1st Corinthians 12:12 The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ.
I live in Franklin, TN. It is a very churched town. There are big churches and small churches. There are seeker-sensitive churches. There are confessional churches. High church. Low church. Mega churches. Family churches. You get the picture. I once heard that Franklin Road has the most churches on it than any other road in America. Granted Franklin Road is a really long road going from south of Franklin up to Nashville, but it sounds really impressive when you’re showing people around town pointing out Brentwood Baptist, Clearview Baptist, Fellowship Bible Church, Brentwood United Methodist, and Church of the City.
I love how many churches there are here. I love that we can all work together for the common goal of proclaiming the name of Jesus in our town.
But I hate the revolving door.
People will go from church to church (transfer growth). And when you add the consumeristic tendencies within all of us, we can easily church shop and go to a different church each week of the year until we find the right one that meets our needs. (If you haven’t seen it already, John Crist has an amazing video on this concept).
One of the ways that we can work against this revolving door is actually allowing a person to make a declaration of membership, of belonging, to the church. I’m honestly not sure how many churches do membership in our area, but I know that our church hasn’t ever done formal membership. Probably because whenever we mention membership, someone squirms thinking about it being some kind of exclusive club. And to be honest, I’m not a huge fan of membership that looks that way. I don’t ever want to be a part of an organization that excludes others.
But church membership is the language used throughout the New Testament. Paul writes that we are a part of the body of Christ. Later in 1st Corinthians 12, Paul speaks about hands and feet (literal members of the body). There is an interconnectedness. Paul was writing against individualism in the 1st Century, and it’s something that we’re still seeing in our own culture. When we say yes to Jesus, we’re grafted into the family of God. The 3rd Century church father Cyprian had it right: there is no salvation outside the church, because God is saving a people for his name, not a miscellaneous, unconnected set of individuals.
We might be scared of being a member of a church because it infringes upon our personal space, but if that’s actually a huge fear of yours, maybe this whole church thing might not be for you. Throughout the New Testament, the picture we have of the early church is one of sharing, emptying, pouring out, praying corporately, togetherness, etc. It’s all community driven. It’s loving the other and loving the Wholly/Holy Other.
We don’t really do community well in our modern context. There is such a huge emphasis on the individual, on what you can achieve with a little hard work. Even with social media, which is supposed to create connection, we end up using it to boost our brand (and hide our own insecurities). To quote Kendrick Lamar, “I love myself.” We’re so individually focused…
This might be a little harsh, but I actually think that watching sermons online instead of getting out of your house to go to church isn’t church. There’s no such thing as Bedside Baptist. The church is a people, and if you’re watching from a distance in the safety of your own home, then it’s not really church. You can absolutely watch sermons and listen to worship music on your own, but the church experience is one of being together with other followers.
The day that we corporately do church, Sunday, is when we all come together to bring our little flames together to build a great big one. We might have big flames to bring, or small ones, but we’re all coming together to make an amazing bonfire.
Which leads me to my second point of why it’s important for us to belong to a church. We can’t do life alone. Depression really wears me out. There are times when I don’t have the emotional energy to be around anyone at all. And I definitely believe that I need to create space for myself to just be and to recharge, but if I constantly cut myself off from people then I’m cutting myself off from the possibility to receive prayer. There are countless verses in the New Testament that speak on receiving prayer from the elders if you’re sick. Being a part of a church allows you to receive prayer, and it also allows you to reciprocate.
This is the importance of community. We get to pray for one another, be with one another, and ultimately bring each other into the presence of the One that truly cares about our pains and hurts.
And finally, we need membership because if we’re truly honest we’re all pretty lazy. Think about your exercise routine (if you have one). How much easier is it to exercise when you’re doing it with other people? Some of the best exercise programs going on right now (Iron Tribe, Orange Theory, Cross Fit) are groups of people working out together. They’re pushing one another to reach their goals, and if they stick with it, they’ll probably reach those goals. This is the beauty of positive peer pressure.
When you’ve committed to a church, you’ll find that the church will be committed to you as well. People will pour into you as you pour into them.
Make your decision to join a church, whatever church that is, and love it well. The church might have a lot of flaws, and there might be a better church down the street. But you’ll find something wrong with that church eventually.
There is no perfect church. But we all serve the Perfect One. Be a member. You belong here. Or there. Wherever it is, you belong.
P.S. I have never once been a member of a church…but I think I get a pass since I was a pastor’s kid