Today’s blog post continues the discussion on church membership. The wisdom shared here is from my friend, Ellen Duncan. John & Ellen Duncan are greatly gifted ordained servants of Christ whose ministry would be a great blessing to your local church. You can learn more about them at johnandellenduncan.com, but before you go there, I trust you’ll enjoy Ellen’s insights as much as I have. ~ William
In my early twenties, I was blessed to be part of an excited group of believers and flourished as a committed member of my church. I was fed well as a baby Christian and was able to grow and find my gifts. It was in this season that I met John, the man of my dreams, and we eventually married. John and I served in a Pentecostal denomination together and even though we had seen much fruit, we regrettably listened to some friends who seemed to be on the cutting edge. In our zeal, we became involved in the independent Pentecostal movement for five years.
We made sure that we always submitted to a local church as we ministered within hundreds of fellowships throughout thirty-four states. But the longer we traveled, the more problems we saw and our longing to be part of a larger body increased. We praise God for the home we found in the Congregational Holiness Church in 2006. We were back to where we needed to be, coming full circle and having learned an amazing lesson that we hope others can avoid.
Since the earliest days of our ministry, which includes five years of serving in the pastorate, we have found great resistance to church membership. Some people are even against denominations. One of the main problems we saw in our travels was that even though there were local church bodies, these assemblies were not submitted to anyone and therefore no real church discipline could take place. Pastors were known to abuse finances, members, teach false doctrines, and, or fall into immorality. There were no organized means to implement church discipline. This is where being a part of a greater body provides safety for those attending these local assemblies.
Many people do not join because they have been hurt in church. Of course, we do not advocate membership to a bad church. However, if people just sit in a church and lag behind on their commitment, they will not reach their full potential. Let me explain: commitment works both ways. A church will most likely invest their time, finances, and give ministry opportunities to those who have reciprocated their commitment back to the church.
Others refuse to join because they do not fully agree with church teachings. Augustine said, “In essentials unity, in nonessentials liberty, in all things charity.” As we grow in Christ, we may grow in our beliefs as well. Generally speaking, a brand-new Christian is qualified to be a member of the local assembly even though he or she has not mastered the finer points of theology.
Being part of a local body of believers does what the TV church will never do. It is God’s plan to place each believer in a community where we are cared for when we are sick or in need. There we are known by name, prayed for in times of trouble, and lovingly corrected when we go astray. We are discipled and in turn, we have the opportunity to disciple others. Rubbing shoulders with others in the local church reveals blind-spots in our character and thus helps us to become more like Christ.
Church membership is assumed in Scripture. The command to submit to church leadership (see Hebrews 13:17 and First Thessalonians 5:12-13) can only be fulfilled in the local church. Pastors are called by God to take care of the flock (Acts 20:28)… but what “flock” if there were no local body? First Corinthians 14:26 says “… when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation.” How would we fulfill this commandment without a local church? Some would say that a weekly Bible Study in a living room is sufficient, but I disagree. A New Testament church has an organized structure with pastors, deacons, and elders, bishops, etc, which the average home Bible Study does not provide.
Membership is not an attempt to control others, but it puts you under the covering of a loving community where there is protection, accountability, and structure. It is under this love covering that members can reach their full potential. In His sovereign wisdom, God has set these guidelines in place so that we can be all that God wants us to be and reach our generation for Christ. God sets the members in the Body as it pleases Him. So go ahead and join your local church and by God’s grace become the best church member you can be.