Not Everything Is Black and McWhite I

bmcw.jpgAnd, we’re off…

Sorry for the delay, folks. Ministry got in the way. You know, heaven and hell, life and death, saving souls-type stuff.

Anyway, Vince and I decided (in light of recent discussion here) to begin with the practical questions surrounding membership in the local church. The questions we have settled on to discuss are as follows:

1. What is the current process at your church for membership?
2. What do you think the best process for membership would be?
3. Do you have a membership covenant to be signed?
4. What do you require of your members?
5. What should be required of members?
6. What should be done if someone ‘applies’ for membership at your church who is currently a member at another church?
7. What should be done if someone who is a member at your church decides to start attending another church in the same town?
8. How should a church handle someone who refuses in principle to becoming a member?
9. Should there be some be priviledges of being a member (voting, ability to lead a small group, etc.)?
10. Do you grandfather in the grown children of parents who have become members? Or do you encourage them to be members when they become 18?
11. What are the minimum requirements for church membership?
12. In what situations would you
not allow someone to be a member who has applied?

So, there’s where we’re going if you’re interested. Generally speaking, one of us will ask the question, the other will response, then the other will respond to that response, and the other can respond to the response to the response if he so chooses. Got that?

And with that, Fire one:

Vince, what is the current process at your church for membership (Trinity EFC)?

I will start by saying we strongly encourage membership. In fact, a year ago we decided to come up with four means to our mission statement. One of the means to our mission statement is that every regular attender would become a member. It is an important part of the family of Trinity Church. That is stated in our ‘Welcome Packet.’ If you were a first-time visitor of our church you would be handed a packet of information about our church. One of the first things you would see is a document stating the four means to our mission. We do not hide the fact that membership is important.

We don’t have a process as some would define ‘process.’ We don’t have a baseball diamond image to show the progress of our process. The unwritten process for someone who is a regular attender would be to attend our ‘Discovery Class.’ It is a six hour class that walks the attendees through a brief church history, denomination history, the four means to our mission (the importance of membership is stressed), conflict resolution, involvement in ministry and the responsibilities of membership. At the end of this class every person in attendance is given two items. 1.) A free copy of Stop Dating the Church by Joshua Harris and 2.) a membership application. Within a month of the class each participant is contacted and encouraged to fill out the application and schedule a membership interview. We have a running chart with every regular attender listed. Each person has four columns by their name with, you guessed it, the four means to our mission next to their name. We keep a running list of those who are members and those who are not. Those who are members are held accountable to the other three means. Those who are not yet members are contacted often to discuss the reasons they have decided not to follow our desires as a church.

After the class participant has filled out the application for membership, copies are made for each of the elders to read. At least one Sunday before the applicants are affirmed as members we announce to the congregation that they have applied for membership. We ask the congregation to approach the applicant and/or the elders with any concerns they may have about their desire for membership. The applicant is then interviewed by no fewer than 3 elders and one staff pastor. The interview is very brief – only lasting 30 minutes. During the interview we ask them to share their perspective of how God has drawn them to faith in Christ. We want to know that they have a good understanding of salvation. We also ask them about ways in which they are currently experiencing the grace of God and ways in which they are using their gifts.

After the interview the elders discuss anything that we see as a red flag about their perspective of salvation. Our deepest concern is that they are truly believers in Jesus as Lord and Savior and that they have at least an elementary understanding of salvation be a work of God and not man.

If the elders agree that this person meets the above criteria we bring them before the congregation to recommend them as members and affirm their desire to be a member of Trinity Church. During the worship service we ask the applicant three or four questions about their commitment to the body. We then ask the congregation to commit to pray for them and to hold them accountable to godly living.

We are a church of about 200 in regular attendance and we currently have about 70 members. I would like to see this number increased and we are working toward that goal. There are other things I would like to implement into this process and hope to do that over the next few years. I won’t tell you what those are because it may come up in the next few days in further discussion on this blog. I want to keep you guessing and curious enough to keep reading.

For a copy of our membership application click here!

(Bryan’s response forthcoming)

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13 thoughts on “Not Everything Is Black and McWhite I”

  1. paul – i don’t want to answer on bryan’s blog but…that’s a good topic. i believe issues of discipline will come out as we discuss a few of these questions. hang with us.

  2. Looking forward to the discussion.

    BTW your title reminds me of an oldie:

    The ink is black, the page is (mc)white
    Together we learn to read and write
    A child is black, a child is (mc)white
    The whole world looks upon the sight, a beautiful sight

    … with apologies to Three Dog Night

  3. Vince & Bryan,
    Are we making membership too complicated? It seems in the NT, the criteria for membership was that if you confessed Jesus and were baptized, you could be a member.

    Are we drawing the membership fence smaller than God? Could it be that someone could be a member of the (big C) Church, and yet be refused membership in our local church?

    Is there a possibility in your membership process that you would tell someone that you think they are a Christian, but that they don’t meet your criteria and maybe they should seek membership in another church?

    And the most telling question of all–would you allow R.C. Sproul to be a member of your church?

    I’m not trying to give you a hard time, but I’m just curious. I like the criteria you have for membership, but is it Biblical?

