I wanted to clarify a few of the statements I made in last Sunday’s morning message: Why church membership matters. I felt that these comments were not presented well; therefore they were probably not received in the way I intended.
The first statement I would like to clarify is my comment that “I am only responsible for the members of Duncan Park Baptist church.” According to Acts 20:28-31 we see Paul exhorting the church leaders from the church at Ephesus with these words…
“Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which He obtained with His own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert…”
From this passage we can conclude the following:
- There is a specific flock that these men are to oversee, as opposed to simply saying “all believers” everywhere.
- It was obtained through a very high price – the blood of Christ
- The flock will be attacked by wolves from the outside and false teachers from within
- The church leaders are to be aware and alert
I believe Paul is exhorting these pastors to protect the spiritual integrity of their particular flock. It is a tremendous responsibility, and extremely intimidating for a pastor. Not to mention the fact that the Hebrew writer warns of our future judgment. “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.” – Hebrews 13:17. Once again, I believe the focus here is upon spiritual integrity.
Oftentimes, with the subject of church membership, the individual focuses on the practical, human side of the equation. Typically we will associate church membership with our right to vote, our right to lead or teach in one of the church’s ministries, our right to be visited in the hospital, or even our right to have first dibs on the pavilion when our kid has a birthday party. Certainly there are practical benefits of church membership, and these shouldn’t be ignored. However, the spiritual aspect of church membership is equally (arguably more so) important. The spiritual side of church membership says that YOU will accept the responsibility of holding the other members of the flock to a conduct appropriate with scripture, and that you will allow yourself to be held to the same standard. The spiritual side of church membership says that you will care for and pray for the other members within the flock. You will also exercise your spiritual gifts within the context of that particular body of believers. You will financially support the ministry and accept the responsibility of carrying out the mission of the church. The spiritual side of church ministry also suggests that you willingly submit to the leadership of that church.
As a pastor, I believe that I will be held accountable for the spiritual side of church membership; therefore the way I teach, lead and shepherd is extremely important. I must teach in such a way so as our people understand the biblical way to live. I must lead our church to provide opportunities for you to live out your faith and exercise your spiritual gift. As a shepherd, I am responsible to exercise church discipline on those individuals who refuse to live in accordance with the Bible. This is where I see my responsibility as a pastor; specifically, my responsibility to this flock. Here is where church membership then comes into play…my responsibility to a particular flock necessitates a membership roll to indentify the members of that flock.
Now, does this mean that you have to be a member of our church before I visit you in the hospital, agree to officiate your wedding or provide you with biblical counsel? Absolutely not! I have the responsibility to my fellow man to do all of these things, not necessarily because I am a pastor, but because I am a Christ-follower. It is in these areas that I exercise my spiritual gift or demonstrate love and compassion to those in need. I believe every Christ-follower is obligated to do this, and little distinction should be made between members and non-members in regards to these areas. (See Galatians 6:10)
The second statement I would like to clarify is the illustration of the “wart.” Playing off of Paul’s use of the human body to illustrate the workings of the church (1 Cor. 12:12-20), I implied that those who were non-members were like a wart.
I must confess that this was a feeble attempt at humor. I think we can all agree that my attempt failed, miserably. The reason I used a wart to illustrate this point is because the type of person I was trying to describe is much like a wart. Hopefully this secondary attempt will achieve better success:
The local church, much like the human body, is made up of many different types of people. Some people teach, and other people serve. Some people work with children, other people work with teenagers. Some people write policies or serve on the deacon board. Each ministry is important, just as each member of your body is important too. The wart however is of no benefit; at least I am not aware of any benefits to having warts. An individual who drains the resources of a congregation without adding anything of value is that wart.
The type of person I was trying to illustrate is one who enjoys the benefit of the church with no intention of contributing to its cause. They will come for the pot-lucks and free food, drop their toddler into the nursery to take advantage of the free baby-sitting and demand their child be given the lead part in the Christmas play, all without contributing any time or money to that congregation.
I am not aware of any individual attending Duncan Park who could be described in that way. We have many “non-members” who I’m sure give financially, but I know they also go above and beyond by serving in numerous church ministries. Once again, this was an attempt at humor and hyperbole in an effort to illustrate a point. In no way did I mean to imply that all non-members are warts. I hope you will forgive my poor choice of words.
Lastly, I never meant to imply that an individual is sinning because they are not members of a local church. I know many of you are in transition, trying to find a body of believers that you can join and serve with. I regret that my comments may have shed a negative light on our church. I hope you will continue to worship with us for many years to come.
I also know many of our non-members are teenagers who have yet to make their membership official. I did not mean to insinuate that they were wrong because they have yet to officially join. Like many other non-members in our congregation, they simply were not aware of either the process or the importance of church membership. This was really the message I had hoped to communicate.
I do not know if this letter has satisfactorily addressed your concerns. If not, I hope you will communicate your questions, concerns or disagreements to me. Feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at the church office. I would be happy to speak with you about this, or any other issue.
Jeffrey S. Jackson
PS: Late in my message I mentioned a decision made in the late 90’s to grand-father individuals into church membership. I wanted to provide you with information regarding that decision. This is taken from the baptismal registry located in the church office.
In 1998, during an update of our membership roll, the deacons and staff approved the decision to “grand-father into membership” all those children who had been baptized in years past, since most families assumed they were already members at baptism.
It was made clear that in the future, baptism did not automatically make a member. Every person being baptized must also join the church separately.