Groupthink : Church Membership in The Postmodern Era

When I started working at my church, I was an interim worship leader brought on by an interim pastor. It was beautiful. I got to be aloof and opinionated, and all the time I was able to tell people, “Take this or leave it… I’m outta here in twelve months.”

Then my wife got pregnant.

They offered me, as well as the interim senior pastor, a permanent position. With medical benefits. And a raise. And you know what… they were pretty decent folks, too; smart, kind, and generous, filled with a desire to hear and act upon the voice of the Holy Spirit.

So we stayed.

Somewhere in the process of my negotiations for a permanent role, this one little tidbit got passed over: church membership. I was never formally asked, or ordered, to become a member of my church. So… we didn’t. According to church bylaws, I have found out recently, everyone on staff is supposed to be a member. As a side note, I actually would have liked it better had they forced me to do it when I was a newbie. I would have taken it as one of the costs of admission, and evaluated my response differently. But… that didn’t happen.

A year later, when having an annual review, after a very pleasant time of conversation and prayer with the elders, one of them turned to me (with a Cheshire cat grin) and said… “Well, I only have one other question, when are you and Erica becoming members?”

I laughed and sort of shrugged it off, taking the context as meaning that it was something that he was thinking about, but not really concerned about. This same elder has mentioned it to me, in a similarly jovial fashion, perhaps twice since then. I kind of took it in the same way I took it when my Grampa Don told me to take out my earrings: he kind of wishes I would, but He’s not really interested in making a federal case out of it.

Fast forward another two years or so to our present situation. My boss, the former interim, has resigned under extremely unfavorable circumstances. I have written little about this on the blog out of a desire to keep my private thoughts just that, but since November 21, 2005 (black Monday), my intertwined work and church lives have become increasingly difficult. I have struggled mightily to hold it all together, and things, frankly, exist in a state of unresolved tension for me when it comes to church right now. I profoundly miss my friendship and my working relationship with this man. So, imagine my dilemma, when at an elder meeting last weekend, I was discussing an unrelated topic, and the issue of my membership arises again. This time, I am candid and open, always a bad idea.

“Guys… I have to be honest. I don’t think I realized how much of the identity of this church I had wrapped up in Tom. I feel like I am getting to know this congregation for the first time again, this time without his leadership there to assist me. I love you guys, and I promise that I am not going to leave you out to twist in the wind, but I just feel like putting my name on that dotted line at this moment is a little disingenuous.”

They were fine with that… and then I opened my big, fat, mouth one more time.
“And also, I think that church membership is kind of a silly, outdated notion.”

Uh oh.

Well, they wanted to know more about that, as you can imagine. I vomited for them several reasons as to why I didn’t like the idea of church membership, which I will re-vomit for you here, in no particular order, and then open the floor for discussion. I really need you guys to help me suss out (or deflate) my argument, as my elders have asked for a presentation on the topic, as I allegedly represent the thinking of the under-35 crowd.

A) There is no Biblical basis for church membership. As far as I know, there is no mention of becoming a member of the Body of Christ at a local level as we understand it today in most of our local churches. As far as I can discern, this is an entirely man-made construct. My wife and I, in one of the many discussions we’ve had about this in the last week, discussed the weirdness of the notion that there needs to be some sort secondary level of approval or affirmation of faith and doctrinal purity. “I am already a member of the Body of Christ, Intergalactically!” she said, blonde hair gleaming in the sun.

B) Membership is a word that has lost its appeal. I am a member of my gym. A member of Blockbuster Video. I am a member of this.. and of that… We really want to categorize our participation in the ongoing ministry and revelation of the Most High in the same way we participate in getting a discount at the supermarket? Really?

On the flipside, one of the initial things that popped in my skull-full-of-mush when I heard the word “Membership” was a country club. On the other extreme of a word that implies something that has become meaningless, this use of the word says, “I’m in the club. I’m good to go. You might get to join the club, but not until you get your Bible handicap under 6.” I don’t like that, and since we’re in a realm of personal taste, and not Biblical truth, I get to say…. I don’t like that. The word “Membership” has to go buh bye.

C) Pastors are in a drastically different category then laypeople, and should be allowed a different statement of commitment. This is the big one for me. I realize that this argument doesn’t apply to many of you, so I apologize for wasting your bandwidth, but I resent the idea that I am required to make the same kind of committment to the church that a lay person is asked to make. I find it just silly, and not at all observant of reality.
I am employed by my church. My roles and responsibilities and accountabilities are drastically different from someone who makes a concious decision to become a member. I have never, ever made an entirely free decision about where I am attending church for the past seven years, because the necessity of a paycheck has determined where my car will be parked on Sunday morning. If that paycheck were to stop, I would have to find a new place of both employment and worship. That is the economic reality of my life, and often I wish it were not. I find it utterly absurd that I should have to pretend otherwise, and make some sort of ham-fisted, arbitrary reassurance (in the form of a formal membership) to the people who employ me. If the fact that I’ve shown up every time I said I would for the past 200 weeks doesn’t do it, and the consistent tithing doesn’t do it, and the extra time invested in relational time outside of the service times doesn’t do it, why the hell will signing some piece of paper do it?

I maintain that there should be some sort of separate category for people like me who are asked to strike the delicate balance between working as an employee of Christ’s Body and living sacrificially for Christ’s Body. The last thing we need is another bogus hoop to jump through. I cannot tell you how reassuring it would be to hear someone in church leadership acknowledge this reality, and insist that a membership only be accepted when free from financial considerations.

