Does Church Membership Matter?
If you are a Christian, you should become a member of your local church. Perhaps I’ve already lost some of you by placing a should in that sentence. Why is that? One reason might be that we tend to think of church membership as “not a bad idea, but not all that important.” Fundamentally, in our individualized culture, we believe we have the authority to conduct our Christian lives on our own. Author and Pastor, Jonathan Leeman, outlines examples of the symptoms of this kind of autonomous Christian thinking in his book Church Membership:
- Believing it’s fine to attend a church indefinitely without joining
- Making a perpetual habit of being absent from the church’s gatherings a few Sundays a month or more.
- Making major life decisions (moving, accepting a promotion, choosing a spouse, etc.) without considering the effects of those decisions on the family of relationships in the church or without consulting the wisdom of the church’s pastors and other members.
- Ignoring our responsibility to the spiritual welfare and physical livelihood of the other members of the church. When one mourns, one mourns by themselves. When one rejoices, one rejoices by themselves.
Does this sound like you? I’d be lying if I didn’t say this same desire for autonomy didn’t exist within me as well. This is one of the reasons church membership is so important. It resists the unbiblical idea of Christian autonomy, and communicates a radically different image of relationships than what we see displayed throughout the rest of culture. In church membership we willingly covenant to place ourselves under pastoral authority, and we make the health and welfare of the other members of our church our responsibility.
While a desire for an autonomous and responsibility-free Christian life may be the natural impulse of our hearts, the Bible paints a different picture. Rather than autonomy, scripture emphasizes the importance of loving interdependent service to one another. Consider the words of the apostle Paul in his letter to the church in Philippi.
 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy,  complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.  Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others (Philippians 2:1-4, ESV).
Do you see the picture Paul is painting? He uses phrases like “same mind,” “full accord,” “same love,” and “one mind.” Paul desires for those in the church to be committed to one another in ways that reflect our collective identity in Christ and our participation with the Holy Spirit.
When you become a Christian, you become a part of the universal church and the legacy of believers throughout history. We are to pray for, support as we are able, and work for the good of believers throughout the world. But being part the universal church does not allow for the same types of relationships the apostle Paul articulates in his letters to specific churches.
When you become a member of a church, you are making clear your intent to love and serve the members of that body of believers. You are committing to walk together with them in love and in the unity of the Spirit. You are committing to sharing the gifts and resources God has given you in order to see the local body of Christ flourish. When you become a member of a local church, you are also committing to place yourself under the leadership and authority of that church’s pastors. The book of Hebrews makes this clear:
“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (Heb. 13:17)
If you want to know a specific verse that keeps your pastor up at night, I’d place this one near the top of the list.
Question for you: are pastors responsible for giving an account of every member of the universal church? Hopefully not! If so, there should be a lot of very anxious pastors out there. How about for you? When you became a part of the universal church through your salvation, are you now supposed to submit to and obey every leader? Certainly not! Instead, we are to place the care of our souls under the pastors of a local expression of the universal church. We do this for their joy, and because it is to our own advantage.
Maybe this post has convinced you to take a fresh look at church membership. Maybe not. If you still find yourself ambivalent or averse to becoming a member of a church, ask yourself the following questions:
- If you are not a member of your church, why not? Sometimes we are waiting for the perfect argument to convince us of the importance of membership, but we never stop and ask where our resistance is coming from.
- Is Scripture guiding your thinking in this area, or something else?
- Do you believe being under the authority of the pastors of your church is important? When pastors are told they are to watch over the souls of those under their care, who do you think they are responsible for? Everyone that walks through the doors of the church or only those who belong in some greater sense?
- If you have unresolved questions about church membership, are you willing to talk through them with your pastors?
At Redeemer Church, we believe in the importance of church membership. We believe this knowing there are no explicit commands in scripture for it. There are however clear images, examples, instructions, and commands in Scripture which seem best expressed through covenanting together in church membership. Church membership is for the good of the individual believer, the church body as a whole, and it helps church leaders shepherd the flock God has given them charge over. For these reasons, I hope you will consider becoming a member of your local church.
Redeemer Church is having a two-part class for membership on March 12th and 19th after the 10:30 service (about noon). If you are an attender of Redeemer Church, we hope to see you there!
 Leeman, Jonathan. Church membership: how the world knows who represents Jesus. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012.