Sunday, August 28, 2016

Church Membership and Costly Discipleship, Part One

Pastor Jim Cymbala describes church membership:

When you are a member of a local assembly, you have to ask yourself, “Why did he send me here?” It’s not about sitting in a pew once or twice a week. The American concept of just “go to church on Sunday and be a spectator” is erroneous. The Bible teaches that every Christian is a part of the body of Christ. Just as the different parts of an athlete’s body are coordinated to bring about strength and fruit when the athlete competes in some event such the Olympic Games, we are all members of one body: the body of Christ, which is the Church. Because of that, we all have to work together.

God sent you to a particular church because your gifts, talents, prayers, and support are needed in that local assembly. There are ministries in which you need to get involved. Do you have a gift of teaching children? Do you love to sing? Are you a people person who loves to greet people? All those are gifts that are needed in any local church. You should serve somewhere and in some capacity; you don’t want to just put in time at church on Sunday.

Many pastors and church-health authors have written in recent years about the modern phenomenon in our church culture of Christians shying away from costly discipleship.  

Today America and the church are deeply affected by a consumer-oriented mentality.  We make decisions based on our happiness and preferences.  We want to be served rather than make the sacrifices to serve others.  We want to go to the church buffet line and be fed rather than ask, “How can we feed others?”
We have probably rarely heard a family say, “We are choosing a church based on how we can best use our lives to glorify God, serve others, and benefit the kingdom.”

Thom Rainer writes that "churches largely catered to the needs of church members in the 1980s. We thus created a culture of membership that is me-driven. Many church members do not want to make the sacrifices necessary to reach our communities and culture today. They are demanding their own needs and preferences to be the priority of their churches."

When my wife and I made the decision to be a part of starting a church a few years ago, we knew that there would be sacrifices.  We knew our children would not have the bells and whistles, the ease and thrills, and the hand-it-on-a silver platter ministry of a large church.

However, we knew that our goal for our three children was that when they were forty or fifty-year old adults they would be fruit-bearing disciples of Jesus Christ.  And there are really only a few ingredients necessary for that outcome - things like prayer, the Word of God, fellowship with godly people, and discipleship.

We considered that if God had sent us to a remote location as missionaries, our kids would not have the bells and whistles of many white, middle-to-upper class, suburban churches anyway.  We would have to dig in, trust God, make sacrifices, and rely on the things of the early church: they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to the prayers (Acts 2:42).

An older pastor I deeply respect who has pastored the same congregation for 30+ years told me several years ago,  

You know, Rhett, when we came to our church, there were about twenty people.  Our children were the only children.  Anything we did at church, my children had to be a part of making happen.  They served right alongside of us.  Now as I look back decades later, they did not miss a thing that was important.  Today they are all leaders, they are all walking with God, they are all servants, and they can all stand up and speak in front of a group.  I believe they developed into servant-leaders because they did not have everything catered to them.  They had to learn to serve.

For my wife, she knew that part of the sacrifice would involve making things happen.  She would not have the luxury of looking around and thinking, "Oh, someone else will do that."  So, she has faithfully made things happen, including teaching children Bible classes and directing Vacation Bible School.  

She hasn't done that because she was the pastor's wife.  She did it because she has children, she believes Jesus wants her to serve through her local church, she wants to reach people beyond our family, and she knows the only way for a church to work is if people serve.

This article continues in Church Membership and Costly Discipleship, Part Two.

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