Not Everything Is Black and McWhite I.2

mcwhitew.jpgOnce again, sorry for the delay, folks!

What can I say? Lots going on lately, I guess.

Vince’s response was excellent and thorough, and it was clear to me that this discussion isn’t going to get really interesting until we get to the “What should…” sort of questions, since our church (New Hope Church)’s membership process is rather similar to Vince’s church (Trinity EFC). That said, let me highlight a few areas where our membership processes are similar and dissimilar.

New Hope Church also, in a sense, strongly encourages membership. But that certainly begs the question: What does it look like to “strongly encourage membership” (I’d be curious to know how Trinity EFC does it)? Because, in theory and in the sentiment of the elders of our church we sincerely do want people to become members. We let them know how they can do that, and have made it a relatively simple process. Our senior pastor, Steve Goold, leads and teaches the new members class, which I think is a very wise and pastoral practice on his part, and is altogether too rare in churches of our size (2,000+). I imagine that the vast majority of senior pastors of megachurches would delegate that responsibility, and I deeply appreciate that Steve has not. I think it speaks highly of his view of the importance of membership in our church.

That said, it is by no means well-understood what the entailments, requirements, and expectations of membership are in our church. Very few understand the benefits and reasons for membership, and we really do almost nothing to encourage (or, compel) long-term regular attenders to seek membership. In that sense, then, we don’t take membership all that seriously. So, we do and we don’t. We need to get more consistent. But I’m starting to jump ahead in our question list here. My bad.

The process for membership at New Hope Church is relatively simple. A membership application is filled out that mainly asks for contact and family information. There is, then, a required membership class that currently meets three consecutive Sunday mornings for about an hour. Generally speaking, the history of the EFCA and of NHC are covered, as well as doctrinal distinctives of the EFCA and the mission of NHC. At the end of the membership classes, each prospective members are asked to indicate areas interest for serving and plugging into the life of the church, which are then distributed to the pastor/staff person who oversees that particular area. Once these records are distributed to the appropriate person, however, there is no follow-up nor is there a centralized system that tracks the involvement and progress of new members in ministry involvement.

Prospective members are then required to have a meeting with an elder, which generally lasts for 30-45 minutes, in which the prospective member is asked to explain how they came to faith in Christ, and is given an opportunity to ask and have answered any questions about NHC and membership that remain.

Finally, new members are affirmed and welcomed into the church during the morning services (I believe) quarterly. Other members of the church, however, play no role in evaluating new members nor explicitly in affirming new members into the body.

With regard to numbers of members vs. numbers of regular attenders, our percentages are roughly in line with Trinity EFC. I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but if I recall correctly, our weekly attendance is in the neighborhood of 2,400, and we have close to 800 on the membership rolls (though I am relatively certain that the membership rolls are rarely if ever ‘cleaned’ in order to remove those who no longer attend or those who have not actively involved themselves in the life of the church in some time).

Clearly, then, there are ways our church could tighten up its practice of membership, but I need to leave that for the following questions.

Vince: How does Trinity EFC “strongly encourage membership,” exactly?

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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)

Do You Need to Be a Church Member?, Part 6

paulandtimothy1.jpg“I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 1:4).

There are times I am able to get a glimpse of how Paul must have felt when he wrote that.

I’m only a few years older than my friend Justin Song, but I had the opportunity to disciple him for a time after he came to the Lord last spring, and I have been overjoyed to see how fast he has grown and matured in the faith, and oriented his life around the Cross, particularly owing also to the help and encouragement of a dude named Kerby Skurat, both of whom are part of the Fusion Young Adults Community at New Hope Church.

This is an e-mail I received from Justin today (reprinted with his permission):

Bryan, I was going to post this on your blog but it got super wordy and long and I think I am off on a different tangent then you guys. Anyway I was going to start it like this:

Yo, long time reader first time blogger.
I see and find helpful the parallel of church membership and marriage but I find that the parallel for new Christians between church membership and addiction more suitable.

My oldest brother is a recovering drug addict who has been to rehab twice. My general sense for both new Christians and people getting out of rehab is a coming off the top of a mountain, strong in spirit and determination yet lacking direction and guidance. Often times addicts falter after a few months because they get into the same habits, same friends, and old behavior. New Christians are nothing more then recovering addicts but instead of drugs and alcohol they are still addicted to worldly things. I believe this is what happened to my brother the first time after rehab. He was strong hearted and motivated to make a new start and succeeded for a while. What lead to his relapse was a false sense of how far along he had progressed. He felt that he was strong enough to hang out with old friends who he got high with.

I also believe that the individuals that only attend church once a week give themselves the same false sense of how far he or she has progressed. It allows a person to make statements that they are a Christian without actively progressing their relationship with Jesus Christ. So I agree with Dever’s statement, “If you call yourself a Christian but you are not a member of the church you regularly attend, I worry that you might be going to hell.”

3 reasons why I believe it is important to be a member of a Church (they came from the Carson’s book we read, “Basic for Believers”):

1. Putting the Gospel first and that the primary focus is on the Cross
What it basically boils down to me is a simply flight or fight mentality. Each individual has a voice in a church, that voice should not be used to push agendas or some weird new age hippie idea but that voice should be used when they recognize counterfeit teaching or anything that pulls us away from the cross. Pastor Steve [Goold] talks a lot about being plugged in, and we need to be plugged into a church’s Bible study, sermons, activities, community involvement, etc. If we are members of church we need to make certain that the church acts in a biblically based and Cross-centered way. If we are not plugged in we just simple pick up and move to another church.

