Partnership at The Gathering
Session 4: Our Partnership Commitment
The difference between “attenders” and “partners” can be summed up in one word: Commitment.
You cannot find a chapter and verse in the Bible for “formal membership.” But the concept is alive and well. The principles are solid. At The Gathering we recognize the need for a formal partnership or membership. We ask you to commit to partnership for several good reasons.
Why then do we have membership? Because regardless of how the culture sees it or Christians misunderstand it, membership is not simply an opportunity to say, I’m a part of a club, but rather a scriptural expression of covenant connectedness to a church.
These things that help us understand why church membership is biblical and important.
1. Membership Reflects What the Church Is.
First, membership is a reflection of the organic community already existing in the body. Paul says we are a body. Can one part say to the other, “I’m not part of you”? No, it is already a part. But too often we live as if we are separated.
As a matter of fact, too many churches or Christian gatherings look like piles of dismembered body parts, not a body knit together as God’s agent, his body, his kingdom, at work in the world. To reject the value of membership is to deny what God has already established in fact.
2. The Bible Teaches Covenant Community.
We find in Paul’s letters to the church at Corinth that they were putting people out of the body. So Scripture teaches that we can be a part of the body, and we can be apart from the body. It is difficult to get around Scripture when it talks about being brought into the body and also being put out of it.
And yet for most churches there’s no way to put somebody out because they’re not even in. While there seems to be flexibility according to various bodies, there is no such thing in the New Testament as a church without some recognition of belonging—of membership in community.
People need membership commitment because they need to be connected to a Christian community.
3. People Need Church Membership.
Finally, we recognize biblical membership matters because people need it. People need membership commitment because they need to be connected to a Christian community. This is not just for the sake of the faith community, but also for the sake of the individual.
Individualist Christianity is a myth and a damaging pursuit. At the end of the day we’re redeemed. We’re placed in the body. The Bible specifically says he has redeemed us. He has transferred us, Colossians 1 says, from the domain of darkness into the kingdom of the Son he loves. A kingdom has a king. The king has subjects and his kingdom has a community together where we function as God’s people.
Membership is spiritually catalytic. We have discovered that stepping into “formal” membership in a local church has the potential to move people from good intentions as individual followers of Jesus to committed participation in the body of Christ. Membership can be one significant step in someone’s lifelong spiritual journey. It can lead them toward intimacy with Christ, integrity in community and intentionality for ministry.
God makes us a part of his larger family when we are born again. But then we should covenant in a local body and live in community with them, agreeing to live by certain established godly principles and standards.
Membership doesn’t save us. But it enables us to grow and become spiritually mature in Christ. Not only should we be members of the body, each of us should also be able to express the value of membership. Hopefully, then people will stop squirming when we bring up the topic, but instead passionately embrace the biblical nature of church membership.
4. Membership Is Biblical.
Beginning in the early church – in the book of Acts – we see groups of believers gathering all around Jerusalem and the Mediterranean. The church at Antioch, Ephesus, Philippi, Corinth, Rome, and Galatia are all examples. We also see the Apostle Paul using the metaphor of a body with parts or members to describe what the church – the body of Christ – is like in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12.
For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.
While “formal” membership is not specifically addressed in the Bible, the concept and value behind it definitely are.
5. Membership fosters Accountability.
As a church, we’ve discovered that membership leads to mutual accountability between those who are part of this community and the leadership of this church.
Three verses that speak to this are:
Ephesians 4:13 – talks about the equipping role of church leaders to the body
Galatians 6:10 – talks about the responsibility to always demonstrate love, especially to the “family of believers”
Hebrews 13:17 – talks about the relationship between God’s people and the leaders of the church who will be held accountable
When we step into “membership” – we vow to one another that we will stick things out even when the going gets tough, both personally and as a church.