What is Church Membership? Part 1

Over the next six months in our Family Meetings at Grace, we will be following the outline of Thom Rainer’s I Am a Church Member. We want to discover, or rediscover, what it means to be a healthy part of a healthy local church because, in a wretched world, it’s easy to forget or lose sight of who we are in Christ.

In his introduction, Rainer gives a few statistics. 9 out of 10 churches are declining or growing at a pace slower than their communities. This is mentioned as evidence that most local churches are not reaching people with the Gospel or even retaining growth alongside their communities. 9 out of 10 is a large number. Two-thirds of those born before 1946 claimed to be Christian while only 15% of millennials (that’s my generation) claim to be Christians. For some reason, there has been a disconnect and the Gospel has not been handed down. Please understand, I am not placing blame on anyone because I think there are a few factors that have led to this disconnect. I don’t think the problem has anything to do with generational differences. I have been able to learn just fine from people older than me.

Rainer’s thought is that this disconnect exists because people (I imagine here he is referring to all generation, not only one) have forgotten what it means to live as the body of Christ. He also recognizes that people are quick to cast blame. It is culture’s fault. The pastor’s sermons are too long. Politics are godless. There are too many hypocrites in the church. Rainer suggests that instead of casting blame, people should be honest and look in the mirror. Indeed, we only benefit from doing this.

To kick things off, Rainer lists two bad expectations people have regarding their membership in the local church:

      • We join our churches expecting others to serve us, feed us, and care for us.
      • We don’t like the hypocrites in the church but fail to see our own hypocrisies.

1 Corinthians 12:12-31, 14:26

For as the body is one and has many parts, and all the parts of that body, though many, are one body — so also is Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body — whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free — and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. So the body is not one part but many. If the foot should say, “Because I’m not a hand, I don’t belong to the body,” in spite of this it still belongs to the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I’m not an eye, I don’t belong to the body,” in spite of this it still belongs to the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But now God has placed each one of the parts in one body just as He wanted. And if they were all the same part, where would the body be? Now there are many parts, yet one body.

So the eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” Or again, the head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” But even more, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are necessary. And those parts of the body that we think to be less honorable, we clothe these with greater honor, and our unpresentable parts have a better presentation. But our presentable parts have no need of clothing. Instead, God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the less honorable, so that there would be no division in the body, but that the members would have the same concern for each other. So if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.

Now you are the body of Christ, and individual members of it. And God has placed these in the church:

first apostles, second prophets,

third teachers, next miracles,

then gifts of healing, helping,

managing, various kinds of languages.

Are all apostles? Are all prophets?

Are all teachers? Do all do miracles?

Do all have gifts of healing?

Do all speak in other languages?

Do all interpret?

But desire the greater gifts. And I will show you an even better way…

What then is the conclusion, brothers? Whenever you come together, each one has a psalm, a teaching, a revelation, another language, or an interpretation. All things must be done for edification.

The major point is that every local church member is part of a church to serve. God has given each one gifts with which to serve. As the church body lives in harmony, the local church becomes a picture of the one church, united in Christ. It is God who gives the positions for service. It is God who calls people to those positions. Together, we are serving Christ as we will do forever.

We might ask, “How come I am not getting what I need out of church?” When we ask this, we miss the point. Christ is our everything, not the church building or the people or the pastor. Christ has called us to Himself, gifting us for service for His glory.

Rainer gives these points (you’ll have to get the small book to read the rest):

      1. Membership means we are all necessary parts of the whole.
      2. Membership means we are different but we still work together.
      3. Membership means everything we say and do is built on the Biblical foundation of love.
      4. Church membership is functioning membership.
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