Why do some people make a big deal about church membership—is it all that important? Does it really make a difference whether I sign a piece of paper or not? Do I get some sort of added perk?
These are the kinds of questions I’ve heard (and sometimes asked) whenever the subject of church membership has come up. Why do we ask them? I suspect it’s because most of us don’t understand the purpose and value of membership.
Then I read I Am a Church Member: Discovering the Attitude that Makes the Difference by Thom Rainer. As president of LifeWay Christian Resources and having served as a pastor, Rainer understands that a healthy church equals healthy church members. This new book offers and explains six commitments of church membership:
- I Will Be a Functioning Church Member
- I Will Be a Unifying Church Member
- I Will Not Let the Church Be About My Preferences and Desires
- I Will Pray for My Church Leaders
- I Will Lead My Family to Be Healthy Church Members
- I Will Treasure Church Membership as a Gift
The strength of this book will be immediately clear to its readers: Rainer is direct, confrontational of wrong attitudes, but extremely pastoral in his approach. He doesn’t take any of his points and shame the reader into some form of begrudging submission. Instead, he challenges us to examine ourselves as we read and commit to being true members of our local churches.
Take, for example, his approach to service. Often we have to cajole people into serving. We have multiple announcements about a particular gap—usually in kid’s ministry—where the need is clearly laid out.
Then, the next week, it’s laid out again. And again.
You get the idea.
Why does this kind of culture exist, where we have to repeatedly ask—and sometimes come close to beg—people to serve in what they consider their church home?
It’s because we don’t understand that a healthy church member is a functional one. “We who are church members are all supposed to function in the church,” he writes. “The concept of an inactive church member is an oxymoron. Biblically, no such church member really exists” (16).
One of the ongoing questions you should ask yourself and God in prayer is: “How can I best serve my church?” You should never ask yourself if you should be serving your church.
In every chapter, even the most active member will likely find something that stirs us to question how we view our roles in the church—are we building up or tearing down? Are we making church about “me” or are we striving to count others above ourselves, putting their needs and preferences ahead of our own? Do we see membership as a gift—and are we teaching our families to value it?
These are important questions and Rainer handles each one exceptionally well.
One thing you won’t find in I Am a Church Member? An appeal to any particular form of church governance. This is important because the relationship of membership to organizational structure (congregational vs elder-led) always needs to put a back seat to the essentials of what membership means. One can easily get so caught up in debates over what form of governance is “better” that we miss the point that structure is help to members’ growth in Christlikeness, not a hindrance.
Although extremely valuable for individual reading, I Am a Church Member is best read in the context of a small group discussion. The questions at the end of each chapter are thoughtful and open-ended enough that you can actually engage in some meaningful dialogue in a group context. Regardless of your role in the church, this is a book you want to read and engage with. If read carefully, it will stretch you in how you view church membership, and you’ll come out the other side better for it.
Title: I Am a Church Member: Discovering the Attitude that Makes the Difference
Author: Thom S. Rainer
Publisher: B&H Publishing Group
Buy it at: Amazon
Courtesy of B&H and Shelton Interactive, today I’m giving away two copies of I Am a Church Member by Thom Rainer. To enter, leave a comment and tell me why church membership matters to you and how this book might contribute to the culture of your church.