Becoming a Church Member
“The church” is not a building, nor an organisation, but people! The Bible calls the church “The Body of Christ,” made up of all Christians in every age. Anybody who has eternal life is a member of this universal church. The church is the Family of all who have God as their Father.
But the Bible also uses the word “church” to refer to a local group of Christians meeting in a particular place. A true Christian will want to show he or she is a part of the universal church by belonging to a local church. Being a Christian but not belonging to any church would be like trying to be a football player without being part of a team!
We misunderstand what “church membership” means if we think of it in the much weaker and more remote meaning of membership used in organisations and clubs. Being a “member” of the church is like being a “family member” or “member of an orchestra” or “member of a football team”. Membership is not about status but participation.
Christians express their faith in several ways. As part of their discipleship, believers should plan to worship every week. Meaningful worship and regular Bible teaching are vital to the spiritual health of every believer. Communion especially is an expression of belonging as well as the greatest opportunity to receive the blessing of God, and it is good to plan to receive Communion at least once a month. Housebound members may take Communion at home at their request.
The principal occasions for fellowship and pastoral care are the midweek Home Groups and prayer meetings. Christians should expect to play an active part in such groups unless this is totally impractical. Corporate prayer is at the heart of the life of any church, and the church is more of a family in these smaller gatherings than it can be in larger meetings.
Christians are ambassadors for Christ and also for the church. Each of us should be active and enthusiastic in sharing our faith with neighbours and friends. Most Christians would also expect to find a practical or pastoral task which is their sphere of service within their local church, and would want to give as generously as they are able to support Christian work.
The Church Membership List
Every Christian who is taking an active part in the life of North Springfield Baptist Church in the kinds of ways listed above, as far as they are able, already belongs to the church. In Bible terms all are valued members of the church. But as well as a spiritual body, North Springfield Baptist Church is also a human organisation and a legal entity. And for these purposes the church, like all other Baptist churches, is obliged to have a formal list of members. In church business when we refer to “Church Membership” we actually have to be concerned with that group of people whose names are on the church Membership List.
Some denominations organise themselves so the church is an institution with an identity of its own. Someone can still “belong” to such an organisation, perhaps after infant baptism or confirmation, even if they never participate in worship or other activities. But the Bible leads Baptist Churches to believe that any local church should be a “gathered” community of individuals who themselves must be active Christians, joined together by their commitment to each other. Each local church is only the sum of its members, with no hierarchy of Bishops or Moderators above it. So each Baptist congregation operates entirely independently to manage its activities as God may direct.
In Baptist churches important decisions are not made by the minister or elders or deacons alone, but by the whole church. So the Church Meeting decides everything, from the kinds of services the church has, to how to maintain the premises, to choosing a new minister. In order to ensure that it is only active Christians who are committed to the church who share in this decision making, all Baptist churches operate a Membership List.
Leaders of church activities can only be appointed from among the people who are on the Membership List because only they have the legal authority to act on behalf of the church. Equally, only people on the Membership List of the Church can make decisions about how the church money is spent.
Ideally the Church Membership List will include all the Christians who are actively involved in the life of the church, so they all can share in the decisions and play a full part in all activities. Most Baptist churches do have a number of committed Christians who have not yet “joined the church” in the formal sense of being added to the Membership List. Some may have come from churches which organise themselves differently and may not understand how “Church Membership” in Baptist churches works. Others may have been with us for many years and (we hope) feel entirely at home and feel that they already belong to the church.
Applying to join the Church Membership List is a very simple process. People wishing to become “a church member” initially approach the Minister (or in his absence the Church Secretary). If the person is a new Christian or has not belonged to a Baptist church before, they may have further discussions to make sure they understand the meaning of belonging to the church. Two existing members are then appointed as `Visitors’. Their task is to get to know the person applying for membership, both to welcome them and to confirm that they are genuine believers. At the next Church Members Meeting the Minister and the Visitors jointly recommend the prospective Member to the church. The existing members then make a decision to allow the person to join the Membership List and the new Member is welcomed into the Church at the next convenient Communion Service.
The Meaning of Church Membership
Being a Christian is not just a private and personal thing. Our Christian lives should not normally be lived out in isolation but in the fellowship of the church. The church is the community of disciples. If we want to be faithful disciples of Jesus Christ we will express our discipleship by belonging to a church.
“The church” is not a building. The church is not an organisation. The church is a group of people! The Bible says the church is “The Body of Christ”, made up of all Christians in every age. Even if they never meet up with any other Christians, anybody who has eternal life IS a member of this invisible universal church. The church is the Family made up of everybody who has a personal relationship with God as their Father.
