Membership: Serving God and One Another
Actually, the whole idea of membership is not our invention; it has its origin in the Bible itself. It was particularly the apostle Paul who developed this in his epistles. He compared the church to a body consisting of many members. He used this expression, first of all, to show that people are not all the same; they are different. He says that we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others (Romans 12:5). And a few lines later he added that the church members have different gifts (12:6). Paul goes on to mention some of these gifts: serving, teaching, encouraging, giving money to the needy, giving leadership, doing works of mercy.
This list shows that church people contribute to the church in many different ways. It is true that the minister works in the church by teaching the word of God to the congregation, but he is not the only member who has a function. There are also the other members, who have many tasks to fulfil in the church. There are not only leaders in the church, there are also servers, people who faithfully work in all the many functions that must be fulfilled within the congregation. Some contribute with words by encouraging, some contribute by providing in the physical needs of other members and giving money to the needy. Some functions you can take upon yourself, other functions are given to you. But in the body of the church, each member has a place and function
The meaning of the word “membership” has been hollowed out, generally speaking. Today, one can have a membership at a fitness club, where people take care of their own muscles. And one can have a membership at a supermarket, to save up for one’s own financial benefits. It is possible that people see membership of the church in the same way. They ask the leaders of the church: What are the benefits of this “club” for me? And if the club does not offer competitive benefits, they stop paying the dues, and do not show up. Our time encourages a consumer’s attitude to membership. But that is not what membership means in the church. There, membership is by nature participation.
Membership in the church has to do with the fact that the church is like a body with different parts. It means that as a member you are one of a wider group of people who all work together for the same goal. This is first of all visible in the worship services. There we come together to show that we are living members of the church which is the body of Christ. Right at the beginning of the service, we confess that we are powerless in this world, but that we expect our help from the God who made the heavens and the earth. We do not just confess this for our own person, or for our own family. We confess this in and for the community of the church. We tell God with humility that we trust him to protect us as a church community and take care of us. Another part of the service is that we praise him together. How many would continue to praise God of their own, if we did not do it regularly in church? Together we are addressed in the preaching, for all the members of the congregation have the same duty to live before God, and they live in the same world. After having been addressed together we will use this teaching to help us form patterns of godly behaviour in our daily life.
The fact that we are a body, a community, also shows in the fact that we ourselves contribute to it. We not only receive together, we also give. An obviously communal element is the collection in the worship service which, together with the regular contribution, is used to support financially members close by and far away. But that is not the only way of mutual help. In Romans 12, many different ways are mentioned in which we can contribute to one another. The gifts God has given is not the same for everyone. There are different functions. However, it is impossible to be a member and not participate. Paper members cannot exist in the church as a body. You cannot be a member and not participate in the worship service. And you cannot be a member and not involved in congregational activities for others. The body of the church must be alive, and its members active.
Church membership is more than being on the books. Church membership is participating in the community of God’s people by worshipping God and helping one another.