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Deepening Our Commitment to the Body of Christ

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Deepening Our Commitment to the Body of Christ

21 May 2000 Dr. Charles Revis

Emphasizing the Importance of Church Membership

Arthur Boers wrote in The Other Side: "I often visit newcomers in town and find them to be church shopping. They want to know what they can get out of church. Churches are one more consumer commodity. Worship services are not a place for us to serve God and neighbor but a place where people expect to purchase the best: inspiring worship, good music, moving sermons, quality childcare. As if we buy God and not vice versa. "

USA Today reported in May of 1994 that 48% of church-goers attend an average of once a month.

These two examples affirm what many church leaders are saying: that the American church is weak because the people who are attending are low in commitment: to Jesus and to His movement embodied in the church.

Today's church situation reflects our culture's values. Our culture is composed of consumers, crowds, and disconnected individuals. Consumers purchase products and enjoy the benefits of services. Crowds like to be entertained. Disconnected individuals do their own thing when and how they please.

On any given Sunday a church may simply be a gathering of a crowd of consumers and detached individuals showing up for a spiritual boost. If the church simply remains a crowd, then the church will decline and die.

Knowing this Bill Hybels, pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in S. Barrington, IL, says that in their church they work overtime at:

Turning pewsitters into disciples.
Moving comfortable Christians into radical Kingdom builders.

Indeed, they do. When I visited Willow Creek I was amazed at the number of people who served throughout that church. As you drive in the place you are directed by smiling traffic controllers. They have a food court (the equivalent of a cafeteria, AM/PM, and four fast food restaurants), a huge book store, and a cappuccino bar. Friendly greeters hand out brochures and answer questions. 99% of these people are unpaid servants. They serve because they believe they are a part of a giant team that is highly effective in connecting spiritual seekers with Jesus Christ. And, indeed they are.

They also emphasize moving beyond church attendance to commitment to the body through church membership. They have specific requirements for those who choose to commit to their body.

It's a common misconception that church membership is like belonging to the "jelly of the month club," or joining Costco. We hear the word "membership" and assume it means something like: associating with an organization by having your name on a roll, paying dues, and showing up at a few meetings. This misperception appears in the following story:

Three pastors got together for coffee one day and found all their churches had bat-infestation problems.

The first pastor said, "I got so mad. I took a shotgun and fired at them. It made holes in the ceiling, but did nothing to the bats."

The second responded, "I tried trapping them alive. Then I drove 50 miles before releasing them, but they beat me back to the church."

The third said, "I haven't had any more problems."

"What did you do?" asked the others, amazed.

He replied, "I simply baptized and confirmed them. I haven't seen them since."

All too often this is true. We've had people who join UBC simply to get their name on the roll, and that was almost the last time we saw them.

The biblical ideal for membership is far from these images. We've forgotten that the term "membership" originated with Christianity. The Bible teaches that membership means becoming a vital organ of a living body. It has nothing to do with some cold induction into an institution. Any organ that is detached from the body will soon shrivel and die. It will never achieve what it was created to do. The same is true for Christians who are not committed to any specific congregation. Paul writes in 1 Cor 12:12-14:

"The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body-whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free-and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Now the body is not made up of one part but of many."

Over the last twenty years highly effective churches have discovered that incorporation of new members into church fellowship does not happen automatically. They have developed systems to assimilate the people they reach. Without such a system, there will be as many people going out the back door as are coming in the front door.

One of the basic components of this process is a required membership class. A number of studies have shown that the way people join an organization greatly influences how they function in that organization after joining. This is equally true for the church.

A membership class sets the tone and expectation level for everything else that follows. The best time to elicit a strong commitment from new members is at the beginning, when they join the church. If little is required to join, very little can be expected from members later on. The membership class teaches the church's purposes, strategy and the meaning of membership. It's a place for teaching membership responsibilities.

The intention here is to strengthen commitment and connection to the Body upon joining. There is no intention to discourage people from visiting, attending, investigating or feeling that they're part of the church. In fact, evangelistic churches remove as many barriers as possible for seekers. But, for church membership, they raise the stakes, so that membership leads to commitment and service.