D) When it’s time to go to the woodshed, it’s going to be relationship that pulls us through, not membership. My former boss and his wife were members of the church. His confession was made, and his resignation was accepted, and that’s it. He’s gone, moved up Morphea’s way. There was no glorious, spectacular trauma to the body. No passionate outcries, no down-to-the-wire biting church votes. Relationships were just… ended. Giving and attendance remain the same, thank God, and everyone is doing their best not to miss our friend. A formalized membership meant very little when it came to actually preserving our ties. So… if anyone’s worried about Biblical discipline and relational strength, what’s a membership got to do with it?

Wait for it… Wait…. for… it….
Salty) Doctrinal purity is a pain the ass. Our statement of faith actually includes a statement that we are a pre-trib church. Wow. So, I have to have all my eschatological arguments in place before I can join all this church fun? Or, can I just sign off on it without thinking about it?

One extreme is going to produce an endless stream of classes, sermons, debates, charts, graphs, pie charts (for the seven bowls, dumbass), etc… etc… etc… The other extreme is a group of people who have ignorantly signed their names to a statement of faith that they have done no homework on whatsoever.

I have no opinion on pre, post, or mid trib. I will have no opinion whatsoever until it either happens, or Jesus tells me what’s what. I would actually enjoy a well taught class on the end time prophesies, and I might develop a personal position on these issues as I study, but in the end, they are totally irrelevant to the kind of Christ Follower I am today.

I will not ever sign a statement of faith until it includes a statement about the grace we are going to give one another in non-essential issues of our faith. This is a deal breaker.

Now… I realize that there needs to be some sort of statement of both belonging and of accountability. People need to know whether or not I am going to be in this through thick and thin, hard times as well as harvest times. I also realize that we need to reserve the right to discern. I realize that, when making a serious choice for the church body, when wisdom and maturity is needed the most, that the opinion of The Guy Who Showed up Three Weeks Ago and Has Only Thus Far Spent Time Telling The Pastors How They Did it at His Old Church Back Home, is not to be taken as seriously as the opinion of The Lady Who Has Seen The Church Through Trouble and Peace With a Thankful and Gracious Heart for The Past Seven Years.

I also am aware of the fact that we cannot, for example, put people up as teachers in front of classrooms and seminars who hold wildly divergent ideas about doctrine (yeah, I said it… the “D” word.. get over it) then the rest of the majority of the body.

For many years, I have held the belief that churches, or any organization whose primary purpose is kingdom work, need structure and clear guidelines. I believed, and I still believe, that people need a clear sense of vision and leadership, and that too much freedom will result in sloppy thinking and trouble trouble trouble.

But does it really?

One of the things that softened my heart in all this came from one of our most conservative elders, with whom I disagree on a regular basis. He said, “Chad, I guess for us, it’s a statement of relational commitment to this body. It’s a statement to my brothers and sisters that I will be there for them.”

I liked that. I think I can get behind something like that, but I am pretty sure that’s not membership, at least in the way we label it. Membership has to do in our current context with doctrine and church history and compliance with church policies. Perhaps we at the local church level need to create something like a Statement of Christian Relational Commitment. Wow… that sounds pretty formal too. Sheesh.

The floor is open for discussion.

47 thoughts on “Groupthink : Church Membership in The Postmodern Era

  1. James Walton

    While I am sure I could whip up a “Rant on, Brother!” response that I felt when reading, I’ll keep it shorter. I completely agree with you that the concept of “membership” as it stands today is a very superficial institution, amounting to a church’s spiritual book-keeping so they can show their net profit/loss from year to year. Personally, I have tended to shy away from church communities that have a hard-line stance on membership 101 classes, signed documents, and/or public professions of membership. Like you said, is there something wrong with me continuing to show up? However, where I disagree with you is on the paster/layperson distinction. I do understand that as an employee of the church your commitment is of a different level, but instead of requiring laypeople to place membership and not requiring staff — I say pitch the whole concept altogether for everyone. Basically, I consider “membership” when a person decides to give the church staff contact information for future newsletters, mailings, and/or the church directory.

    Hope things work out for you in this!

  2. david

    at our 100 year old, formerly baptist church we are wrestling with this issue. our constitution demands certain standards for membership and demands membership for any type of involvement. we recognize that membership is “outdated and silly” and likely not biblical at all…

    but ocean liners turn slowly and we recognize a need to carefully teach before we drop the bomb that we’re changing the constitution (how sad is it that we are governed more by a document than by the Bible?)

    i’m not seeking to trivialize your dillema. i wouldn’t want to be there. i will pray for you and your church. i imagine Christ’s commands to love won’t lead you wrong (although they may make things more frustrating for a while).

  3. Jonathan

    It seems to me you have a whole lot wrapped up in membership. Some of it should be there, some not. I will address just a little of it.

    I am not a fan of doctrinal statements, either. I think they mean you can never admit you were wrong. There are some benefits, which you addressed, but I think they are far more dangerous than beneficial.

    However, I think it is a biblical teaching that people in a church are under the authority of the elders. When does that happen? On the first Sunday a person visits? After the fourth week? After 200 Sundays? If you are looking for biblical authority for church membership, that’s where I will point. It is a person saying “I am a part of this community. I want to be held accountable by you to follow God’s will, which is to be conformed to the image of Christ. I will hold you accountable to do this as well.”

    As far as the bylaws go, they never should have hired you permanently without you first placing membership. That’s just the rules, man, but they made a mistake there.

  4. Morphea

    Wow, Chad. Just…right on, dude.

    I don’t know if this’ll have much bearing, but the last few churches Ramon and I attended before we made a decision to consign our souls to eternal damnation had little in the way of an attendance policy. We inquired when we had made a decision to throw in our lot with theirs – we figured it would be like the churches (Eevy-fundie) we grew up in, where you had to attend a class, have a big ceremony, produce proof of baptism, etc. Geez. The priests in both later churches (Episcopalian) let us know that there wasn’t any need to Become Members (and boy howdy was there no statement of doctrinal belief – please tell me you were kidding about that one). They let us vote, attend administration-type meetings. The leadership made it clear that Sunday-service-attenders could really help prop up the church with tithing and assistance with the nursery/cup-washing/groundskeeping and that was about it for the requirements. There were classes you could attend that taught doctrine and study of the Bible and Book of Common Prayer, but nothing mandatory.

