The purpose of this article is not to argue for church membership. I write this firmly believing that formal church membership is scriptural and beneficial, and others have done a much better job than I could at drawing that out that point.
My goal here is to briefly outline a few points as to what a healthy church member should be in the local body of the church.
The first thing that a church member should be is a Christian. I know that this may sound a bit obvious, but there are often many people who are on a church’s membership list because they signed a form when they visited once, or have simply been at the church for several years but have never truly submitted their lives to Christ. I know of one church that considered someone to be a member of their church if the person simply joined the church’s mailing list.
At the end of the day, we cannot truly know someone’s heart fully, but there may be numerous people in our churches who look and act the part but are not true followers of Christ. The point I want to make here is that it is the responsibility of the leadership of the church to have some kind of process in place that allows them to get to know those who join their flock so, that to the best of the pastor’s knowledge, that member’s faith can be affirmed. For those who are not truly saved, this also provides a golden opportunity to lovingly walk alongside them and point them to the gospel that saves.
A healthy church member is someone who is committed to their local church. I know that the idea of commitment these days seems to be a fluid concept, everything from insurance to marriage seems to come with some kind of escape clause. However, there are three things I have in mind here when I think of a healthy church member being committed to their local church.
- Committed to attending: The writer of Hebrews encourages his readers to “not neglect to gather together” (Hebrews 10:25) which appeared to be the practice of some in the church. This is pretty straightforward; a committed church member will faithfully and regularly attend church.
- Committed to good theology: God has gifted the church with those who are called to preach and teach the word. However, as church members, we have a responsibility to be like the Berean’s who, “received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11). Far too many churches are led by preachers who have twisted the scriptures to suit their ends and have been successful because no-one has searched the scriptures to see if what they are saying is true. A healthy church member is someone who goes to the scriptures and searches them, studies God’s word, and is committed to the faithfulness of God’s word, even if that means sitting with leadership and asking them to show you how they got to the point of a specific passage. So much of a church’s health is shaped by the right preaching of God’s word.
- Committed to work and pray for unity: The church is made up of sinners. We are people who have been redeemed by the blood of Christ, but we are not immune to the effects of sin. This can often lead to tension and quarrels among church members. A healthy church member will seek to work and pray for unity (Ephesians 4:3). This means that even when we are perhaps hurt by a fellow church member, we will follow the pattern of Jesus’ instruction, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother” (Matthew 18:15). This passage suggests that there will be times of disagreement, but being a healthy church member means that the goal is reconciliation and unity not just for the sake of unity, but because of what Christ has done for us and because it shows to the outside world that we are disciples of Christ, by the love that we have for one another (John 13:34-35).
A healthy church member is known by the members of the church and knows the members of the church. It’s one thing to attend church regularly but what kind of relationships are you building? Being in a church means that you “get your hands dirty”, as it were. Paul encourages the Roman church to “rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). If you are not getting to know people in the body how will you ever be able to live that out? If you are not known by the body, how will you ever be able to be loved and comforted when you are the one who needs comforting? We are often far too comfortable with being anonymous, but anonymity leads to destruction. A solitary Christian is a vulnerable Christian. “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Knowing and being known isn’t a passive exercise, there needs to be intentionality. It means, at times, going out of our comfort zone, but the outcome is worth it.
A healthy church member is not only known and knows members but seeks to pour into those relationships. Jesus had twelve men that he discipled for three years. Paul discipled Timothy (among others), but the intention here is to build one another up. It is an incredible blessing when more mature believers seek to disciple younger believers, to help them grow up in the faith. But here is the thing, while we seek to be making disciples who go on to make disciples, we ourselves should never stop being a disciple. The most mature Christian still has plenty to learn and plenty to benefit from being poured into. Not only that, but having someone who will encourage, admonish and keep you accountable with the Word of God is a great gift from the Lord (Proverbs 18:24;1 Thessalonians 5:11; 2 Timothy 3:16).
A healthy church member is a contributor. The two areas specifically in mind here are time and money. For many, time has become a precious commodity. We fill our calendars with meetings and appointments. Busyness has become a badge of honour and yet what we actually busy ourselves with carries with it very little eternal value. A healthy church member will seek to manage their time well, where they not only fulfill their work requirements but use their time for the sake of other members. Even if it may mean a sacrifice of some sort, there is far more benefit in visiting a sick church member or praying with a brother or sister than the extra time at the office.
Money is another precious commodity. A healthy church member will contribute cheerfully, generously, and regularly to the support of the ministry, the expenses of the church and the relief of the poor (Luke 12:33; 2 Corinthians 9:7). This shows the world that our hope is not in how much money we have, but in the One who provides for us.
The last point I will make here is this. A healthy church member is an evangelist. They are someone who will go out and tell people the good news of the gospel, who are faithful to live that out and are looking for opportunities to win friends and family to Christ. The great commission is for all believers (Matthew 28:18-20) and being a Christian, being a member of the church means that you will go out and make disciples.
There are many other things that can be included here. As I said, there are faithful men who have written books on this topic. One resource I would highly recommend for further reading is “What is a Healthy Church Member?” by Thabiti Anyabwile (© 2008, Crossway Publishing).
One final thought is this: a healthy church member is not a perfect Christian. There is no such thing. Being a member means you are constantly growing in your spiritual health and seeking to help others grow as well. Being a healthy church member is dependent on Christ just like the rest of the Christian life is, as we live out Hebrews 10:24-25. “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”