Amy Gannett, a graduate of Moody Bible Institute and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, lives in Fort Collins, Colorado, with her husband and golden retriever. She writes about church history, practical theology, and Christ-focused womanhood on her blog, Word and Craft. You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter @amycategannett.
I went to Bible school and seminary, and I have never been a member of a church. Never.
I always considered myself a member of my childhood church by default of my parents’ membership, but, like my faith at the time, it was never my own. When I moved away to college, the church I attended took membership seriously, and I, as a student, was not to be privileged with membership until after graduation. In grad school, my church approached membership rather casually; I can’t quite remember if I became a member or not, though I have a vague recollection of signing a document one Sunday morning. The conglomeration of these situations has left me confused about church membership, and just a bit apathetic.
Recently, the church we have been attending for the last several months approached us about becoming members. The prospect of a membership class seemed like a dull waste of a Sunday afternoon, and at the same time, raised a tizzy of questions in my mind.
Is membership in a local church necessary? Aren’t we all members of one universal Church? Does local membership, therefore, seem to divide the worldwide Church? On the other hand, living in the West with churches on every corner, allegiances mean something; what would membership say about who we are and what we’re about?
In the discussion that ensued, my husband and I came to three reasons that fueled our decision to become committed members of our local church:
Membership in a local church tells the pastors to shepherd you.
Among the many commands given to pastors and elders, one of the most repeated is to “shepherd the flock of God” (1 Peter 5:2). The task of watching over the souls of his congregation is one for which each pastor will have to give an account to God (Hebrews 13:7).
Historically, the shepherd was an overseer hired by the owner of livestock to care for the sheep in his flock. The shepherd was entrusted to feed and water the flock, to herd it away from danger, and to bring it safely home. Similarly, the call to pastors is to care for God’s people, ensure that they get necessary spiritual nourishment, warn them of spiritual danger, and guide them along their way to their final rest with the Lord (Jeremiah 3:15, 1 Peter 5:1-4, Acts 20:28).
This is a high call to pastors. It is a difficult and labor-intensive task. But the effort required is confounded when a pastor does not know who is a part of his flock. With individuals constantly bouncing from one church to another, how can a pastor know who is in his flock and who is just stopping by? And furthermore, how can he know which individuals he is responsible for before God?
Membership articulates to pastors which people are part of the congregation. Your choice to become a committed part of a local church tells your pastoral team that you are expressly under their care and leadership. Membership has a way of saying, “Hey, I’m here. I’m not going anywhere. I want you to shepherd me.”
Membership in the local church localizes your mission.
I don’t know about you, but I grew up in a church culture where there was a new movement to be passionate about every fifteen minutes. I’m a sucker for a good cause. From digging wells in Africa, to teaching inner-city kids to read, to insisting chickens be allowed to roam the yard. Growing up in the church I quickly fell under the spell of every good cause that came my way.
While fervor for good causes and good works is not a bad thing, when the causes are constantly changing, the engagement is not sustainable. Consequently, my participation in these causes was always short-lived.
Membership in the local church however provides a shared missional focus for individuals to unite in as part of that community of believers (Philippians 2:2, 1 Peter 3:8). Membership gives you a corporate vision to grab hold of, and a people to serve alongside and among. As we join our goals with the goals of our local church, we find a long-term focus for our engagement that lessens the likelihood of being pulled in too many different directions.
Membership in the local church cares for your holiness (Proverbs 27:17, Hebrews 10:24-25).
Community is hard for me.
I have often thought that I would be much holier if I could live like the desert fathers, going away into isolation with nothing to care for but my own prayers and studies. I find that my own sinfulness comes out the most in community. When I’m consistently around other people – and consistently around the same people – my patience is tested and my selfishness is revealed.
Yes, it would be much easier to jump from community to community so that everyone only sees the best parts of me. But when I am consistently in the local body, I will hurt people. I will need to ask forgiveness. I will need to call others to repentance. Life gets much messier, and this messy ground is fertile soil for sanctification.
These are three reasons that my husband and I became covenant members of our local body. What about you? Have you chosen to become members at your local church? Why or why not?