In fact, one rapidly growing church in Colorado Springs, that has very high standards for membership, emphasizes this in their membership brochures. Their requirements for membership include commitment to Christ, commitment to serve, commitment to tithe, and commitment to pray. They must meet with a pastor, attend a membership class, and sign a commitment card agreeing to these four areas of commitment. High requirements!

But, on their membership brochure they explain: "Before you make this step of commitment, let us reaffirm that you don't have to be a member to enjoy and participate in the ministries of our church.

We exist primarily for the benefit of our non-members. We want to serve you, pray for you, minister to you. Whether you join or not-we're here for you."

At Woodmen Valley Chapel (the name of the church) we take membership very seriously. We are not interested in building a big roll of faceless names. Membership means commitment.

I'm focusing on membership because our Deacon Board, Executive Board and staff are proposing a higher requirement for membership than we've had in the past. We want every new member to attend a new members class and agree to a church covenant. I trust you will sense the wisdom of moving in this new direction.

There was a golfer named Jones who was twenty minutes late at the first tee one Sunday morning, and the other three members of the regular four-some were almost ready to drive off without him. Jones apologized and explained, "I agreed with my wife that this Sunday I'd toss a coin to see whether I played golf or went to church. Heads, I played golf. Tails, I went to church. And you know fellows, I had to toss that coin forty-three times before it came up heads."

"If your religion doesn't take you to church, it is doubtful if it will take you to heaven."

The difference between "attenders" and "members" can be summed up in one word: commitment. This commitment is summarized in the new church covenant we are considering for adoption in today's congregational meeting.

PROPOSED UBC COVENANT

Having received Christ as my Lord and Savior and been baptized, and being in agreement with UBC's statements, strategy, and structure, I now feel led by the Holy Spirit to unite with the church family at UBC. In doing so, I commit myself to God and to the other members of UBC. With God's help I will do my best to live out the following commitments:

1. I will protect the unity of my church.

Satan targets the church. If he can divide it he will neutralize God's chosen instrument for change, the church. The church is supremely effective when it is unified, Christ-centered, compassionate and loving.

"So let us concentrate on the things which make for harmony, and on the growth of our fellowship together" (Rom 14:19).

. . . by acting in love toward other members

"Have a sincere love for other believers, love one another earnestly with all your heart" (1 Pet 1:22).

Dave Travis of Church Champions Network in Georgia said that one Sunday at his church, the choir had finished singing the anthem and the pastor was rising to deliver the message. Suddenly, a teenage girl, third from the left on the front row of the choir, rose and stepped out across the choir and around the piano. Clad in maroon robe, she made her way down the steps and toward the side aisle.

Dave thought to himself, If she is going to leave, she should go out the back. But she wasn't leaving. She made her way to the fourth row of pews, sat down next to her friend and gently placed her arm around her.

Then he remembered. Twelve hours earlier her friend had lost her grandmother, who had been suffering from an illness. Her friend came to church to restore her strength through worship. Arriving late, she found an open pew, and sat alone.

As Leslie sat next to Bethany and gently hugged her, those in the congregation smiled and shed small tears of joy, of love for the friend who showed Christ's love through a simple act of companionship. She risked causing a distraction to minister to a friend.

Such are the small acts of kindness and love that are the fabric of a congregation.
Dave reported: The pastor delivered a strong message that day. So did Leslie.

. . . by refusing to gossip

"Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs" (Eph 4:29).

. . . by following the church's leaders

"Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be no advantage to you" (Heb 13:17).

2. I will share the responsibility of my church.

Each member bears the responsibility for the church's effectiveness. It's a mistake to deposit this responsibility solely at the feet of the pastor, board members or staff.

. . . by praying for its health and growth

"To the church . . . We always thank God for you and pray for you constantly" (1 Thess 1:1-2).

. . . by inviting the unchurched to attend

This is the first priority of the church.

William Barclay gives us an excellent insight into the nature of the true church. He writes:

"Suppose a great doctor discovers a cure for cancer. Once that cure is found, it is there. But before it can become available for everyone, it must be taken out to the world. Doctors and surgeons must know about it and be trained to use it. The cure is there, but one person cannot take it out to all the world; a corps of doctors must be the agents whereby it arrives at all the world's sufferers.

