In 2008 I was a young pastor in Kentucky. It was Sunday after church, and I was having lunch with one of the coolest guys I knew, an undercover narcotic agent. My law enforcement friend (and his girlfriend) had been visiting our church for several months. I knew them well enough to know they both came from “churched” backgrounds, but after several months neither expressed any interest in actually joining our church.
As we ate lunch, I casually asked my friends if they had talked about becoming members of our church. The couple exchanged a glance, then my friend looked at me and asked this question: “Why do we need to actually ‘join’ your church?”
My friend proceeded to remind me of what I already knew. He came regularly and gave faithfully. He wasn’t against church, he just wanted to know why it was important to actually “join” and be an official “member.” Many professing Christians have wrestled with the same question. Why bother with the formality of membership?
I think formal church membership is important. Here are three reasons why you, my undercover narcotic agent friend, his girlfriend, and every other follower of Jesus should “join” a church:
- Acts 2:41 indicates that those who accepted Jesus on the day of Pentecost were “added” to the number of the disciples. Even after Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost, Acts 2:47 indicates that new believers were regularly being “added” to the church. I realize Peter and the gang we’re imputing names into “the official book” or ACS. Nevertheless, there does seem to be something formal taking place. Someone was counting. These new believers weren’t just tallied as conversions. They were also “added” to the fellowship of believers.
- In 1 Corinthians 12 Paul calls the church the “body” of Christ, and he says each “member” has a role to play (hand, foot, eye, ear). If you’re going to use your God given gifts for God’s glory and the good of your church, you need to be a member of a local church. Very few places invite non-members to serve in key leadership rolls. Churches obviously want to make sure the folks they put in leadership agree with their doctrine, vision, and mission. Membership is a key way you express that agreement so that you can serve at church.
- There are several passages in the New Testament that talk about church discipline. Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 5 are without question the clearest passages that speak to this issue. I realize church discipline has largely fallen out of favor today, mostly because we see the practice as hateful and exclusionary. However, church discipline was originally intended to be a means of grace. This practice is only possible for churches that can identify “members” and take official action to exclude those “members” who wander from the faith.