“God did not give us local churches to become country clubs where membership means we have privileges and perks. He placed us in churches to serve, to care for others, to pray for leaders, to learn, to teach, to give, and, in some cases to die for the sake of the gospel. Many churches become weak because we have members who have turned the meaning of members upside down. It’s time to get it right. It’s time to become a church member as God intended. It’s time to give instead of being entitled.”
This is how Thom Rainer begins his excellent little book I Am a Church Member: Discovering the Attitude that Makes the Difference. Growing out of the research of 557 churches in his denomination from 2004-2012, Rainer issues forth a kind, but firm call to Christians to re-examine their attitude and actions in relation to their local church. Rainer’s goal is biblical. He wants his readers to become functioning, unifying, unselfish, praying members of a local church who also lead their family members to be healthy church members who treasure the precious relationships God has given us in the body of Christ.
In Chapter 1, “I Will Be a Functioning Church Member,” Rainer relates the mindset he developed as a young boy when his middle-class parents became members of a country club. As his family took in all the amenities that membership in the club provided, Thom writes, “I began to learn a lesson. Membership means perks. Membership means privileges. Membership means others will serve me. Just pay the going rate, and you can have others take care of you while you enjoy a life of leisure.”
He then graciously confronts the mindset of many church members today. “For them, membership is about receiving instead of giving, being served instead of serving, rights instead of responsibilities, and entitlements instead of sacrifices. This wrongful view of membership sees the tithes and offerings as membership dues that entitle members to a never-ending list of privileges and expectations, instead of an unconditional cheerful gift to God.” Rainer goes on to explain four implications of biblical church membership.
Four Implications of Biblical Church Membership
- Membership Means We Are All Necessary Parts of the Whole. The New Testament includes a number of passages where we clearly see the picture of church membership, such as 1 Corinthians 12 to 14, where the apostle makes it clear that we are connected to one another and dependent upon one another. However; in our modern day, “Some church leaders and members view membership as a modern business or organizational concept, so they reject the label as unbiblical. Membership, to the contrary, is very biblical.”
- Membership Means We Are Different but We Still Work Together. “With a country club membership you pay others to do the work for you. With church membership, everyone has a role or function. That is why some are hands, feet, ears, or eyes. We are all different, but we are necessary parts of the whole. Each part, therefore, has to do its work, or the whole body suffers.”
- Membership Means Everything We Say and Do Is Based on a Biblical Foundation of Love. Here, Rainer exposes the common misuse of 1 Corinthians 13, the love chapter, and places it back into its original context: “its original meaning was to demonstrate how church members relate one to another….We are not to love fellow church members just because they are lovable. We are to love the unlovable as well. We are not to pray for and encourage our pastors just when they are doing things we like. We are to pray for and encourage them when they do things we don’t like. We are not to serve the church only when others are joining in. We are to serve the church even if we are alone in doing so. Church membership is founded on love.”
- Church Membership Is Functioning Membership. “Do you know how to remain a member of a country club? Pay your dues. Do that and people will be available to serve you. Do you know how to remain a biblical member of a church? Give abundantly and serve without hesitation…. Biblical church membership is functioning membership.”
Another thing I really like about this little book is that each chapter ends with a pledge that church members are encouraged to make before the Lord. Here’s the pledge at the end of the first chapter.
I like the metaphor of membership. It’s not membership as in a civic organization or a country club. It’s the kind of membership given to us in 1 Corinthians 12: “Now you are the body of Christ, and individual members of it” (1 Cor 12:27). Because I am a member of the body of Christ, I must be a functioning member, whether I am an “eye,” an “ear,” or a “hand.” As a functioning member, I will give. I will serve. I will minister. I will evangelize. I will study. I will seek to be a blessing to others. I will remember that “if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it” (1 Cor. 12:26).
A biblical understanding of church membership is a desperate need in today’s evangelical churches. Therefore, Thom Rainer’s book is a welcomed contribution that I highly recommend. If you are a pastor or elder you should consider finding money in your church’s budget to purchase a copy for every member family.
I Am a Church Member is published by B&H Publishing Group, 2013, suggested retail is $12.99.