    OK, once more – please tell me you’re kidding about signing a statement of doctrinal belief. OK? Please?

    Cerise

  5. Chad Post author

    Lots of good stuff here already, that’s cool.

    James,

    Let me heartily agree with you that perhaps a rethought concept of what it means to be a member of the local body would relieve my tensions about the layperson / pastor difference that I feel. I guess it’s hard for me to be asked to say :

    “I’m here for the long haul,”

    when what I really need to say is :

    “I am here for the forseeable future. There’s a lot of things that interest me in the world, and I’ve told you from the beginning that I don’t belive God has called me to lifelong ministry as a vocation. I love this body, and I give above and beyond out of that love. I’ve received love from this body, and it didn’t have to love me. My agreement promises a paycheck, but the love is given freely, and means the world to our family. A day will come when I will need to move on from this job. When that happens, I don’t know where we’ll be going. I don’t know if we’re going to live in this community or move somewhere else. When that time comes, I will not screw you over. I will leave my job in a way that will earn your trust. If I leave my job, and I live in this community, I believe we will attend this church. That’s my true belief. If and when that moment comes, would you please accept my request for membership? I’m in for the long haul.”

    I really need that statement to be ok. I need to know that they understand that my yes’s and no’s are yes’s and no’s. It’s the disconnect between the one dimentional nature of a typical membership statement (not entirely true for me) and nuance of my personal statement (which is the truth, delivered as gracefully as I know how) that I cannot reconsile. I would bet dollars to pesos that I am not the first church staffer to deal with this.

    I have no idea if that helps or not.

    :)

  6. Chad Post author

    Morphea,

    I don’t think it’s quite as Orwellian as I perhaps made it to sound. I don’t know if there’s and actual document with the statement of belief and a dotted line. I highly doubt it.

    However, symbolically, that’s the statement that I would be making. As someone who believes that symbols are serious things, I take it seriously… as seriously as if there were an actual piece of paper and an actual pen and an actual goat in the corner ready for sacrifice.

    You get my drift.

    Oh dear heavens. I just can’t keep serious for a moment. I just started writing the script for the video that Matty and I are going to make about the least seeker friendly membership class ever. It’s gonna involve goat sacrifice.

  7. Doug

    It seems the only place the New Testament talks about members with regard to the church is in Paul’s discussion about the Body of Christ. It seems to me that the reference has application in a local and global perspective.
    To continue with the body image then it has been helpful to me to think of church members as those who are “connected” and “contributing”. That is, just as my hand is connected to my body and contributes to the movement and goal of my body by doing what the hand is uniquely suited for, so people are members when they act like members, that is, are connected and contributing. I don’t mean this in the sense of attendance and giving but in a more communal missional sense. I think church membership should be defined behaviorally. If you act like a member you are a member and if you don’t act like a member regardless of what paper you signed, you are not a member. However, there are times when a member is unable to contribute. You break an arm and it has to be in a cast for a while and cannot contribute to the work of the body. Just so, there are times when we need to let people mend or rest. What needs to continue through those times is connectedness. Only “Thing” could live as a disconnected hand.
    I have been trying for years to find ways to make the concept of church membership make some sense. I am not sure I have come up with anything that quite satisfies. The unfortunate thing about any discussion of membership is that it ultimately leads to the discussion of who is in and who is out. Those categories can get pretty nasty sometimes, particularly when we make the boundary markers rigid.

  8. aly hawkins

    Great post, Chad.

    Since the only church I’m a part of at the moment is a group of 6 people that gets together every Monday night to eat, drink [lots of] wine and talk about life and God, my position on this issue is probably a foregone conclusion. The only membership requirements are that you be there for the others when you are needed and share life openly and honestly with everyone. While that may not sound like much, “being there” is taken very seriously and at times demands quite an investment (of time, energy, emotion, and sometimes money), while “sharing openly” is a discipline that requires patience, thoughtfulness, the ability to listen without judging, and a level of vulnerability that can be uncomfortable in the extreme. If I had to sign something with those stipulations, I would gladly do so… but if the commitment is already there on the parts of everyone involved, why bother? Friendships are not sustained by a legal document.

  9. Phil

    Hey Chad,

    That’s a tough one for you. Prayers going up for you, my friend!

    I admit to having an uncomfortable feeling with the whole idea of “church membership” in some local group. I was raised in the Church of God (the Anderson Indiana bunch), which specifically does NOT have “membership”, for explicit theological and biblical reasons. Local churches make their own rules about who can vote on local church business… and it’s usually just show up for three months and you can vote.

    That’s it.

    Because of this, despite endless theological struggles with specifics that I was raised with, that notion really stuck for me…. it just made sense.

    My guess is that this came up partly because your church just lost a leader, and is a bit nervous in some quarters. But the obvious question is this: would any person who lacked specific knowledge on the matter be able to determine you were NOT a member, by observing any aspect of your attitude, behavior, teaching, etc.? if not… it’s hard to see what the fuss is about.

    I’ve attended a Baptist church for a few years now with my family. I don’t feel the need to vote on anything, and have no interest in “membership”, though they practice that quaint practice.

    My personal opinion: it’s difficult to see any justification for “membership” as a requirement for ministry in the Bible.

    A final question: does anyone know just what church Paul was a member of? Just wondering….

