Not Everything is Black and McWhite II

mcwhitew.jpgWe’re moving, this week, from the real to the theoretical.

Maybe a better way to say it would be that we’re moving from what is actually the case regarding membership in the churches we serve, to what we hope will one day be the case either in the churches we currently serve or in the churches we will one day serve.   So, let me kick off the discussion for this week:

Bryan: What do you think the best process for membership would be?

I’m going to assume that anyone who engages with my answer to this question has already read through my six posts on “Do You Need to Be a Church Member?,” because they explain in detail why I think local church membership is vital for Christian life and growth, and why I think local churches need to take membership very seriously.  If you haven’t read them and would like to, you kind find them here.  If you haven’t read them and don’t want to read them, but would still like to debate whether church membership is a good idea in the comments on this post anyway… well… your mom.

This is a fairly easy question for me to answer, because I’ve already seen a template for church membership that I intend to emulate and implement when and if I become a senior pastor of a church.  The process for membership at Mars Hill Church, Seattle, pastored by Mark Driscoll is nothing that is terribly original, but in my view it is right on the money in terms of how churches that take membership seriously should structure the process of becoming a church member.  Let me quote from their website on membership:

“Being a member of Mars Hill Church is really about being part of a family. Members who enter into a covenant with their local church are called to a higher degree of responsibility and service. At the same time, the elders and deacons are covenanted to assist members first and foremost, to love and lead, provide counsel and aid, as well as to pray for, teach, and guide.

I want to be a member: What should I do?

1) Start acting like one. Demonstrate your love for the church by volunteering.  Click here to learn about the ways you can serve at Mars Hill.

2) Make yourself known. Don’t keep your life to yourself. Join a Community Group and get with other Mars Hill folks to grow together in maturity, leadership, and love.

3) Get on mission. All prospective members are asked to take the Gospel Class to study and learn the essential mission of Mars Hill.”

The Gospel Class required of prospective members at Mars Hill is second to none in what I’ve seen:

“This 8-week class includes an overview of our church and our core values, with a doctrinal explanation of the Scriptures, God, Creation, Sin, Salvation, the Missional Church, Stewardship, and Spiritual Gifts.  This class explores basic, biblical theology and how this teaching plays out philosophically and practically in the way we embody the gospel to the neighborhood in which we live.”

In taking its members through such an extensive time of instruction, it can to so much more to ensure that the members of its church are on the same page on the essential beliefs, values, and mission of the church—something that is sorely lacking in the vast majority of evangelical churches today.

As MHC does, I would require prospective members to complete an interview with an elder or pastor upon completion of the membership class, in which they would be asked to articulate their ‘testimony’ of how Christ brought them to faith in himself, and they would be encouraged to invest in both a serving ministry appropriate to their gifts as well as a small group if they have not already done so.  Upon completion of the membership class and interview, the prospective member would be given the opportunity to affirm and sign the church covenant (I won’t elaborate on church covenants, since that’s next week’s question).

The names and photos of prospective members would then be published in the bulletin on the Sunday prior to the Sunday when the prospective members would be welcomed into membership.  During the announcements, I would ask the members of the congregation to peruse the list of prospective members and encourage them to inform an elders or pastor if they know of any reason (e.g. unknown persistent sinful behavior) why any of them should not become members at this time.

On the ‘membership affirmation Sunday,’ then, I would ask the members of the church (only) to stand, vote into membership the prospective members, and then together with the new members reaffirm the church covenant.  I would  hope, both in sentiment and in worship, this would feel like a joyful and warm time of celebration of God’s work in growing the body of Christ in our midst.

I suppose I should anticipate the objection that this whole process is just completely unrealistic and overly cumbersome.  My two responses to that are: (1) I take membership very seriously.  If I didn’t, I wouldn’t require so much of church members.  But I do, so I will. (2) Mars Hill Church has thousands of members, all of whom have completed the membership process, and most of whom are 20- and 30-something formerly lazy, apathetic, postmodern, individualistic punk rockers, who nevertheless thought it worthwhile to commit the time and effort necessary to make membership at Mars Hill Church a special and biblical thing.  If it is manageable for Seattlites, it’s manageable for anyone.


4 thoughts on “Not Everything is Black and McWhite II”

  1. When you say “unknown persistent sinful behavior,” what do you mean?

    You yourselves described being overweight as sinful not so very long ago. It’s hard to imagine that ruling someone out of membership, and yet, by your own admission, it’s a “persistent sinful behavior.”? (Am I just remembering that post wrong?)

    Also, I’m missing something obvious. Why “unknown”? If it’s known, for instance, that I’m living with my girlfriend — is that ok so long as it’s public knowledge? Or is the assumption here that if that stuff is known, I won’t make it as far as the announcement to the church?

    I’m a little stuck on the sin issue. I’m on board with doing a sin-check at the door, to put it crudely, but on the other hand … what sins, or what ‘amount’ of sin, are acceptable?


    P.S. I’m living with my girlfriend, but I’m also married to her. 🙂

  2. Brett,

    That’s a helpful correction. I guess when I wrote “unknown persistent sinful behavior” that was more or less short for “unrepentant sinful behavior for which the person admits no remorse, regret, nor intention to amend, and was concealed from the elders and pastors (‘unknown’) during the membership process, and is generally of the sort of sin that will tend to act like ‘leaven,’ infecting the rest of the congregation and making a mockery of Christ and his body.”

    I suppose it would be a good idea, during the membership interview, to ask a person, “Are there sinful behaviors you engage in regularly without regret and repentance, or any that may bring harm to the congregation?”

    Obviously, I’m not looking for a sinless membership. Far from it. I’m just trying to make sure that the membership of the church I serve are not lip-service Christians.

    Does that clear it up at all?

  3. Bryan,
    Why would you have the church vote on the membership? My preference would be to have the elders or deacons (preferably elders) approve the person for membership. Then the elders would announce that they are considering a person(s) for membership and ask for any feedback. After a reasonable amount of time, it would be announced that the person(s) is a member. I don’t see any Biblical support for the members of the church to approve new members. As you can probably tell, I’m not an advocate of congregational government.

  4. Randy,

    I’m not an advocate of congregational government either, but I think this is an issue where the elders of a church ought to invite the congregation to affirm their decision. Not only should the congregation be able to affirm who is becoming a part of their ‘body,’ but I think it is a warm, welcoming, unity-building statement when the congregation are able to vocally and visually welcome the new members into the body.

    I probably shouldn’t even use the word “should” on this one, though. This is just a matter of preference for me.

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