I am increasingly convinced that the “me-centeredness” that is so prevalent in our church culture is in large part due to a deficient understanding of the church, its nature and essence.
Imagine this situation: a couple starts coming to the church. They enjoy the music. They like the sermons. After a few months, maybe a year, the pastor comes to them and starts talking to them about joining the church. Politely, the couple declines. So the pastor or church leader begins to throw out some programs to entice them: “Look what we have to offer you, your family, and your marriage.” Quietly, the couple decides they have had enough, and they slip away to another church where they can be a little more anonymous.
Then imagine that one day they actually decide to join the church. They have kids, and they think, “We want our kids to grow up in church. We’re going to become members of the church for the sake of the kids.” So they join. However, they can hardly be described as a couple with a wholehearted commitment to the church.
That scenario has played out in thousands upon thousands of instances all across our culture, particularly in the Southeastern United States. The question I want to ask this morning is, Why is that the situation? Why are so many people content to attend a church but not ever take the step to become a member and actually join together with that church? Or, in some cases, Why are so many people content to be a members, but with only a casual (and not wholehearted) commitment to the church? Consider a few likely factors.
Undoubtedly, part of our casual commitment to the church has to do with a commitment-phobia in our culture today. It’s a byproduct of consumerism. As consumers, we shop around for the best bargain at the lowest price. That affects the way we look at church.
We are a people who are self-sufficient and self-reliant. We talk a lot about self-esteem and self-worth. Therefore, the idea of mutual submission to other people or accountability to other people almost seems a little weird. It may be uncomfortable. It may even be a dangerous concept for us to get involved in.
Getting Burned by the Church
Some of the blame falls to certain people in the church. Many Christians have been hurt or burned by the church. As a result, they are incredibly resistant to joining the church.
Bad Teaching by the Church
Finally, on the whole, we’ve done a pretty lousy job educating people what the church is supposed to be about according to Scripture. We haven’t attached a lot of meaning to what it means to be a member of the church. Have you ever wondered how a church can have two hundred members while only about fifty or sixty people show up on Sunday morning? Or another church might have five or six thousand members, but only about three thousand come to corporate worship on Sunday morning. That is a lot of people sick in one day!
So what does it mean to be a member of the church? Why should I be a member of the church? Other than getting to vote at a business meeting, is there anything else involved in being a member of the church? Is membership in the church even something that Scripture tells us to do? After all, you never see the word “membership” mentioned in the Bible. The Bible never tells us to have membership procedures or to keep membership rolls in the church. So is this just some legalistic tradition we have added on to Christianity that makes the whole thing a lot more complex than it is supposed to be?
For more, go here as David Platt teaches about what it means to be a church member from Ephesians 4.
This post is adapted from David Platt’s message titled, “The Biblical Marks of a Local Church.”
David Platt is the president of the International Mission Board (IMB) and founder of Radical. He is the author of several books, including Radical, Follow Me, and Counter Culture.