  10. aly hawkins

    Holy frijole, Phil! I was raised COG, too! My mom is a missiology professor at Anderson’s School of Theology (or will be, come fall). Suddenly we have so much more in common…

  11. michael lee

    The Jerusalem church – but he was denied membership until his letters of reference checked out. Even after he was allowed to become a member, he was put on the probationary list for a while after some verbal conflicts with the elder board over the church potluck policies.

    (there’s nothing new under the sun)

  12. michael lee

    I think this is an interesting question – reading this, I’m realising that, whatever formal process our church has for determining membership, Gretchen and I haven’t been through it either. Here are some random thoughts on first read:

    A) True, but the idea of stronger identification with the local church seems to develop pretty quickly in the 1st and 2nd century. By the time of Paul’s late epistles, it seems like there was already something of a chatechism in place, and when the martyrdom and persecutions started for real, local churches started getting pretty serious about setting some standards for being part of the local community (there was something like a quarantine and catechism period before baptism was administered). So no, not a biblical mandate, but something that the earlier churches started to move toward, it seems.

    B) Yes. Totally true. “Member of Jet Blue Travel Club” and “Member of the Body of Christ” just don’t seem appropriate parallel uses for the same word.

    C) Dunno about this. It seems like whatever level of identification with the community we asks congregants to make, it’s also appropriate for leaders to make that same commitment. My read on the early church example is that the onus on those in leadership is higher than for others, in every way.

    D) Yes.

    Salty) Ah yes. Point “salty” always seems to be my favorite. Here’s the thing. I think this is maybe the most compelling argument in favor of formalized church membership. I know that when we toss up the term “Doctrinal Purity” in a negative connotation, we think of enforcing a homogenized 756 point treatise on everything from what color robe Jesus will wear at the 2nd coming to what temperature water we should use for full-immersion forced infant baptism.

    But that’s not the norm. I think in most churches, the creedal statements that are part of membership look more like the Apostles Creed than Shedd’s Dogmatic Theology. It affirms things that we ought to be willing to ask people to affirm, things like the Trinity, the divinity of Christ, the inspiration of the scriptures.

    Lest we forget, one of the distinguishing features of the body of Christ is that we believe certain things. A buddhist, a muslim, and an evangelical might get together once a week, sing ecumenical praise songs to God, pool their resources for social projects, and build meaningful and sacrificial relationships with one another, but they aren’t a church. Christ has a living body, and one of the criterion that he set for membership is adherence to the things he proclaimed as true.

    Ok, phasers powering down, shields on standby, I’m going to quit writing this epistle and go back to building a set of quirky little blurp sound samples from my Jupiter 8.

  13. Paul

    There are some really great thoughts here and I would like to say something that has really stuck with me. My present pastor says this a lot.

    Most churches want people to behave, then believe and then belong. That’s really backwards. We should want people to belong, then believe, then behave. I think that is really hard for most churches and speaks to what we all wish membership would be.

    Having said that, I think that there is a very clear precedent for church membership in the Bible. Certainly as mentioned before, there are all the body texts in the NT, but the old testament had very formal guidelines for being a part of the community. There was circumcision, mosaic law and covenant guidelines for what it meant to be a part of the community of God.

    I have struggled with membership since I was hurt by the church. I really don’t want to align myself with an organization that I know is capable and often does hurt people in very wrong ways. Yet I think that solo Christianity is not really feasible, beneficial, or helpful. I recently took a seminary class that talked about the need for heritage and this, too, is a great benefit of formally belonging to the church.

    One last thing. In my denom. pastors aren;t members of churches, they are members of the presbytery. This polity helps address the accountability of pastors to their congregation. I think it makes sense and addresses that issue.

    Chad, I hope things work out for you. I’ll be praying for you that God makes it really clear what your next move should be. What ever decision you make, I hope that you have peace with it and that people are gracious to you.

  14. corey

    Chad,
    Decades ago, when I was a teacher, we would all sit around and complain about the disjointed relationship between how education should be done and how it actually is. More than one of those teachers went on to become administrators and shot-callers, and a few just left education altogether. I don’t really keep in touch with any of them anymore, but I feel a sense of loss for the ones that left teaching and a sense of empowerment by the ones that paid dues and rose to a place of power. I don’t know for sure if their idealism was sqaushed by political moves necessary to rise through the ranks, so i just tell myself that they’re the same dessenters they always were, just in a position to make change.

    Anyway, all of that is to say that just about every time you go off on a tirade, I get excited that I might be looking at the next great church leader who “Gets It” and moves accordingly. I really have no comment on your predicament, except to say thanks for the post. Perhaps the strength of the post is less the ability to get answers and more the ability to force others to ask questions they hadn’t thought of before. This is an answer to another comment on another post, but maybe this discussion gets us closer to a more user-friendly definition of “emergent”, which is just worship and church-life that focuses on the faith beneath the Churchianity. (And by the way, I always appreciate Doug’s input as well.)

    Cheerleader, out.

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  16. Sharolyn

    Chad, How articulate can one person be? You made me think.

    My parents changed churches when I was one month old. I was dedicated, catechised, baptised, and married by the same wonderful pastor. He dedicated my daughter. So, we basically represent his career in the ministry (or at least a generation).

    Imagine my surprise when I was asked to take the membership class (largely filled with our community church history, which I could teach), and one of my best friends whose husband is new on staff had her membership “transferred” from the Baptist church.

    Gee, maybe you would be happy on staff at our church!

    So, we joked about it, but reading your post made me realize the feelings behind the humor. (I did take comfort in that the wonderful pastor’s 35 year-old daughter also had to take the membership class.)

