The problem as I see it with membership in churches is that too many people view it as they see membership in other areas of their lives. It’s like having a membership to a fancy golf course. When you think of it like that, you think that membership means perks. Membership means privileges. Membership means that other people will serve me. Just pay the going rate and you can have others taking care of you while you enjoy a life of leisure. Tragically, this understanding of membership is what many church members hold.
“This is my church, so you have to play the music just the way I want it.”
“Look pastor, you need to remember who pays your salary.”
“If you don’t do this program, I’ll withhold my check to the church this month.”
“I’ve been a member of this church for 33 years, so I have to get what I want.”
These types of responses and attitudes come from church members who have an unbiblical view of church membership. For them, membership is about receiving instead of giving, being served instead of serving, rights instead of responsibilities, and entitlements instead of sacrifices. This wrongful view of membership sees the tithes and offerings as membership dues that entitle members to a never-ending list of privileges and expectations instead of an unconditional cheerful gift to God.
Membership is a very biblical thing. I think that 1 Corinthians is a good place to look to see what Paul says about the church.
1 Corinthians 12 (ESV)
12 Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed. 2 You know that when you were pagans you were led astray to mute idols, however you were led. 3 Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.
4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.
12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But earnestly desire the higher gifts.
And I will show you a still more excellent way.
I think Paul uses the metaphor of the body to speak to the church for two reasons. First, the body is a unified whole. Likewise, the church is to be unified in its mission, purposes, ministries, and activities. Second, the body is not only unified, it is made up of many parts. The human body has the foot, the hand, the ear, the eye, and the nose as Paul refers to. Each of these parts of the body has to function to make the whole human body function. The church has elders, deacons, pastors, lay pastors, Sunday school teachers, members, and visitors. Each of these types of people need to do their job to make the church function how it should.
In part 2 of this blog, I will go more into the roles of individual members of the church and how each member should embrace these roles.