Membership has its privileges. Join Yellowstone Club in Big Sky, Montana, and you can golf, ski, ride horseback, fly fish, hike, bike, kayak, and more among some of the most beautiful scenery in the country. You can dine in luxury. You may meet occasionally some of the celebrities. Probably you expect these kinds of perks from a club that requires $300,000 to join and $30,000 in annual fees. Most of us don’t have such membership, but we do get the idea of membership. We pay our dues and are entitled to certain benefits in return. The problem occurs when we bring this same mentality to the church. If we pay our dues (either money, time, or service), we become “active” members and expect the church to cater to our preferences (“my way”) and serve our needs. Sometimes we even get angry and threaten to leave when things don’t go our way. If we don’t pay our dues, we consider ourselves “inactive” members and become “spectators” and let few “players” run the church according to their preferences and desires.
Church membership is not about having our needs met, but there is much greater value in being a church member. Before we receive the Communion, we always confess to God, “By the baptism of his (Jesus’) suffering, death, and resurrection you gave birth to your church!” Church membership is one of the most glorious privileges and perks we have as Christians. Jesus suffered, died and rose again to give us the church (and church membership!). During Lent (for 6 weeks), we will explore the privilege and the joy of church membership based on a book I Am a Church Member, written by Thom Rainer. Each week at the end of the message, we will have an opportunity to reflect and to make a real commitment to our church. My prayer is that as we go on this journey together, we will have a new, healthier, biblical understanding of church membership, so that we as a church may be transformed and then transform our community and the world.
The Apostle Paul, in today’s passage, uses the human body metaphor in order to explain what it means to be a “functioning” church member. He follows a time-tested approach: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty (or diversity); and in all things, love.”
Biblical membership means we pursue unity in essentials. In verse 13 Paul says, “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.” The church is the people of God who used to independently call our own shots, but then entered into a large and integrated life in which Jesus has the final say in everything (MSG). Although we are many and different, we pursue unity and don’t compromise the teachings of Scripture when it comes to essentials of our faith: Jesus is the foundation and the head of the church. He is the only way to salvation. We can’t save ourselves by our own good works. We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. And by the Holy Spirit we say “Jesus is Lord!” (3). Where Christ is truly preached, there is the gospel; and where the gospel is truly believed, there is the church.
Church members let Jesus have the final say in everything. Although they are many and different, they have the essential, unifying marks as the body of Christ. In the early church we can find at least four distinguishing marks (Acts 2:42-47): worship, discipleship, fellowship, and evangelism. First, the early church was a worshiping church. They devoted themselves “to the breaking of the bread (the Lord’s Supper) and to the prayers.” They got together in their homes as well as at the temple. Second, the early church was a discipling church. They devoted themselves “to the apostles’ teaching.” Third, the early church was a caring church. They devoted themselves to the fellowship. They shared their possessions and goods among believers and also gave them away to those in need. Fourth, the early church was an evangelizing church. The Bible says that the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. Based on Acts 2, church membership is not about how long we have attended this church. It is not about how many committees or ministries we serve. More important questions to ask ourselves are these to know whether we are a functioning church member:
- Am I connected to the church through worship? Am I connected to God and to other sisters and brothers in Christ through worship?
- Am I connected to the church through fellowship? Do I live in harmony with other believers? Am I sharing my resources and possessions with those in need?
- Am I connected to the church through discipleship? Am I discipling and equipping others for ministry or learning and engaging in ministry myself?
- Am I connected to the church through evangelism? Am I inviting my family and friends to the church? Am I giving Jesus to those in the community?
Membership means we pursue unity in essentials. Membership also means we celebrate liberty in non-essentials, diversity in unity. I am a fan of Boston Red Sox. Notice I didn’t say I am a member of the Boston Red Sox. There’s a difference. I don’t go to spring practices and work out with the team. I don’t study game films or discuss plays with the coaches. That’s not my job. I am a fan – a spectator. I watch them play on television. But church membership is not like baseball. There should be no spectators. If you are a Christian, you belong to the body. You are connected. We’re all participants. Everyone has a role to play. In verse 18 Paul says, “But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.” So the question we ought to ask is not: “Do I have a role in the church?” But the real question is: “What’s my role in the church?”
So it’s important to discover our spiritual gift. Some are eyes; others are ears. Some are feet; still others are hands. God has not gifted you to do what you want to do; He has gifted you to do what He wants you to do. Spiritual gift is given to us for others, for the common good (7), to build up the body of Christ (14:4, 5, 12). So what is your spiritual gift? If you are not sure, you may carry out these three steps. First, pray specifically for God to reveal your gift. Second, ask other mature Christians who know you well what grace, gifts, strengths they see in you. Third, prayerfully look for open doors of opportunities to try different areas. Regardless of our limitations of time, strength, or money, there should be at least one area we can use our God-given gift. I’ve visited many homebound Christians who used their valuable spiritual gifts even though they could never attend the church. They prayed faithfully. Some have a ministry of encouragement through cards or calls; others are determined to be an encourager to all who visit them. When we use our spiritual gift properly, we will find fulfillment and joy and our church will be strengthened. [During Lent, each week you will hear different missions and ministries of our church from the committee leaders. Please hear them prayerfully. If the Lord gives you desire to serve, I encourage you to try and be part of that ministry.] Remember, God gives spiritual gifts to each member of the body. Everyone has a role to play. Membership means we are all necessary parts of the whole. Discover your gift and use it for others today!
Last but not least, membership means we pursue love in everything. The story is told of a boy who did his household chores and left his mother this note: “For cleaning my room, $5…For washing the dishes, $3…For raking the leaves, $10…Total: $18. You owe me, Mom.” The mother read the note while the boy was at school and put $18 on the table. With it she left her own note: “For bearing you nine months in the womb, throwing up for three months, no charge. For cooking your breakfast every day, no charge. For washing and ironing your clothes, no charge. For staying up all night when you were sick, no charge. Total: Grace.” When the boy read that note, he ran to his mother and asked, “What more can I do to let you know I am grateful?”
At the end of today’s passage, Paul says that he will show us a still more excellent way, that is, the way of love. Then, he talks about what is the mind and attitude of Christ towards us. Jesus is patient with us. He never gives up on us. He is kind. He keeps no record of our wrongs; instead, he forgives all our sin. In fact, he did lay down his life for us with love. We often fall and backslide, but he always looks for our best, never looks back. He sustains us, encourages us, and keeps us going to the end. When we experience this love, we change. Our minds, our attitudes, our actions, become more like Christ’s. And we use our spiritual gifts for others with love. We pray for others with love. We preach and teach with love. We give away and share with love. We serve and sacrifice with love. That is what biblically functioning membership looks like.
At a vigil Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter was killed in the Florida shooting, paid tribute to her and said, “I don’t remember if I said I love you.” If we discovered that we had only five minutes left to say all we wanted to say, most of us in this room would call our loved ones to stammer that we loved them. Agape love is our highest goal. It never ends. My prayer was always and still is that we, our church, may become the most loving people in town. Sisters and brothers in Christ, let us pursue love! (1 Cor 14:1)
 Thom S. Rainer, Connected: My Life in the Church (LifeWay Press, 2014) 6.
 Keith Krell, “Unity and Diversity: 1 Corinthians 12:1-11,” https://bible.org/seriespage/26-unity-and-diversity-1-corinthians-121-11