    There is no hidden implication behind the following: When I first read about the pastor versus layperson, I thought you were going to say you were that much MORE committed to the church, but then it was the opposite! Hmmm. I remember Marv teaching about weddings and how funny he thought it was when people re-wrote their vows to include something about “we will always be friends”. He said something like, “I have lots of FRIENDS; they drift in and out of life. I have one WIFE, how much more important is she?!” Laypeople can drift in and out of hearts, but a true pastor is there for the long haul, through thick and thin. I think this is exactly what you are saying – just that membership doesn’t define that relationship.

    Thanks for “waking me up” after the daily grind!

  17. Chad Post author

    For the record,

    I am in total agreement that the standard set for a pastor is higher than that of a layperson… but it’s also fundamentally different. Perhaps I am the only Church Staffer who has ever felt this tension between economic realities (paycheck goes away, I have to go away…) and (to quote myself) sacrifical living for the body (this is my home, this is where I am planting my flag, come hell or high water.)

    I just feel like a crazy person sometimes… and wish that someone else felt the same way as I do, or could at least discuss how the duality of our roles and the reality of our circumstances simply warrant a different committment level / status.

    It’s not that I am looking for a free pass… quite the opposite. Oh well… perhaps I am crazy.

  18. matthew

    OK … the longest comment I have EVER posted ANYWHERE. Feel free to browse. I just had to say, if this issue is truly so important to you Chad, then maybe you ought to be more proactive with your church (although you may want to clean out your office pre-proactively). If you are uncomfortable with the “membership” your church offers, why don’t you draw up a membership that you are comfortable with and present it to your elders? Let them know concretely where you stand in regards to your church and what you are comfortable “commiting” to. I have included below a copy of my church’s “membership covenant”. We don’t have a continual “member” status at our church. We have a “core group” that you enter into covenant with. Every year you have the opportunity to re-enter and re-commit to this covenant or to not re-enter. It is much less a statement of belief and much more a statement of conscious relationship. “As iron sharpens iron…”

    The Journey Membership Covenant

    Having received Christ as my Lord and Savior and been baptized, and being in agreement with Journey’s statements, strategy, and structure, I now feel led by the Holy Spirit to unite with the Journey church family. In doing so, I commit myself to God and to the other members to do the following:

    1. I WILL CULTIVATE MY RELATIONSHIP TO JESUS CHRIST AND BE A LIFELONG LEARNER OF HIS TEACHINGS AND WAYS.
    vBy developing a vibrant personal prayer life
    vBy disciplining myself towards godliness
    vBy regular study of the Scriptures and application of them to my life
    vBy learning to practice love and mutual submission to the body of Christ

    “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” Matthew 22.37 (NIV)
    “When you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.” Matthew 6.6 (NIV)
    “Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” 1 Timothy 4.7-8 (NASB)
    “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. I have taken an oath and confirmed it, that I will follow Your righteous laws.” Psalm 119.105-106 (NIV)
    “As iron sharpens iron; so one man sharpens another.” Proverbs 27.17 (NASB)
    “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works.” Hebrews 10.24 (NKJV)

    2. I WILL PROTECT THE UNITY OF MY CHURCH AND CHRIST’S KINGDOM.
    vBy acting in love toward other believers
    vBy refusing to gossip
    vBy following the leaders of my church

    “So let us concentrate on the things which make for harmony, and on the growth of our fellowship together.” Rom. 15:19 (Ph)
    “Have a sincere love for your fellow believers, love one another earnestly with all your hearts.” 1 Peter 1:22 (TEV)
    “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
    “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

    3. I WILL SHARE THE RESPONSIBILITY OF MY CHURCH AND CHRIST’S KINGDOM.
    vBy praying for its growth
    vBy inviting the unchurched to attend
    vBy warmly welcoming those who visit
    vBy giving sacrificially and regularly

    “To the church … we always thank God for you and pray for you constantly.” 1 Thess. 1:2
    “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 (NCV)
    “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 it is holy.” Lev. 27:30

    4. I WILL SERVE IN THE MINISTRY OF MY CHURCH AND CHRIST’S KINGDOM.
    vBy discovering my gifts and talents
    vBy being equipped to serve by my pastors
    vBy developing a servant’s heart
    vBy serving in a ministry of the church and/or a service to community regularly

    “Serve one another with the particular gifts God has given each of you…” 1 Peter 4:10(Ph)
    “God gave…some to be pastors and teachers to prepare God’s people for works of ministry, so that the body of Christ may be built up…” Eph. 4:11-12
    “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 Jesus Christ…who took on the very nature of a servant…” Phil. 2:3-4,7

    5. I WILL PROCLAIM THE GLORY OF MY LORD TO OTHERS AND TELL OTHERS OF HIS MARVELOUS WORKS.
    vBy sharing the Gospel and my faith story regularly
    vBy attending and participating in church gatherings and small group faithfully
    vBy living a godly life

    “Let us not give up the habit of meeting together…but let us encourage one another.” Heb 10:25
    “But whatever happens, make sure that your everyday life is worthy of the gospel of Christ.” Phil. 1:27 (Ph)
    “I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith so that you will understand every good thing you have in Christ Jesus.” Philemon 6

  19. Chad Post author

    I think I should communicate this…

    I haven’t spent a lot of time (save the last two weeks) really seriously considering this issue of membership. For me, it was a non-issue. I was not aware that i was engaged in some sort of subversive church policy campaign. I just sort of… did my job really really well. I did it with a lot of prayer and hard work. I did it because I loved them and wanted to serve them. I still love them and want to serve them, in some ways more than I ever have.

    Part of my angst in all of this is that it has come up as I near my four year anniversary. I am struggling with the feeling of suspicion that this is really about the fact that I was Tom’s pick. I was brought on specifically by him. I am struggling with the feeling that this is some sort of statement about… who knows. I have felt something under the surface of all this… and I might be wrong, but I am trying to get to the bottom of my thoughts.

