Pastor’s Blog April 2018

DOES CHURCH MEMBERSHIP MATTER?

There has been a developing trend not only in the church but across many organizations which has seen membership fall. It has affected political parties and many social organizations too. Many explanations of this have been offered. Some suggest that we have a commitment phobia, others that the nature of commitment has changed, away from long term attachment to a focused short term involvement. A third reason given is a basic mistrust of institutions.

I suspect among Christians there are other reasons for this trend. Let me suggest 3 possible reasons and then I would like to comment on these reasons.

  1. The privatization of faith.
  2. A painful experience of church.
  3. A belief that church membership is not a biblical idea.

First then the privatization of faith. Increasingly in Western Culture faith has been pushed to the margins of life and has been made a matter of personal choice. When this is combined with the increasingly individualistic nature of our society it is very easy to lose the biblical focus on the centrality of the community of the church in both God’s purposes for the world and his purposes for the individual believer. Christianity is a communal faith, we need each other in order to flourish in the Christian way of discipleship. Church membership makes that commitment real.

Secondly there are people who have been deeply hurt by their experiences in church and feel, understandably, reluctant to make the same commitment again. Without wishing in any way to belittle peoples’ experiences, some of which at times are nothing short of a form of spiritual abuse. I would like to say that all human relationships involve the possibility of being hurt. The more important and central to our lives those relationships are the more painful will be the experience. If we are involved in the life of a church we will at times be hurt and disappointed by one another. To be committed to one another can both deeply enrich our lives and leaves us open to being hurt. There is no way to avoid this, this side of heaven. Membership is an expression of commitment, not to an institution but to a group of people.

Thirdly there is perhaps in some peoples’ minds an issue with the biblical justification for Church Membership. It is certainly true that the language of church membership doesn’t feature in the bible. However, I would want to argue that the word translated “fellowship” in our bibles is actually a word that conveys an idea that is akin to membership.

The problem is that we have emptied the word fellowship of much of its strength and made it into a word that describes coffee and a chat at the end of a service. When Luke talks about “the fellowship” in Acts 2, he is in fact talking about a partnership between believers in a shared mission and purpose. I believe that the commitment to the church in fellowship is in fact a much greater and deeper commitment than that which is conveyed by church membership. Church Membership is so much more than involvement in church meetings, it a sign of our commitment both to Christ and to the believers with whom we regularly worship.

So my question would be, why wouldn’t you want to be a church member?

I’m planning to hold a couple of evenings with the theme of Exploring Church membership which will give people the opportunity to look at the bible and to ask questions about this issue.

Exploring Church Membership  Tuesday 22nd May @7.30pm or Sunday 10th June @6.30pm.

 

Phil Dixon