There are certain parts of the Christian life that most believers are quick to affirm and agree upon. Regular worship, giving of our resources to ministry and the needy, personal Bible reading and prayer, global missions, and so on. You won’t find much uncertainty about the importance of these things. However, when it comes to church membership, some people are skeptical.
One person wonders, “Isn’t that just a formality? I mean, I’m here every week, I’m in a small group, I give…Why fill out an application, take a class, and meet with a pastor only to keep doing the things I’m already doing?”
Another might ask, “Should we really be pushing ‘membership’? After all, I don’t see any command in Scripture that says, ‘You shall become a church member.’ We don’t want to add to the Bible, right?”
I’ve heard these questions. Honestly, I’ve asked these questions myself. But I want to suggest that church membership isn’t simply a formality, nor is it a category foreign to the New Testament. I want to suggest, whatever process it takes in your local church, that membership really matters.
Here are four reasons why:
1. Membership matters for pastors.
…shepherd the flock of God that is among you. (1 Peter 5:2)
This verse calls pastors to shepherd their “flock.” Shepherding is a weighty task, requiring great care, with eternal implications (1 Corinthians 3:13-15). As a pastor myself, it’s essential that I answer the question, “Who makes up the flock of God I am accountable for?” Is it everyone that comes though the church doors? Is it everyone in our town or city? Every person I ever encounter?
How do we define “the flock”? The best way I know to answer that question is to look at my church’s membership list. These are the believers who have committed themselves to our local church. These are the believers I am most responsible to serve.
God has not called pastors to shepherd every person who checked out our church last Christmas, or every person we meet at the local coffee shop, or every person who follows us on Twitter (hallelujah!). God has called us to shepherd the flock among us. Church membership clarifies who those people are.
2. Membership matters for community.
It’s not only pastors who have a God-given responsibility to care for the local church; every believer has a part in this as well. All throughout the New Testament we see commands to care for one another:
Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2, emphasis added)
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. (Hebrews 10:24–25, emphasis added)
How do we define “one another”? Is God commanding us to bear the burdens of everyone everywhere? That sounds crushing! Is God asking us to personally meet with and encourage every person we ever meet? That sounds exhausting!
Once again, this is where church membership helps us. Membership defines our local church community, and gives us a specific group of people whom God has called us to bear with and build up until the day Christ returns.
By committing to membership, we say to the other members of our church, “I am committed to you, and I trust that you are committed to me.” Far from being a mere formality, membership actually bolsters genuine community.
3. Membership matters for assurance.
Many Christians wrestle with questions of assurance. “How can I know that I’m really saved?” “How can I know that my faith is genuine?”
I want to be clear: Jesus Christ is the bedrock of all true Christian assurance. We do not look to the strength of our faith, the quality of our holiness, or our status as a church member as the ultimate reason for assurance of salvation; We look to Jesus Christ.
As Christians, we trust Philippians 1:6, which says, “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Jesus saved us, he is working in us, and he will finish what he has started. He is the foundation of our assurance.
However, with Christ as our foundation, we can build and bolster our assurance in many ways. Exercising faith strengthens assurance. Pursuing holiness strengthens assurance. And church membership strengthens assurance.
When a church welcomes you into membership, they are affirming your testimony. They’re saying, “We see the grace of God in Jesus Christ at work in you,” and that will increase your assurance.
4. Membership matters for Jesus.
Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. (Ephesians 5:25)
We must always remember this: Jesus is not indifferent about the church. Jesus died for the church. He gave his life to redeem a people for himself from every tribe, tongue, and nation on the planet (Revelation 7:9). The church is his body (1 Corinthians 12:27). The church is his bride (2 Corinthians 11:2).
We cannot overstate the level of Christ’s commitment to the church. So why would we ever think lightly about our own commitment?
When we take the formal step of belonging to a church in membership, we affirm the truth that we belong to Christ and his people, and we dedicate ourselves to caring for the people Jesus loves, which brings him great honor.
Do You Belong?
So Christian, do you belong to your church? Have you taken this important step of demonstrating Christ-like commitment to his people?
If not, let me give you a simple encouragement: Join your local church to help your pastor, to enhance your church community, to bolster your assurance, and to honor Christ.