That was the question the leaders of my church started asking themselves several years ago. After studying what the scriptures had to say about it, we concluded church membership was not mandatory, and we did away with it in our church. If it’s working for your church, great, but it just wasn’t working for us.
My guess is if you’ve found your way to this post, church membership isn’t really working for you either, but you think it would be wrong to do away with it.
I would disagree with that, but there are a lot of people much smarter than I am who would argue church membership isn’t a matter of preference but one of biblical obedience.
Matt Chandler, pastor of The Village Church and really smart guy, is one of those people. If you happen to be searching for an answer to the church membership question, you will no doubt find his post aptly titled, Is Church Membership Biblical?
In that post he asks three questions based upon certain scriptures to support his argument. I’d like to take a look at those and just share some of my thoughts.
- If there is no understanding of local church membership, then who are we to submit to and obey?
I believe ultimately we should submit to and obey the teachings of Jesus. Hopefully, we find a church that does the same. I’m not sure how having your name on a membership roll changes any of that.
- If there is no understanding of local church membership, who should the pastor and elders be held accountable for?
I believe we’re accountable for what we teach and what we allow to be taught within our church. We’re accountable for those who are attending, listening, and engaging. We have responsibilities in regards to how we spend God’s money. Again, I’m not sure how having names on a roll changes any of that. Do we care less for those who aren’t members?
- What about church discipline?
For some this seems to be the primary reason for membership. Yet, in my mind this whole system in fundamentally flawed. Chandler uses the example shown in 1 Corinthians 5:1-12, where Paul tells the church to kick this person out of the church because they’re celebrating sin and show no signs of repentance.
A few thoughts on this. If you want to kick someone out of your church or discipline someone for his behavior, what does it matter if he is a member? Shouldn’t the only requirement be that he is a Christian? If you baptize someone this week and they come in to church next week drunk, are you going to check to see if they’re a member before you have a conversation with them?
Secondly, what about the members who are sinning privately? We had a policy that said you couldn’t become a member if you were living with someone of the opposite sex that you weren’t married to. Yet, we probably had members that got drunk, smoked pot, and treated their spouses like dirt throughout the week. We just didn’t know about it. It was a double standard.
And if we really want to get biblical about it, in this same scripture that Chandler speaks about, it says to not associate with the sexual immoral, the drunkard, the swindler, or the greedy. If we just kicked out the greedy people in our churches, our attendance would plummet. When’s the last time you kicked someone off your church roll because they weren’t giving?
I think we have to be really careful about saying something is a biblical requirement. Just because the New Testament church did it doesn’t make it a requirement.
It may be a good idea for some, but for others it may not.
Think of it like foot washing. At your church it may be one of the most impactful services you have all year. At my church it would freak everyone out and they’d never come back.
Do what works for you.
Does your church have members? Do you think that’s a good thing? Why or why not? Let me know by leaving a comment and make sure to subscribe to the blog to get updates on church growth, leadership, and more delivered to your inbox each week.