"That precisely is what the church is to Jesus Christ. It is in Jesus that all people and all nations can be reconciled to God. But before that can happen, they must know about Jesus Christ, and it is the task of the church to bring that about. Christ is the head; the church is the body. The head must have a body through which it can work. The church is quite literally hands to do Christ's work, feet to run upon His errands, and a voice to speak His words."

. . . by warmly welcoming those who visit

"The Master said to the servant, 'Go out to the roads and country lanes, and urge the people there to come so my house will be full" (Luke 14:23).

"So, warmly welcome each other into the church, just as Christ has warmly welcomed you; then God will be glorified" (Rom 15:7).

3. I will serve the ministry of my church.

Followers of Jesus Christ humbly and faithfully serve Him. The Great Commission says to go and make "disciples", not "pew-warmers." Each member has a responsibility to serve as the Spirit directs.

"Serve one another with the particular gifts God has given each of you" (1 Peter 4:10).

This is a story about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody, and Nobody. There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about this, because it was Everybody's job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn't do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done.

The answer to this dilemma is a host of excited believers serving with their gifts and talents.

. . . by discovering my gifts and talents

. . . by being equipped to serve by my pastor, the staff and leaders

"[The Holy Spirit] gave . . . some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up" (Eph 4:11-12).

. . . by developing a servant's heart

"Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who . . . [took on] the very nature of a servant" (Phil 2:3-4, 7).

4. I will contribute to the vitality and the testimony of my church.

. . . by attending faithfully

Nancy Cheatham of Kansas shared an experience involving her sister. Her sister bought a new car that was loaded with high-tech options. The first time she drove the car in the rain, she turned a knob she thought would start the windshield wipers. Instead a message flashed across the dash: "Drive car in 360 degrees." She had no idea what that meant, and so when she got home she read the car manual.

She learned that while trying to turn on the windshield wipers she had inadvertently turned off the internal compass, and the car had lost its sense of direction. To correct the problem, the car had to be driven in a full circle, pointed north, and then the compass had to be reset.

Each time we gather to worship, we are resetting our internal compass. We establish "true north" in our soul, remembering who God is and what his truth proclaims.

"Let us not give up meeting together . . . but let us encourage one another" (Heb 10:25).

. . . by living a godly life

"Whatever happens, make sure that your everyday life is worthy of the gospel of Christ" (Phil 1:27).

. . . by giving regularly

"Each one of you, on the first day of each week, should set aside a specific sum of money in proportion to what you have earned and use it for the offering" (1 Cor 16:2).

"A tenth of [all your] produce . . . is the Lord's, and is holy" (Lev 27:30).

This is the covenant we are considering along with the required new members class. Now I want to take just a moment to comment on the importance of the Vision, Mission and Values Statement.

In my Communique article just two weeks ago I commented:

God has created an incredible marvel called the body. Each human body is a complex organism composed of a hundred trillion cells. Each cell works independently of other cells but always for the good of the body as a whole. There is a tremendous variety of these cells: nerve cells, bone cells, fat cells, brain cells, muscle cells, red blood cells, etc. The cells do their job automatically because of genetic programming embedded in each cell through DNA.

Remarkably, the genetic code in DNA is so precise that each cell contains within it all the information necessary to reassemble the entire person. DNA is compact. All the genes in a person's body could fit into an ice cube. However, if the DNA were unwound and joined end to end it would stretch from the earth to the sun and back more than four hundred times.

One of the biblical metaphors for the church is the Body of Christ. The church, like the human body, is composed of a wide variety of people, all working together to further the cause of Jesus Christ.

Like human cells, the church body requires DNA for all the variety of people to work towards the same end. This DNA is the vision, mission, values and beliefs of a particular church. When each member, and group, is imprinted with the local church's DNA then a tremendous amount of freedom and creativity can happen without chaos reigning. That's why we are also considering a new vision, mission and values statement. I don't have time to go into detail about it. However, it's important for us to review it.

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