    The irony is that the fact that the elders have asked me to give a serious consideration to all of this and present my thoughts actually kind of makes me want to engage my heart and spirit in the church in a fresh way. I think they actually might get more then they ask for, but they have communicated to me that they think I should be more of a leader in our congregation. I think the exact quote was, “You have an opportunity to shape the future of this church.”

    I don’t like change, and it’s all changing. I am not sure I am up to the task of shaping the future of this wonderful thing… as much as I appreciated Corey’s kind thoughts…. I was the poet, writer of songs that echoed the words of a wiser man. So what the hell do I do now that he’s gone? Was he the wiser man?

    I still feel like a kid, but I know I am not one anymore. They think I know what I am talking about. Perhaps I do, and most likely not.

    Be near me, brother Jesus.

  20. Kyle

    Chad, I’ve never thought of this much myself, as my own faith community is looking more to a monastic rule that looks more on ‘relational commitment’ to one another, but in hopes of letting go of all that ‘membership’ baggage as if we could theologically be members of something other than Christ’s Body. Like, ‘Intergalactically.’

    But even in terms of the NT views of the local church, that would be a ‘membership’ catagory related to THE church in a particular place, not the local parish.

    I do like the way the Episcopalians do it (and that alone!): one is a ‘member’ of the wider church, but (insofar as it might matter) ‘canonically resident’ in a particular diocese. We also have ‘communicants in good standing.’ Outside of that, then one should talk about relational commitments…

  21. James Walton

    Chad,

    In response to you last comment, about your “opportunity to shape the future of the church,” I think I can completely understand where you are coming from in that area. I actually wrote a little bit about this on my own blog. Essentially, it comes down to recognizing an opportunity to take the reigns and affect positive change, and then wrestling with our own inner conflicts about whether to actually take that chance. What level of leadership are each of us comfortable with taking on? On one hand, they could be asking you to provide information about alternative views of membership so they can refine what they have… on the other hand, they could be asking you about membership as way to help transform people’s perspective from, “i’m a member of this church,” to “i’m a part of this community,” which I feel are 2 completely different statements. The question is, what is the future they see, and what is the future you would drive for if they ask you to provide one?

  22. Kansas Bob

    Regarding: “Pastors are in a drastically different category then laypeople, and should be allowed a different statement of commitment.”

    I agree with you … the financial aspect of a paid pastor’s life has the ability to compromise his commitment to the flock. Perhaps this is what Jesus is speaking to in John 10 when he speaks of the ‘hired hand’ tending the sheep. Here is how The Message says it:

    A hired man is not a real shepherd. The sheep mean nothing to him. He sees a wolf come and runs for it, leaving the sheep to be ravaged and scattered by the wolf.
    He’s only in it for the money. The sheep don’t matter to him.

    It is difficult to confront the wolves when it may hinder your ability to feed your children. The challenge of being on a church staff is to have open and honest communication about expectations. Pastors need to be in a place where they are not considered employees of the church … roles and responsibilities need to be clear … how a pastor loves and cares for the flock needs to be understood and valued. Pastors and church leaders need to balance leading the flock with being accountable to them.

  23. corey

    I think Chad’s not the only one who can use that… Forget the T-Birds or the Pink Ladies. I’m having jackets stitched with The Whore Shepherds on the back.

  24. Chad Post author

    Ya know…

    The layperson as shepherd is where I desperately want to be. I want some other poor schlub to have to make these balances equate out. I would love to be a lay leader in the church, and work hard at my external gigs to make that happen.

    The Whore-Shepherds. Punk rock.

  25. Stick

    Not that it adds much to this interesting conversation, but I was pleased to find out recently that the church we now go to, and participate in, has no official membership. Though, in the process of cajoling everyone to get their picture taken by Olan Mills for the new directory, he said something to the effect of: We have no official membership here… if you go here and consider this your church home, get your picture taken for the directory… that’s as close as we get.

    Next time we’re playing golf I’ll ask him about it.

  26. Kansas Bob

    Whore-Shepherd … new term for me … interesting take on the John 10 scripture. I’ll play along and ask: What is a Whore-Shepherd? What is the difference between them and Whore-Lawyers, Whore-Doctors, Whore-Painters, Whore-Programmers and Whore-Fill-In-Your-Job? As believers are we not all working in the same in the Kingdom? Are we not all working for God? What I said about pastors needing to have communication with their employers generally works for anyone in any job. I guess it is all a matter of perspective.

  27. Morphea

    KB, the tone of your previous post seemed to imply (to me, anyway, and keep in mind that I’m the worst person alive at effectively assessing tone) that Chad couldn’t be much of a member (shepherding aside) because he was being paid to show up and do his thing. In fact, he couldn’t be much of a shepherd either because of that darned paycheck. Which hearkens back to our “how do we make it so that our shepherds have their own day jobs” discussion. And I don’t think you’re wrong, but the thing is, Chad IS getting a paycheck AND he very obviously cares for every member (I use that term loosely) of that church heart and soul, and I’d like to work with him from that perspective, not from a “yep, you’re screwed until you give the money back” point of view. Which may not have been what you were getting at in the first place.

    We were, I think, just joshing with Chad about being paid to minister. Michael’s one of the most talented people I know at coining clever and slightly offensive-sounding terms. I’m a whore-office-worker, but it doesn’t have the same ring to it.

    Cerise

  28. michael lee

    KB, i was just riffing for a bit, but I’ll take the bait.

    I think the threshold comes when the paycheck becomes THE motivating factor, and the only decision-making feature, in a working relationship. It’s especially appropriate when being used to describe somebody who does with apathetic disinterest something that one normally does as an outgrown of passionate desire.

    For example, Chad, Stick, and I all have stories of records we’ve done production work on, where by the end, we very much felt like whores. We did it for the money, hated the experience, couldn’t wait to be finished, and the check felt tainted.

