There have been really excellent comments posted recently in response to this discussion about membership. None more so than this one: 'it can at times appear that someone being in Christ is not as important as being in membership.'
The correspondent went on to share their feelings of being somehow second class because they were not a member, concluding 'the fact that I have a real and active life in my Lord Jesus didn't seem to give me permission to see myself as part of my new church family, it was membership that gave that which I found very sad and still do.' I have to say, so do I.
I have always believed that when people are baptised in a church they should automatically become members of that church. After all, we are baptising people into Christ, declaring that by their faith they are members of Christ's body, so surely by this act they are also members of this local expression of his body? Sadly we baptists have separated theology from practice and ended up with a system that can cause pain and misuderstanding.
But there is another point here too. And that concerns people attending our churches from other traditions, people who are 'in Christ' by virtue of their faith and yet are not 'in membership' and therefore can't participate in key areas of their new church's life. It's this area I'm keen to do something about in terms of how quickly and on what terms we include them fully in the life of the church.
Jane's comment about having a mentor is a key one too. I am about to preach on that and am keen to see some kind of mentoring system established in our church. It seems to me to be key to creating disciples whose lives make an impact. I'll be exploring what patterns are available out there - I'm quite interested in Lifeshapes, but there are others. What I'm keen to see is people in my church in mutually supportive and accountable relationships, growing in their walk with God, becoming intentionally missional.
Thoughts on this would be great.
Sunday, October 08, 2006
In Christ and in membership
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When I think about church membership, I certainly feel a certain temptation to the iconoclastic position of abandoning the idea altogether. However, that has to be tempered with the question of what you replace it with?
I haven't got an absolute or even a definite answer. However, over the past couple of years, we have made significant moves in making our church meetings more open. While we still maintain the requirement of a certain percentage of the membership in attendance to qualify as quorate and the stipulations that only members of at least six month's standing can vote, we no longer call it a members's meeting and insist that only members attend.
I think this has been a positive step. We still have the safeguard that matters for voting do require a confirmed declaration of covenant with the community (for what it is worth!) but more people can see the church doing business and, if they wish, contribute to the discussions.
Wulf's comment about making church meetings more open is interesting and I also think there is a real issue about the language we use. I was in a meeting recently were the members were asked to stand and pray for another group. A lovely lady next to me who is fully involved in the life of the church but not a member although considering it asked me if it was OK for her to stand and pray in agreement. Everyone there would have said as I did that it was fine but the language used was not as welcoming as it could have been.
There is also a tendency sometimes for us to use 'churchspeak' which is difficult for many 'looking in' to access. I just wonder if we could make an effort to be a bit more inclusive in the language we use it's a start towards including more people who are afraid to ask what on earth we are talking about...
Oh praise The Lord now you're really getting to the heart of something exciting, do you know what a wonderful thing it would be if those who walk into our churches occasionally or out of curiosity or coming from a different denomination actually felt at home because they understood the language that was being used and where things are and how things work. I've been in Christ for only 17yrs but still there are many times when I haven't a clue what's meant by some of the words and practices that go on in our places of worship. It has always been my understanding that we should expect Jesus to be changing the lives of many on a daily basis so why don't we do church in a way that is reflecting that? Will that young man or woman that has turned up for the first time one Sunday, to find out if this Jesus stuff is worth exploring, be leaving our place of worship feeling wanted, included and comfortable being there or will it be an embarressing experience which they may not want to repeat?
We seem to do church life for those who are "in the know" and that I can't help thinking is somewhat flawed.
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