Church Membership: Ministers of the Gospel

Membership-Ministers Church membership has become curiously controversial. I am going to address key issues in four posts:

  1. The Biblical Rationale
  2. Ministers of the Gospel
  3. Gifted for the Body
  4. Submitted and Responsible

Church as a Spectator Sport

We live in the most individualized and customizable culture in the history of the world. Our music has an endless catalogue, our entertainment is available on demand, and we can purchase anything our hearts desire with a point and a click, confident that it will arrive at our doorstep within 48-hours via free shipping. For too many, church has become a spectator sport. People show up to be entertained and encouraged for an hour each week and then move on with the rest of life. We can make time to get there once or twice per month - as long as church attendance doesn't get in the way of this week's game or this weekend's travel plans - and count that as real commitment.

We even call our searches "church shopping". As we shop in the marketplace of churches we evaluate all kinds of things: the style or quality of music, the length of the preaching, the programmatic menu that seeks to cater to our desires, the friendliness of the people, the ease of accessibility and transportation, and on, and on, and on. At its best, it is important to evaluate theological, ecclesiological, and missional alignment before committing to a church. At it's worst, we fall into evaluating a set of goods to see if they will meet our consumeristic needs, only to disconnect from the church body and move on when it gets stale.

There has to be a better approach.

Ministers of the Gospel

One of my favorite practices at Redemption Hill Church is the way we commission new members. After being trained through our membership class, interviewed by Elders, and affirmed into membership in our local body by the members of the church, we gather around the new members to lay hands on them and pray for them as we commission them to be ministers of the gospel in our city. The picture above captures one of these powerful moments in the life of our church. Membership is not just about alignment, it is about unity in mission. Every member of the church is a leader in the church. In the Reformation, this idea was called the "priesthood of all believers."

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. - 1 Peter 2:4-5

God's house is not a physical structure, it is made up of living stones, His people, built on the ultimate cornerstone, Jesus. As we see in the passage above, there is no spiritual class divide between clergy and laity, minister and congregant, priest and parishioner. Jesus, as the ultimate High Priest, made it possible for all who follow Him to have direct access to God (Heb. 4:14-16). Every follower of Christ, then, is called to be a part of His priesthood.

Trained and Released for Ministry

So often we think about these roles only in terms of authority and hierarchy. Jesus reshapes the idea of leadership for the church. A church ought to function as groups of leaders who are equipped to further God's mission in reconciling people to Himself through Christ. Elders are a qualified team of men who lead the church and train people for ministry. Deacons are qualified men and women who are appointed by the elders to carry out ministry. Members are church leaders who give themselves to the advance the gospel of Jesus Christ through their time, talents, prayer, and financial support.

Church leadership ought to be less about hierarchy than it is about  mission. The biblical governance structures turn typical hierarchy on its head. We come together under One Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ (John 10). God calls pastors and elders to equip the people of the church for ministry for the sake of the edification, or building up of the church (Eph. 4:11-12). The New Testament model of leadership places the members on the front lines of ministry, alongside and supported by their pastors and elders. The better-trained members of a church are, the more capable they will be of leading well and engaging in ministry.

On a Mission from God

This is what it means to be "missional". The church must be, at its very core, a missionary body, training and equipping people to live their lives for the sake of the gospel and to the glory of God in their lives. The mission of God is not confined to special facilities, meetings, or days, but invades all of life and every sphere of life as Jesus' Church, made up of His people, scatters each day into their spheres of influence. We gather each Sunday, as Jesus' followers have for nearly 2,000 years, to worship God together and to be reminded of the gospel and equipped to live on Jesus mission in the upcoming week.

This is what makes membership so important, and why we make such a big deal out of membership at RHC. Our gatherings on Sundays are beautiful and essential, but we need to remember that the mission of the church does not end with the benediction. The benediction sends the members of the church out with grace and peace to be ambassadors and ministers of that grace and peace (2 Cor. 5:20-21). We leave our gatherings each week refreshed and unified on mission together. Each member is commissioned as a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Let's get beyond consuming and move forward on Jesus' mission together.