    I don’t think Chad’s approaching ministry that way. But I think John 10 might be warning against vocational ministers who do their job for those reasons.

  29. Chad Post author

    Hehe….

    I’ve never been accused of being apathetic or disengaged with my work at church. I think, if anything, sometimes they wish I were less passionate, and less engaged. More often then not, I am doing the pushing, not the other way around, when it comes to issues of committment.

    The irony is that, if I wanted to, I could actually go get another church job pretty easily, most likely without even having to leave my community. When I got there, there would be a 6-8 month “honeymoon” period. If I chose wisely, I could actually pick a church that would be so grateful just to have someone in place, that they would treat me with velvet covered kid gloves. For about a year after I started where I am now, people would come up to me and ask, “How in the world did you get the worship wars to stop?” They had been raging for almost a decade. They asked me like I had answered the Worship Leader Bat Signal and come with some sort of magic dust from my utility belt. I tried to tell them that it was only the grace of the Holy Spirit that brought me to a place where my personal musical tastes suited a congregation beautifully.

    Thi preceding paragraph may sound horrifyingly cynical and calculated, and it is. Don’t believe for a second that it isn’t true. Fortunately, that’s not what I am doing, or going to do. I am not a hired gun shepherd. I am not casual about my work. I am a pragmatist, and a realist, however, and I still stand by my statement that there should be a distinct yet separate understanding of committment for the vocational, paid pastor.

    I would be very very interested in a non-staffed church. I think the idea of an all volunteer church would serve several purposes: It would relieve my personal tension about the issues surrounding drawing your income from the body. It would help dismantle the church as a corporation, pastor as CEO model of Megachurchism that I observe as the enemy of organic, local, relational congregations. It would make PKs the world over breathe a sigh of relief.

    “But Chad, you hypocrite! THAT MEANS YOUR INCOME WOULD GO AWAY!!!”

    Yup. And I’d be forced to do the thing that I’ve been threatening to do for seven years: go get paid somewhere else. I told you… I live in a world of unresolved tension. Sometimes I feel like the only one who will admit it.

  30. Chad Post author

    That last little tidbit is not a smack to anyone… just an expression of how isolated we can all feel at times.

  31. Doug

    WE have an expression in our denominational guidelines that say Pastors are paid to “free them from worldly avocation.” The point seems to be that the church should “take care” of the pastoral staff so they do not have to worry about how to put bread on the table and thereby can focus all their energy and gifts on the ministry.

  32. corey

    Doug,
    I’ve heard that stated similarly elsewhere. The guy who mentioned it before said it comes down to semantics. One guy says that the pastor gets a paycheck. Another guy says that the church is pooling its financial resources as a tithe to God, and the pastor just lives in the overflow of that relationship between giver and Creator. He related it to the idea that a congregation might all chip in to cover meals for a widow at the passing of the spouse. Whether they bought the ingredients and made the casserole, bought the casserole, or sent over prepaid grocery cards to aid monetarily, it’s all giving to the Body. The addition of tax records, etc. are only bookkeeping necessities.

    Chad,
    In my first post, I think I may have stared at your finger while you pointed to the moon. All of this discussion reminds me of what a mentor of mine said about being a paid guitar player in the church. I told him that it was hard to reconcile accepting money for using the talents that God has freely given, he said that a better approach was to realize that God has allowed him to use those talents in such a way that they benefit the kingdom and they provide for his family. This seems vaguely related to what Doug was saying.

    Anyway, the idea that there should be a separate set of membership standards for those employed by the church is a good one (if I’ve understood your post correctly), but it hardly seems practical. If for nothing else than that the very insistance on such a policy sets up an adversarial relationship between who is in the Hall of Fame and who gets an asterisk next to his or her name. And to play devil’s advocate regarding the idea that you’d somehow have to go and make your living outside the church- is that neglecting the blessing of God’s Providence? Seems a bit like faithfully giving up praying for Lent, no? It’s based in faith, but is it the answer?

    by the way, I type with two fingers, and I’m from Texas, so forgive any logic or spelling errors, (i.e., “d-I-s-s-e-n-t-e-r” above).

  33. harmonicminer

    Still thinking about the “membership practices” of the early church.

    Paul had some ‘splainin’ to do to be accepted… but it wasn’t a “membership process”. It was sheer self-defense, in the face of claims of conversion by a collaborator in murder.

    The other hints at early church catechism, etc., should also be understood in the context of persecution, and the need to identify sincerity before exposing all the membership. Whie martyrdom on selected occasions wasn’t avoided at all costs by the early chruch, it wasn’t sought it for no reason. If it had been, there would have been no church left… and do reason for “inside symbols” like the fish, etc. I doubt your church is experiencing serious persecution, Chad.

    One thing seems indicated to me… even if there are hints about membership rites and requirements, there is no clear statement of which I’m aware. That means, still, that no one can really claim a biblical mandate for a policy like this. It’s merely institutional preference… which seems insufficient reason to rupture long-standing fellowship, not to say service.

  34. Bill "Metanoya"

    Chad,

    I’ve enjoyed reading this entry very much and marvel at all the wonderful thoughts and questions expressed. Unfortunately, I have no valuable contribution to make in helping you formulate your thoughts and actions on the topic of membership but only a few questions that have come to mind:
    1) What church was Paul a member of?
    2) Is the work of a Pastor/Priest more holy than a plumber, policeman or politician (don’t you just love illiteration)?
    3) How does membership compare and contrast to Marriage, Baptism and Ordination?

    Grace and Peace

  35. Chad Post author

    Well,

    I didn’t realize that this Bill is the same Bill who’s on the elder board at my church… :)

    I guess if elders are going to start reading the blog, I had better stop using phrases like “Insufferable Asshole.” Or not.

