If every church member was like you, would your church be healthy? When it comes to the life of a church, every church member matters. A few times each year, I teach a membership class for new members, and I try to emphasize the points of healthy church membership. How many people do you know who don’t take church membership seriously? Church membership matters and in order to have a healthy church, there are specific characteristics that every church member must strive to possess.
The word disciple comes from the Greek word, “μαθητής” meaning a “one who engages in learning through the instruction from another.” In short, a disciple is a learner. As a follower of Christ, all church members should desire to learn. Many people are unwilling to be taught anything, and they remain on a very shallow spiritual level and never progress on to a greater knowledge of God. This is not only detrimental to their own spiritual progress, but it hinders their family and the rest of the church as a whole. Disciples are to be constantly learning and growing in grace (Heb. 5:12).
It’s simply human nature to protect yourself and to prevent yourself from being attacked in a weak spot. We protect ourselves from physical attacks, emotional attacks, and spiritual attacks. It may seem illogical to make yourself vulnerable, but as a church member, it’s important to be open with your fellow members. We are really good in the church at putting on a smile and patting one another on the back and pretending that everything is alright. We’re really good at pretending that we don’t need any assistance. We’re good at putting on a front before people and acting like we don’t have any weaknesses spiritually. How will the older and more mature members train the younger if we’re not opening up and making ourselves vulnerable (Titus 2:1-8)? How will we receive critique and correction if we are not vulnerable?
When Paul used the illustration of human anatomy to describe the importance of the local church membership, he was driving home a very important point (1 Cor. 12:12-26). “And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body.  If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell” (1 Cor. 12:16-17)? Don’t just show up to worship services and sit. Be involved in the life of the church and strive to become a useful member. Look for opportunities to serve in ministries and look for ways to serve your fellow members.
According to the Scriptures, we are called to love one another (John 15:12, 17). Have you ever known a person who was hard to love? We are called to love one another and this means giving and receiving the love of the church (Rom. 12:10; 1 Thess. 3:12; 1 Thess. 4:19). In 1 John 4:7-8, the apostle makes it very clear that God expects us to “love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.”
How many members of your church do you know who only show up for about 25% of the services offered each week? Do you know them as well as you know others in the church who are more visibly present and engaged in the body life of the church? Some people are constantly in the shadows. They operate on the peripheral. They arrive late, sit in the back, leave early, and are typically present 25-50% of the time. It’s the goal of some people to avoid small groups in attempt to avoid personal interaction with others. However, this is not God’s plan for His church. The closest people and the deepest and warmest relationships should be within the local church. Why do you look elsewhere to find such relationships?
According to Hebrews 10:24-25, the writer to the Hebrews says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” How do you stir up one another when you’re not present? How do you love one another when you’re not present? How do you serve one another when you’re not present? How do you encourage one another when you’re not present? The point is clear, as a church member you need to be visible. God is calling people to come out of the shadows and engage in real relationships that are at times messy, vulnerable, and inconvenient.
At times, it’s important for a church member to be critical. This doesn’t mean that God wants us to have a critical and cantankerous attitude. God has not called us to be critical of the color of the new carpet in the foyer of the church or to be overly critical of the leadership of the church. As a member of the church, we’re called to criticize one another when it comes to sin. Rather than just allowing people to engage in open and rebellious sinful behavior, we are to critique one another and prevent sinful living. This means that we are to be pursuing holiness and when someone in the church deviates from the path of righteousness, we are to hold one another accountable. We see this mandated by Jesus in Matthew 18:15-20 and exemplified in 1 Corinthians 5. Leaders are to correct and rebuke the members, but there should be an atmosphere of mutual love and accountability among the church.
We are quick to expect God to forgive us while at the same time withholding forgiveness from a fellow church member. Jesus taught us in the model prayer to “forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven our debtors” (Matt. 6:12). Paul instructed the church at Colossae to be consistently “forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Col. 3:13). Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus and said, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:32).
The Great Commission involves going, praying, sending, and discipling in all of these areas – locally and internationally. In order for the wheels of ministry to turn, all of the church must be faithful in sacrificing to accomplish the goals. John Piper has rightly said, “God prospers me not to raise my standard of living but to raise my standard of giving.” What does it mean to seek first the Kingdom of God (Matt. 6:33)? Why did Jesus teach so much about money? Why did Jesus warn about the dangers of money? What can we learn from the church at Macedonia (2 Cor. 8:1-9)?
We must all remember that we’re not the center of God’s story. Jesus is the center of God’s story, and we’re involved in the drama of God’s redemptive plan through our relationship with Jesus. It’s true that many churches are near sighted. Many churches are unable to see beyond a few miles from their steeple. It’s important to be engaged in local missions in the neighborhoods surrounding the church and at the same time have an eye on the nations of the world (Acts 1:8). Each church must have going and sending goals, and these goals should always be gospel centered. Humanitarian aid should not take priority over gospel ministry. Before we dig wells and do shoe ministry, we must deal with the heart and share the life changing good news of Jesus Christ.
Church membership matters to God and it should matter to us as well. As we consider what it means to be a church member, we should strive to be a faithful member for the glory of God. While this is not an exhaustive list regarding church membership, it’s one that we should consider as we examine ourselves, our motives, and our service within the local church. Each of us should ask ourselves this sobering question – what if every church member was just like me?