Church membership is vitally important. It’s probably a topic we don’t talk about enough. Therefore, I want to take a moment to remind us of why church membership matters.
1. Church membership is biblical. We need to start here because today many people suggest that church membership is something made up. “Sure,” someone may say, “it’s not okay to be a lone ranger Christian, by why formal church membership? Can’t I just go to church regularly and that be enough?” It’s true, of course, there is no verse that says to church leaders, “Thou shalt have a formal church membership roll.” Nevertheless, what the Bible teaches about the nature of the church and our responsibility to one another inevitably leads us to say that church membership is biblical. In other words, church membership is a good and necessary consequence of the teaching of the New Testament.
Think of how the Bible describes the local church. The church is “one body.” That’s true of the universal church, but it’s also true at a local level. And so Paul says in Romans 12 that each member of the body belongs to the others. This spiritual reality must express itself visibly and tangibly. We belong to one another at Trinity. I exist as a part of the body to serve the other parts, and you exist as part of the body to serve the other parts. Jesus has designed it that way.
The Bible also describes us as a family. We are members of the household of God (Ephesians 2:19; 1 Timothy 3:15). We relate to one another as a family. We love one another. We are committed to one another. We hold one another accountable. There’s a household code that shapes how we relate to one another (1 Timothy 5:1-2).
The Bible also leads us to the practice of church membership as it talks about the responsibilities of elders. They are called to “shepherd the flock of God” (1 Peter 5:2). Simply put, elders can’t do that if there is not a defined flock. One day, elders will stand before the Chief Shepherd and give an account for how they cared for Christ’s beloved sheep (that’s a sobering reminder for me!). Membership is a way for elders to effectively know, love, care for, and serve the “flock that is among them.”
Furthermore, membership is required by the command to “obey your leaders” (Hebrews 13:17). What leaders? The leaders of the church to which you belong, “for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.” In other words, church membership is a way of defining which flock you belong to and who your spiritual leaders are. It’s a way of saying, “I’m a member of this particular flock and those are my elders. I’m accountable to them and they’re accountable to Christ for me.”
2. Church membership is a way of publicly declaring your commitment to Christ and his people in a low-commitment culture. Sadly, I think it’s fair to say that some local social clubs require more of their members than churches ask of their members. In a culture where the consumer is sovereign, and where if the consumer isn’t pleased they just move to another provider, committing to a local church sends a powerful message. We’re saying, “I’m not here to be a passive consumer; I’m here to serve. I am committed to these dear brothers and sisters and they are committed to me. Even when troubles arise, we are committed to maintaining “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).
3. Church membership keeps us accountable
If we know our hearts, we know we need accountability. I know I do. When we become members of a local church, that’s what we should get: biblically-informed, gospel-centered, Christ-honoring, love-motivated accountability.
Mark Dever has written a book about the church and I like the way he describes church membership: “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 [elders] 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.”
We could surely come up with others reasons for why membership matters, but here are three good reasons: (1). Membership is biblical; (2). Membership is a way of declaring our commitment to Christ and his people in a low-commitment culture; (3). Membership keeps us accountable.
In our low-commitment culture, let’s make the high commitment of taking hold of one another in responsibility and love.
For Christ and His Kingdom,