Well-defined words are necessary in any organization. Good leaders, then, are the protectors of words. In the church, there are many words worth protecting. Big words like substitution, atonement, redemption and deity need to be protected. And, although they may not seem as critical, we will find that words like membership, leadership and discipleship need protection as well.
We're not talking about what happens after taking a class a church and signing a commitment form. That is one expression of membership but membership is more fundamental. The root word "member" represents a part of something greater (like a body). A membership is a cohesive collection of parts that form a whole. This membership comes together under one head, for a common identity and purpose. Paul's letters to the Corinthians, Colossians and Ephesians provide examples of New Testament membership:
But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. (1 Corinthians 12.24–27)Note the radical descriptions of loyal commitment in these passages. Christians are to be gentle and patient, bearing with one another in love, forgiving one another, living in perfect harmony and eager to maintain unity. Members value, protect, serve and pray for each other in times of hardship and in plenty. Biblical membership does not part ways easily. Members tough it out, working to preserve unity because they have one Lord. New Testament membership is a group of people committed to one another under the authority Christ. When you hear "membership", think commitment.
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. (Colossians 3.12–15 ESV)
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4.1–6 ESV)
It is impossible to maintain this kind of commitment with hundreds of people. Therefore, in a large church, smaller groups must become the practical expression of that membership. New Testament membership includes a flesh-on-flesh commitment that local church membership (which is necessary) does not ensure.
Right now you are either thinking of the people in your "membership" or you are feeling an ache for membership. If you have it value it and participate in it. If you are alone, become a member. It is an essential component to being Christian. And, yet, it is not the only component. To find the fullness of Christ, members must be led and they must experience discipleship. In the next two days, we will work to define our remaining terms; leadership and discipleship.
Leadership Training on February 16th