2. Emulating worthy Christian leaders
I think that this is the second most important step for a new Christian. (The first understanding your salvation through the Cross). Kerb Dogg [Skurat] did an excellent job hitting this point at Fusion last Saturday. The Church needs different people on a different progression on their walk. You and Kerby have used the term rock star Christian but I prefer sports terms. A church needs different levels of players. If I am just learning how to dribble I can become discouraged or overwhelmed scrimmaging a Pro level Christian. It is better that I watch him, his behaviors, how he treats people, how he is plugged into the community, his veteran leadership, and how he is willing to step up in crunch time.

Now, you can emulate that person, you can be in the backyard practicing that sweet tomahawk dunk you saw on the lowered 6 feet rim but your depth of knowledge won’t allow you to touch the net on the ten feet rim. I think it is best to scrimmage against people who are at your own level or even a few levels above you. Its good for a person to get his butt kicked once in a while so he goes back and sees how much he needs to work and improve. But in a church you need all levels from beginners to Pros so people in a church have people to find to play a pick up game at all times.

3. Giving back
I think I told you this once but what really motivated me in joining NHC was hearing the Driscoll sermon on becoming less of a consumer of a church and giving back to the church. One way to give back, and I only discovered its importance after I joined, is the power of your story. Giving your testimony gives other Christians renewed enthusiasm and renewed vigor. Each person that becomes a member of a church has s a different story of how God has worked in their lives.

Anyway sorry for the length, let me know if you wanna hit the gym sometime.

peace

justin

» I had the privilege of baptizing Justin and his girlfriend, Kassie (Kerby’s sister), this summer. They went through membership classes and were affirmed as members at NHC this fall.

Do You Need To Be A Church Member?, Part 5

church3.jpgThis is the last word.

Well, at least it is from me…

On church membership…

For now, anyway.

These last two are among the most compelling reasons (in my view) for formal church membership. The common bonds between them are: (1) They are both absolutely biblically unassailable. If you happen to be a Christian who bases his or her life on the precepts of the Scriptures, these two statements are indubitably true for you. And (2), 21st century, postmodern, individualistic, egocentric people won’t like either of them.

5. You need accountability and (if you’re bad) church discipline.

Accountability is good for you. Maybe I should say that again for emphasis (I’ll even add italics and red font and an underline where I especially want the emphasis, so that you can really tell what I’m emphasizing): Accountability is good for you. Friends, if you a serious about your faith; if you really want to honor and please God and set in place bulwarks against sin, your flesh, or the devil getting at you and making shipwreck (to mix metaphors) of your faith entirely, you want to be accountable to your church.

It is absolutely astounding to me how many people I know who in most ways vigorously pursue a Cross-centered life, and yet are unwilling to submit to formal membership so that they can have the benefit of having lifeguards on duty in case they find themselves in an undertow. Obviously, ideally speaking, a member of a church will never face church discipline, and the shepherding ministry of the pastors and elders in their life will always be limited to encouragement, exhortation and guidance.

And, ideally speaking, good swimmers will never find themselves in an undertow, get a cramp, have a wave smash them into a reef, get stung by a devil ray, or get chowed on by a shark. Does that mean we shouldn’t have lifeguards on duty in case the ‘ideal’ is not always the reality?

In fact, the worst thing that could happen to you in the above situations is that you’d drown and die. So what? Church discipline is designed by God to prevent you from living in Hell forever. At some point, it might be helpful to explore what biblical church discipline looks like and what sorts of circumstances it is meant to address, biblically speaking, but this isn’t the place.

Another way to look at it is this: Most churches today do not even try to practice church discipline on regularly attending non-members because of the massive and threatening legal issues. So, for example, you might have pastors and elders who want to practice church discipline on a man who is cheating on his wife, in hopes that it will shake the man from his sin and stupor and save the marriage and the man’s spiritual life, but they hesitate because they cannot afford to open themselves up to a lawsuit that might harm the faithful members of the church.

Don’t put your pastors and elders in that position. Be a joy to pastor (Heb. 13:17).

In every church membership covenant, there needs to be a clause in which the new member gives consent to be disciplined by the church, and then churches need to move people from “regular attender” to formal member for the safeguarding of their soul.

6. You need to submit to your elders and pastor(s).

Ecclesiology (theology of the church) 101: Submit to your elders and pastors. If your pastors and elders, whom God has set in leadership and authority in the church that you “regularly attend” think it is good for you to become a member, why in the world would you hesitate? The rational for refusing to become a member that goes: “I just don’t see what the benefit is,” is incredibly self-centered, arrogant, and rebellious.

Of course, pastors and elders are obviously fallible, and we don’t have a Pope (except, of course, The Pope of New Hope). This isn’t an ecclesiastical dictatorship. So, there is a place for discussion and disagreement and even lay revolt (in the case of egregious moral failure or doctrinal infidelity on the part of the elders or pastors). But if you persistently set yourself in judgment over the judgment of the pastor(s) and elders in something as simple as formal membership, you are sinning.

It is a very, very dangerous thing to rebel against or disregard the authorities God has set over you and must be undertaken very cautiously. I am sobered by what God said about Israel’s rejection of Samuel’s counsel and leadership: “And the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.'”

Once again: Be a joy to pastor. Why would you do something that would make your pastor grumble (Heb. 13:17)?

Now, I’m not so arrogant as to place QED at the end of this post, but I will say that I am more convinced than ever of the crucial importance of church membership, having taking the time to set my thoughts down on… well… a computer screen. Please know that everything I’ve written, I’ve meant for your (and my) good.

I realize that many who read this blog are members or regular attenders of New Hope Church, where I pastor. I primarily have you in mind, because you’re the flock I care about most. If some of this has felt like a shepherd’s staff gently guiding you back into line, I’m glad. If some of it has felt like the rod striking you in the ribs, well, good shepherds also need to do that from time to time.

Soli Deo Gloria,

PB