belong” to a church for various reasons – social, political, family connections, burial/cemetery privileges or location. Some church members call themselves Christians – yet, have not truly experienced a life changing of existence of Jesus in their hearts. It is as if they are on “automatic play” – when it comes to church attendance, church activities! Some churches even have the reputation of being a club or a country club – without a golf course!
There is a difference in being a church member and being a child of God. Accepting Him as Lord and Savior of your life is the one most important decision a person can make in their lifetime. It is a decision you make.
A human does not have a choice of who his blood kin are – but you have a choice to accept or reject Christ. A church must first help people make the best choice first – choose Christ as Lord of their life, before they choose the membership role of the church they wish to belong.
The salvation experience and the washing away of sins through the symbol of baptism is not a cleansing ceremony for church membership. Church membership is the responsibility and the carry through of a changed life, joined with the family of God, to do what He has commissioned His followers to do.
I have become concerned recently with new contemporary churches that do not encourage people to join as members. They celebrate their commitment to Christ, but fail to connect with the body of worshippers to help model and mentor (disciple) them through life. Church membership and participation strengthens the Christian life and motivates the Christian life for Great Commission work. If we become weak with the importance of belonging as church members, we weaken the value of discipleship. Without the encouragement of membership, the new convert will miss out on the “sense of awe, and the many wonders and signs taking place through the apostles”. They will miss out on “all those who had believed were together, and had all things in common”. (Acts 2:43-44)
Acts 2:42-47 captures the essence of the early church and the commonality they shared – not by a church letter – but by the worship, fellowship, breaking of bread and prayer - they were focused to spread the good news about God’s family.
Why would any church down-play membership – and allow new converts to miss out on the bonding of believers focused on Christ?
“Joint heirs with Jesus” – join His family; then join a church to carry out His mission.
1THE FAMIL Y OF GOD, words by William J. and Gloria Gaither. Music by William J. Gaither. Copyright © 1970 Gaither Music Company. All rights controlled by Gaither Copyright Management. Used by permission.
CCLI110528. Used by permission.