1. Why Church Membership?
- Identifying with Christ means identifying with a Church
Early church accounts in the New Testament tell us when a person trusts Jesus, that person immediately identifies with a local church (Acts 18:27, Romans 16:1-2); in other words, he or she becomes a member of that local assembly.
- To identify yourself
Scripture urges converts to continue growing by participating in a specific local assembly (Rom. 12:4-8; 1 Cor. 12:25-31; 14:12, 26; Heb. 10:24-25; 1 Tim. 3:14-15). As part of the body of Christ, we are called to use our gifts to build up the body, and becoming a member is an important step in fulfilling this mandate.
- For the church to identify you
Church leaders need to know who comprises the flock (Acts 20:28) and who they are responsible for (Hebrews 13:17), a practice followed by the local church to keep track of who was becoming a part of the body of Christ (Acts 2:47, 4:4; 5:14, 6:1; 9:31; 11:21; 16:5).
This goes beyond attendance-taking as being a regular attendee does not make a convert part of a local church. Rather, the distinguishing factor is believers identifying with a local church through membership as an expression of his or her spiritual commitment to be rooted in one local church.
- Identification leads to Investment
Jesus invested in the circle of disciples clearly defined from the masses that followed Him.
Similarly, spiritual leaders invest their lives in those who demonstrate their commitment (through membership) because they are officially part of the local church, which means they are now the responsibility of a spiritual leader to shepherd. We each have a choice whether we want to be under the guidance of a spiritual leader. If we decide not to, we will remain attendees rather than disciples.
- Investment facilitates Growth
Spiritual growth is not automatic but being planted in a church family brings growth (Psalm 92:13-14).
- Growth requires Training and Discipline
The apostle Paul provided prayer covering, or accountability, for the churches he planted by encouraging them with godly instruction and correction.
- Biblical training and discipline make sense only within the context of membership
In an extreme case regarding someone who was persisting in deliberate sin, Jesus in Matthew 18:15-17 and Paul in 1 Corinthians 5:11-13 instructed “the church” to expel the unrepentant person. This requires people who make up “the church” to be responsible for the decision and its consequences.
“The church” can thus be defined, and that distinction is clearest through formal membership. After all, it makes no sense to expel someone on the “outside”, but it does to disciple and discipline those “inside”.
Spiritual maturity is thus designed to grow within the context of membership, which we should approach with joy, conviction, and honour.
2. Why One Local Church
Q: I attend two churches. What if one church has very ‘anointed’ worship, and the other has very ‘anointed’ preaching or great cell groups, and I want both?
A: Think of the mindset we are cultivating. Are we following the biblical imperative to identify with and participate in a (singular) local church, or are we consumers looking for what suits us best?
Secondly, as much as you are benefitting from the multiple churches, are you giving as much in terms of tithing and ministry to both (or more)? Christians are not customers and churches are not businesses offering niche attractions.
Q: I am serving in more than one church. As both need me, wouldn’t it be irresponsible to just leave?
A: While it is true that no one can replace who we are, as God created us to be unique, there are people who can replace what we do. Furthermore, it is God who sustains His church, not us. Nevertheless, we are to manage transitions sensitively and wisely.
Remember, obedience to God takes precedence over the work of God, which can become an idol.
Q: My fiancé/spouse and I each have community in our home church and cell group, so isn’t “church rotation” acceptable to ensure we do not lose our roots?
A: While relational bonds are not easy to let go of, rotating makes it likely that your roots in both churches will be weaker. Some helpful questions would be: Where has God called you as a couple? Where can you best contribute with your giftings? Where are you accountable? Where will you grow the most? Make sure to seek counsel from your spiritual leaders in being prayerfully rooted.
Q: I still really like my former church. Can’t I have ties with both without cutting off one?
A: Transferring membership to one church does not mean breaking off personal relationships, which we encourage you to maintain. Additionally, church membership is not based on sentimentality, but biblical mandate and commitment.
Q: What if the nature of my stay in the church and country is temporary?
A: Commit to the church (in formal membership and in your service) for as long as you are there. Being in a different area does not mean the call of discipleship in a local church does not apply to you.
If you know you have an overseas posting or study programme/exchange coming up, plan how you can involve yourself in a local church.