Saturday, June 21, 2014

Beyond Membership - Part 3

Part 1 succinctly defined the notion of church. Part 2 provided three of Jesus' statements as to His involvement as well as His expectations for His church. Here, we must consider our response to those three statements. So, how do we respond?

Nearly two years ago, I did a series on the Kingdom of God based on the Kingdom parables in Matthew 13. That series was the launch point for a strategy based on the acrostic JOURNEY. (The blog was started later and has few, if any, direct references to Matthew 13. You can find the links here for JourneyKingdomJ-JesusO-ObserveU-Unite (1)U - Unite (2)R - RevereN - NurtureE - EvokeY - You).  The idea was that we are all on a JOURNEY individually, and collectively. Our destination is not church. Our destination is the Kingdom. The Church is God's tool to lead people to the Kingdom. I mentioned earlier that the word for church is used 3 times in the Gospels – all in Matthew. The word Kingdom is used over 120 times in the Gospels.

The reality is that too many people today are worried about being a member of a church instead of being a member in God's Kingdom.

To keep it simple, three levels of involvement may be found at most in most churches. These three levels are fellowship (relational), membership (commitment), and discipleship (determined).

Most everyone wants to feel accepted - to belong. This is the fellowship aspect. Some are willing to get involved and commit to a local gathering. Few are willing to go to die to self in order to truly be a disciple. Yet, this is what Jesus desired - "Follow me." Unfortunately, in our world today, the committed (members) are less and less committed. Also, church leaders (self-included) generally tend to make disciples out of those who are already members. While there is nothing wrong with this approach, it does not need to be this way. In fact, it wasn't for Jesus!

Yet, it must also be understood that these three levels are not mutually exclusive. Some might wish to diagram the words as:

Fellowship  VS  Membership  VS  Discipleship

Yet, a better model might be:
Fellowship  →  Membership  →  Discipleship

But, ideally, the model should be:
Fellowship  ↔  Membership  ↔  Discipleship

This series of posts is not to refute church membership. It is meant to stir the idea that being a member of a church is more than just a concept, it is natural because of who we are in Christ. And yet, as argued above, membership is just one aspect of discipleship - which is the ultimate goal of Christ for our lives. We can be members of a church without being a disciple, but we cannot be a disciple without being in fellowship with other believers which effectively makes us members of a church.

True members are in fellowship with one another, are committed to one another, and help to disciple one another. Unfortunately, for many in today's world where independence reigns supreme, people don't want this level of involvement, and therefore not only turn away from discipleship and membership, but often turn away from the fellowship as well. However, it has been said that the New Testament knows nothing of a Christian who is not a part of a local church.

Certainly, Jesus was concerned about unity (John 17.11, 20). Jesus modeled life so others could also model for others (see Paul, 1 Cor 11.1). These men and women learned what it meant to follow Him, so that eventually they could lead others. The early church wasn't about membership so much as was about community. People wanted to be in community with one another. Today, people are often defined by the organizations to which they support (whether good or bad), and some people just want their name affiliated with something. I am a member of the xxx. Yet, almost any organization has more stringent requirements (at least annual dues) than most churches expect from their "members".

Again the reality is that fellowship, membership, and discipleship are all interwoven (or should be). To live this out effectively we should serve as members of God's Kingdom whether we are "in church" or "in the world". The truth is that God created (formed) each and every one of us. Yet, it is not about us at all. It is all about Jesus. Our JOURNEY is ultimately about Jesus - or finding our place in the midst of His Kingdom. It is about Him calling us out - from ourselves, so that we might do His work. Jesus has a plan. In fact, it is not just the master plan, it is the Master's plan. His plan involves the church. The church is the tool to build His Kingdom (Mt 16.18). But we, as a church, must choose more than membership. We must choose Jesus.

We must choose to follow Him (Mt 4.19) so that we may later Go, make disciples (Mt 28.19). He has created us with certain talents, skills, gifts, passions, etc. but now He wants to refine them so that they may be fully used for His glory.

Has God chosen you? Has God said to you, "Follow Me." If so, respond by choosing Him. Then learn all you can, live what you learn, learn to love what you live, and lead others to do the same. He will be with you all the way (Mt 28.20).

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