  4. Randy,

    There is a search bar on the left of my blog, and if you search on “Why Membership,” you’ll find seven posts where I lay out why I think membership is essential in the local church. And, in fact, I would add another now if I was going to do it over again. Namely, 1 Cor. 5 seems, to me, to assume clear membership. So, let me know what you think.

  5. Actually, on my screen, the search bar is on the right. Maybe we are on different sides of the Greenwich Meridian. 🙂

    I had already previously read your blog entries on membership. I would agree with what you wrote. I fully agree that a person should publically commit to a local church.

    My questions were more aimed at why do we make membership so tedious? It’s good that a person understand an organization before they join, but membership should be simple, quick, and easy, I would think, for a person who is a believer. Why make them jump through hoops? I don’t think 1st Century churches grilled people who wanted to join.

    In the NT, the reason I believe there was no mention of formal membership was twofold. First, if a person was involved at a church, it was assumed they were a member. Second, in an atmosphere of persecution, you don’t have any half-hearted members.

    At our church, we have always asked people to agree to our doctrinal statement. Then, we noticed that the doctrinal statement contained some things that were not disqualifiers for membership (like endtimes beliefs). I think we are going to pare down our doctrinal statement to include only things that we think are necessary for salvation (membership in the catholic Church). We will tell people in introductory classes what doctrines the elders believe and teach, but new members will not have to pledge to believe them all. They WILL be asked not to create divisions over secondary issues.

  6. Randy, since Bryan is the wizard behind the curtain of this blog, he sees everything from behind the screen, so our right is his left.

    (Perhaps this explains his support of Huckabee… ha!)

  7. Vince, I don’t know you but I know Bryan and have a lot of respect for him therefore I have a lot of respect for you so please don’t take offense to this, but joining your church sounds more like joining a secret society than it does the local church. I know this is blogging and not a “real” conversation but I think I agree with Randy’s first comment. Are we making this too complicated? How often are people rejected for membership? What do you do if regular attenders don’t want to be members?

  8. Jesse – i understand your comment and i don’t take offense. it is a good question. i probably did not explain well enough that what we to know most of all is that the person is a believer. at this point i have not been a part of turning anyone away from membership. i don’t know that it has ever happened at our church.

    we want to know most of all that the person is a believer. if they are – then they should be commited to and know the commitments of being a member of a local church (hence the process).

    you can read this in the more previous blog post – but if people downright refuse to be members at our church – which has only happened on one occassion – then we encourage them to commit to a church where they will be able to be commited in the way that church recommends. it is a matter of commitment and submission to the leadership of the church. if a leader of the church asks you to do something and it is not sinful – why would you not abide?

    i agree with you – as i was writing the original post, i realized that it seemed like a lengthy process. much of what i mentioned happens informally at our church. it is not a step by step by step process. we don’t really have a process. what i outlined is the process that typically works itself out in natural and relational ways. we are rarely hounding people about membership.

    does this help?

  9. Randy (and Jesse),

    Okay, I see what you’re getting at. That’s a good question. But I think you answered it, in my view, in the body of your question. You said:

    First, if a person was involved at a church [in the 1st century], it was assumed they were a member. Second, in an atmosphere of persecution, you don’t have any half-hearted members.

    To that I want to say, “Exactly.” Neither of those two things can be assumed any longer in our culture that is rife with pseudo-Christianity and arm chair church involvement. In other words, the reason I am in favor of a more rigorous and thorough membership process (as will become clear in the next series of posts) is that I think we have a responsibility to see to it (as best as we can) that our membership is entirely regenerate, that there is unity in the essentials of doctrine, and that we are not taking nominal believers into membership. I think that these goals require a more rigorous process.

    I agree with you, however, that there are doctrinal issues that should not require assent from new members. For example, NHC (and Trinity) is an EFCA church, which means that the statement of faith entails belief in premillenial eschatology, which I would classify as a second or third tier doctrine in terms of importance to the gospel of Christ crucified for sinners. So, I would like to see (someday) in our church an exception for those applying for membership who do not hold to premillenialism. I think eschatological views are a horrible place to draw lines between Christians. I would also, for that matter, be in favor of granting membership to convinced paedobaptists if they have a cogent biblical argument for their belief (not just, “I grew up Lutheran and that’s what I believe…”).

  10. Jesse,

    Why would you (anyone) not want to be a member of a church? I keep coming back to this: If your pastors and elders urge regular attenders to become formal members, why would a person hesitate?

    Help me understand your point by answering this question for me: What is one example of a biblically valid reason for refusing membership in the local church to which you are committed?

  11. You know me, I just like to talk (type) to hear the sound of my own (typing) voice. I am not opposed to it at all. In fact I was a member of Evergreen Community Church and I will become a member of NHC. I just haven’t made it a priority because it wasn’t that important to ME. Obviously an oversight on my part. I was not aware that this was of such importance at NHC. I never heard this much emphasis be put on church membership until recently. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t important, it only means that I haven’t heard it. Maybe because it wasn’t that important to me. I realize it is important to my leaders at the church and so it should be important to me .

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