What is membership and why does it matter?

1. What is membership?

Why do we believe in membership? Because it’s an idea we clearly find in the Bible. In various places (e.g., 1 Corinthians 12; Romans 12.4-5) we’re told that Christians are ‘members’ of Christ’s body, which means that God has knit his people together in the most profound sense, in the Lord Jesus. To be a ‘member’ in the Bible is not like being a ‘member’ of a sports club. Rather, it means to be a body part of Jesus’ body: he is the head and we are the ‘members’.

Since we belong to God in Jesus, we therefore belong to one another. We are ‘members of one another’. And when it comes to local churches, we find verses like this: ‘shepherd the flock of God that is among you’ (1 Peter 5.2); or ‘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’ (Hebrews 13.17). The point is this: in the Bible, the assumption is that Christians know who their leaders are – i.e., they know who is responsible for shepherding that local church. And leaders know who the flock are; i.e., they know who is a committed member of this church. This is why Paul says to the elders of the church in Ephesus,  ‘Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood’ (Acts 20.28). Putting all this together, we believe in membership since, if we are Christians then we’re describing what we already are – members of Jesus and therefore of one another. And secondly, part of being a healthy church is knowing who are the members.

Perhaps especially in this day and age, having a formal membership protects us from a) falling through the cracks, since everyone knows who the sheep actually are; it protects us b) from individualism, since we are explicitly acknowledging ‘member-ship’, that we belong to one another here at this church, since we are members of Jesus; and c) it protects us from ‘heavy shepherding’, since we are explicitly acknowledging the nature of true church leadership at the same time. The church leaders are explicitly pledging themselves to a standard – a standard which you can and must then hold us to.

So, a clear idea of membership – belonging to one another since we belong to Jesus – is really good for us. We believe healthy Christians will want to be committed members of their local church, and being members of a local church in turn makes you a more healthy Christian.

At GCG we’ve articulated what we believe the Lord Jesus calls pastors, or elders, or overseers (those words are used interchangeably to describe the same office) to do in shepherding a healthy church. And we’ve articulated a summary of what we believe it means to be a healthy church member. We call those two things together our ‘membership covenant’.

The weight of entering into a covenant may be diminished in our culture where promises are made casually and broken vows are the norm. But we use the language intentionally to communicate that membership is to be entered into with sobriety and commitment. This commitment goes two ways. Should you choose to become a member you are acknowledging that you desire to be held to a higher degree of responsibility by church leadership. In choosing to become a member, you are also receiving the promise of counsel, service, support, prayer, Biblical teaching, and guidance from the leadership.

Membership at GCG is not a status symbol or like joining a social club. You don’t get a t-shirt or a parking space. You should not enter into the membership covenant because you’ve been around a while and figure it’s the next step or “something you should do”. Nor should you enter into the membership covenant simply to say, “GCG is my church.” That’s part of it, but membership is more than that. It is an informed commitment to the doctrine and vision of GCG, a willing submission to the leadership of the church, and an intentional embrace of your role in the Body of Christ and the mission of the church.

2. Why commitment is important

No one will ever grow in the church if they leave as soon as things get hard.

GCG is committed to making disciples of Jesus Christ who live out the implications of the Gospel rather than just giving it lip service. This means that we strive to help you grow in maturity and holiness. This means that sometimes you will be challenged by things you hear from the pulpit or from across a table. Sometimes you will be called to step outside of your comfort zone. Sometimes decisions will be made that don’t align with your preferences. You will, inevitably, experience conflict.

Your first inclination may be to bail as soon as you get uncomfortable. Past experience may tell you that the slightest conflict equals the end of relationship. If all you are doing is dating the church, without investment or commitment, you may be tempted to simply move on as soon as the initial fondness starts to fade. After all, there’s another church down the road. But just like in the covenant of marriage, growth happens when we stay true to our commitment, address sin and conflict, and allow ourselves to be challenged and stretched. That’s where sanctification happens. That’s where disciples are made. That’s also where real joy is found.

Pastor Matt Chandler puts it well:

If you view church as some sort of…buffet, then you severely limit the likelihood of your growing into maturity. Growth into godliness can hurt. For instance, as I interact with others in my own local body, my own slothfulness in zeal is exposed, as is my lack of patience, my prayerlessness and my hesitancy to associate with the lowly (Rom. 12:11-16). Yet this interaction also gives me the opportunity to be lovingly confronted by brothers and sisters who are in the trenches with me, as well as a safe place to confess and repent. But when church is just a place you attend without ever joining, like an ecclesiological buffet, you just might consider whether you’re always leaving whenever your heart begins to be exposed by the Spirit, and the real work is beginning to happen.

Matt Chandler, “Is Church Membership Biblical,” 9Marks eJournal, Vol. 8, Issue 3, May/June 2011.

Finally, commitment is necessary because members have an important role to play. The church has a blemished track record of allowing members to become observers and consumers while pastors and staff are looked upon to provide services and “do ministry”. However, at GCG we are committed to equipping members to do the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:12) and to operate in their gifts so that the church grows into a mature, healthy body (Ephesians 4:15-16). Pastors cannot meet every need in the church, nor can they single handedly transform our communities. But a committed, proactive body of disciples of Jesus Christ is a powerful force for the Kingdom. It’s what God desires for us and from us.

For further reading on church membership we recommend: 9 Marks of a Healthy Church, by Mark Dever; What is a healthy church member? by Thabiti Anyabwile; and Church Membership: How the world knows who represents Jesus, by Jonathan Leeman.

3. The membership process

  1. Visit GCG online, or come to a Community Group or Sunday gathering.
  2. Read through our membership materials, (which is what you are reading now).
  3. Arrange to meet with one of the pastors to talk about any questions you have, and to share how God has been at work in your life.
  4. If and when you feel ready to, sign the membership covenant (the pastors will also sign their side, with you).
  5. Join a Community Group (if you haven’t already).