This past Saturday I led a group of people through our first membership class (Redeemer Orientation) and I thought I'd share a little about why we have membership, why we continue to use the language of "membership," and how the class is structured. We do church "membership" because we believe it is a healthy way for us to practice what the Bible teaches should be true of a local church. Specifically, formal membership enables us to function as a covenant community characterized by a unified faith, work and discipline. Apart from membership we find that these things are more difficult to maintain.
And yes, we use the term "membership." Some of my friends opt for the term "partnership" instead, believing it has less baggage than "membership." While I don't agree with that assessment, I don't think it's a big deal. We use the term membership for two reasons.
1. The term is biblical (Rom 12; 1 Cor 12; Eph 2:19, 3:6, 4:25, 5:30). Call me nutty, but I like using biblical terms whenever I can. But to be fair, I don't think we have to use the word. Jesus chose not to use the word "Messiah" for himself because of the confusion that was likely to result (there was a lot of cultural/theological baggage attached to that title). He preferred "Son of Man." Concerning joining a church - we just don't believe people who may be averse to the idea of "membership" are comforted or fooled by calling it partnership. Either way people have to join. But if "partnership" works better for another church - that's cool with me. Whatever we call it, the important thing is to practice it well and lead people toward a healthy understanding of life as the church.
2. The concept is biblical. The Bible demonstrates that the church is analogous to many things; the church is likened to a building (1 Cor. 3:9, Eph. 2:21, 2 Cor. 6:16), a body (Rom. 12:4-5, Heb. 12), a flock (1 Peter 5:2), and a family (1 Tim. 3:15. Eph. 1:5). At Redeemer we really favor the idea of church as family - which is another reason we maintain the word "member." I am a member of my family. And when a person joins The Redeemer family, it is less a business partnership, and more of an adoption, or marriage, as we all become members of one household. The family metaphor and membership work against the practice church shopping, and even idea of favoring a church as one might favor a particular Starbucks location because of a particular barista or blend of coffee.
Participating in the Redeemer Orientation is not a promise to seek membership with us, nor is completing the class a guarantee of membership status, but it is a prerequisite for all who seek membership. Our class consists of 3 sessions that happen in one day over the span of 3 hours. That is much shorter than some church's membership process, and a bit longer than others. For us this seems like a good fit. People have been asking for an outline of what we cover so here it is. Just the bullet points, obviously there is much more detail in the class.
Part 1: The Gospel (The Heart of Our Church).
A. The Gospel
1. The gospel is historical (1 Cor. 15:3-7). The life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
2. The gospel is theological. The gospel is the good news that through the cross of Jesus Christ we have the forgiveness of our sins, and the redemption and restoration of all things.
a) Forgiveness, peace with God (Eph. 1:7)
b) Restoration of all things (Col. 1:19, 20)
B. The Gospel and You
1. Conversion: Faith and Repentance (Mk. 1:15)
2. Your identity in Christ (Gal. 2:20)
C. The Gospel and Others
1. A Redeemed Community (1 Peter 2)
2. The church as family (1 Tim. 3:15. Eph. 1:5.)
Part 2: The Church (The Shape of our Church).
A. What is a local church?
A local church is a covenant-community of Christ followers where: The word is rightly preached. The sacraments are rightly administered. The mission of God is shared. The leadership is biblically formed and functioning. The discipline of members is practiced with grace.
2. A healthy church.
3. Healthy church members.
B. Church Distinctives
1. Confessional. A confessional church is a church that is essentially united around a clearly articulated faith. We believe that it is the truth of God that gives birth to the people of God and compels them to move forward on the mission of God.
Confessionally, we are Reformed and baptistic.
2. Missional. A missional church is one that recognizes itself as God’s missionary people to those they live among. This means we do not see ourselves merely as those who send missionaries to other countries, but as missionaries ourselves to a unique time and place (the greater Fox Valley area in the far west suburbs of Chicago in the third millennium). As a missional church we are looking for ways to serve our community with the gospel in word and deed and are seeking to be an active part of God’s redemptive work here in our city.
3. Relational. A relational church is one that sees itself not as a distributor of religious goods and services, but as covenant community, a family, who share their lives, practice hospitality, and live out the missional nature of the church not as individuals but as a peculiar people. It means that relationships are valuable to us, and we strive to develop them both inside and outside of the church.
Part 3: The Mission (The Movement of our Church).
A. Our purpose statement. “to love and serve God and others”
The captures our movement in summary form. It is the essence of God’s law, as well as the proper response to the gospel.
B. Our Paradigm. "The table, the pulpit, and the square."
This is whiteboard time and when we show visually how all the parts of Redeemer are designed to work together. I've blogged on this in the past, but we have tweaked it since then and I may blog on it in the near future.
I have really benefited from reading through other church membership practices. Feel free to share what you do, and have found helpful or problematic concerning membership in the comments.