    So, welcome friend. I like your questions, and I think they’re worth answering.

    1. I don’t know. Was he? Is this a trick question?
    2. No, absolutely not. In fact, one of my unresolved issues with church (not just ours) as a whole is that I find it irritating that there’s a perception resembling that anywhere in the body. Again, as I mentioned to you guys, and in private conversations, I don’t consider myself a pastor in the way that it’s defined by most Evangelicals. I don’t have the training, or the calling.
    3. I think in regards to baptism and marriage, the guidelines are clearly specified. I am not interested in upsetting the apple cart on issues that are spelled out for us in scripture. As for ordination, I don’t know. I’d have to look into it with more care.

  36. Bill "Metanoya"

    1) What church was Paul a member of?

    Not so much a trick question but more a frame of reference or context regarding membership and fellowship.

    2) Is the work of a Pastor/Priest more holy than a plumber, policeman or politician (don’t you just love illiteration)?

    I’m glad to hear you consider all work to be a blessing regardless as to job title.

    3) How does membership compare and contrast to Marriage, Baptism and Ordination?

    All of these are examples of community through personal decision and confirmed action. They are examples of “ritual” and ceremony that oft times use symbols to represent the event and the commitment (A signed form, wedding rings, certificate, vestments). The rituals, ceremonies and symbols are not the thing itself and can never replace the heart that beats within the commitment to the new community but they do remind us and convey our intentions in a formal and public way. Collectively they say, “this is important to me and to us”.

    These events and commitments contrast in the ways that you’ve identified. Two are expressly called out in the Bible and two are not. So where does that leave us on the subject of membership? For me it’s a question of heart and intent. If it is only a hollow ritual then by all means do away with it. If it’s only to placate and conform then, again, gone. But if it states the intentions of my heart to those that I love and symbolizes my commitment, then I will honor the ritual, ceremony and symbols and in so doing honor those I am in community with.

  37. Derek

    Looks like the thread has been long dormant, but…

    What Bill said about the analogy of marriage is what I have been thinking about for a while. Where in Scripture, especially in the NT, does it say to take vows to be married? Or to sign a paper, or have a ceremony officiated by some person of standing? Do we just do this to humor the state? If I am committed to my partner, and love her, what good are a ceremony and piece of paper? Whose role is it to tell us what constitutes a valid Christian marriage?

    But I AM married, joyfully, in every sense of the word – legal, paper, vows, officiant, rings, witnesses – and yet the thing that really carries us through is none of that, but is our love. I also have a wonderful daughter nearing a marriageable age. If some guy came to me and said he wanted to marry my daughter, but because love is the only thing that matters (Scripture says so!), he wants no vows, no rings, no ceremony, no license, no witnesses, nothing but mutual commitment to follow Jesus, and they are moving in together next week, there is certainly no way I would be in agreement. I have no love for wedding ceremonies or all the trappings. I think it is often a massive waste of money. But insofar as it were up to me, I would certainly not trust him with my daughter.

    Also – the persecution waiver is a non-starter. There were no widespread persecutions until very late second century – the earlier events were all localized, and were unlikely to be the motivating factor behind the chatechism/membership examples in the early church, as evidenced in writings such as the Didache. The driving issues were polytheism, idolatry, and the pervasive sexual immorality of the day. But those wouldn’t apply today, would they…

    My other issue is this: Why all the apparently wasted ink in the NT about church eldership and their responsibilities? None of the “no membership” writings I have found deal with this adequately. Has the body of Christ really outgrown the need for pastors/elders in local churches? Maybe so in some cases, if you only regularly join with people with few problems. Do all those passages not apply any more?

  38. rod cathey

    I am usually not interested or impressed when I share my heart on an issue with which I am struggling, and the response is “Here – read this book,” rather than engaging in a conversation/discussion first. I am slow to read the “bandwagon books.” ( I still haven’t read “The Purpose Driven Life” – too much hype for me.) But….(I apologize in advance) you really should read “So You Don’t want to Go to Church Anymore?” It is not at all what I expected. I expected something from the Church Lady, pointing her bony finger at me, telling me I was damned to hell if I didn’t go back to church, or a 12-step program to convince the lost sheep to return to the fold. Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s actually a fictional story – a parable, if you will. I was drawn in by the central character and the way in which he built relationships – genuine Christ-follower relationships, and how these relationships had the power to transform lives…ok, I’m done hyping. Just go look it up on Amazon (aka: “Operation Christmas Goat”). You know you want to…

  39. Chad

    Rod -

    The funny thing is that I haven’t stopped going to the church. I haven’t stopped leading! My protest is against the inconsistencies that I see in my particular circumstances when it comes to my church in membership.

    Like… it’s not important when everything was going well and they really like the new music guy…

    But… all of a sudden it’s REALLY important three years later when the senior pastor has a moral failure and all of a sudden that music guy is the only consistent glue holding the morning services together.

    So… which is it? Is it not important, or is it important. Also… where exactly is that Scripture about membership again?

    With this elder board, it was about – and still is about – control. Therefore, I continue to protest by showing up and serving, by letting my yes be yes and my no be no. It confuses them, and I like it.

  40. Stu

    Something inside you is saying its important to hold out on the membership thing.
    I think thats the important thing! Not that you get to shake your fist at the man, but that you follow your heart on this and any other matter. your heart is speaking the issues of life to you and thats not so much something to make a doctrine out of as it is obedience to the Holy Spirit.

    My sugestion is to ask Him to explain why you are called to protest this way and pray for peace and freedom and boldness to stand firm in what you have heard. It is a calling to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. Thats the calling of a child.
    Love you brother, thanks for your posts and these other wonderful people too.

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