But the Bible also uses the word “church” to refer to a local group of Christians meeting in a particular place, a local congregation. All true Christians will want to show they belong to the universal church by playing their part in a local church. Being a Christian but not belonging to any local church really would be like trying to be a football player without being part of a team!
We can easily misunderstand the ideas of “belonging to a church” or “church membership” if we think of it in the weak remote sense of membership you find used in some secular organisations and clubs. Some people treat being a member of a church just like being a member of the RAC or the AA – pay your subscriptions once a year and you can call the church out to help as often as you like. But belonging to a church is much more like being a member of a family or a member of an orchestra or a member of a football team. Belonging to a church is not a matter of privileges but of participation. It’s not about what we can receive but what we can give and what we can accomplish together.
We are all different in the time and energy we are able to devote to church life. But every Christian who is taking an active part as far as they are able in the worship and fellowship and witness of north Springfield Baptist Church belongs to this church. Even if your name is not yet on the membership list, even if you are not formally a member of that human legal organisation called north Springfield Baptist Church, we hope you feel at home here. If you are playing your part in the life of the church then you belong to the church. In Bible terms all Christians are members of that part of Christ’s body which meets here, all are valued members of the church. That’s the way it should be in God’s perfect plan. That’s the way it needs to be!
Billy Graham said, “Christians are like coals in a fire. When they cling together, they keep the flame burning brightly; when they separate, they die out.” We need each other as Christians – we need the church!
Belonging to any church brings us many blessings. There are the blessings of sharing in the church’s worship and fellowship and witness. There are the blessings of receiving teaching and pastoral care.
But belonging to a church also implies commitment to the church and its activities by loyal attendance (not only on Sundays!) and by giving time, talents and financial support to that church. True belonging brings both blessings and obligations. The list below helps us think through what our obligations are if we belong to a church.
Responsibilities of Belonging to the Church
1. To follow Jesus Christ wholeheartedly, open to His encouragement, leading and discipline through His church.
We all need other Christians to help us in our discipleship, to encourage us but also to challenge us and steer us in the right direction sometimes.
2. To seek to grow in Christian discipleship day by day in your relationship with God, in personal holiness and in understanding of the faith. (Micah 6:8.)
The Bible and the Holy Spirit can teach us individually about Jesus, but God’s plan is that we should learn from other Christians. We all need the church to teach us through sermons, Bible Studies, Home Groups and other meetings. A Christian who wants to grow will look for Bible teaching mid-week, not just once a week on Sundays. We have much to learn too about faith from the experiences of other Christians.
3. To seek to witness by words and lifestyle to all that Jesus Christ has done and is doing in your life.
(Matthew 28:18-20 , Acts 1:8.)
Christians are ambassadors for Christ and also for the church. Each of us should be active and enthusiastic in sharing our faith with neighbours and friends in any ways we possibly can.
4. To be as regular as possible at worship (especially communion), church meetings and other church events.
There are a number of ways in which Christians should express their faith. Meaningful worship and regular Bible teaching are vital to the spiritual health of every believer. Sharing regularly in praise and prayer with other believers can be one of the most uplifting experiences in the Christian life. Communion especially is an expression of belonging as well as the greatest opportunity to receive the blessing of God. It’s good to plan to receive Communion at least once a month, but Christians should also surely plan to be at worship every week. The issue here is not taste or convenience but discipleship.
5. To pray faithfully for the life and work of the church and for World Mission. (Matthew 18:19-20)
Prayer is at the heart of the Christian life. Some members of the fellowship may find it difficult or impossible to attend meetings, or even to get to services. For a variety of very good reasons, at different stages of life, some Christians are not be available to play an active part in the church in any areas of service or witness. But EVERY Christian can support the church in prayer, and almost all could arrange to meet with one or two others, say in a prayer triplet, on a regular basis to pray for the life and work of the church. Praying together is at the heart of the life of any church.
6. To play a loving and loyal part in the fellowship, caring for others, sharing freely and bearing each other’s burdens. (Acts 2:42-47, Galatians 6:1-2)
The principal occasions for fellowship and pastoral care are the midweek Home Groups and Prayer Meetings. The church is more of a family in these smaller gatherings than it can be in larger meetings.
As members of God’s family we can share our Christian lives with brothers and sisters. We can share our joys and sorrows, questions and doubts, needs and problems, with others and we can all be used by God to help each other grow as Christians. As we share our lives together, care for others and bear one another’s burdens, so we obey Christ’s New Commandment to love one another as He loved us (John 13:34-35). So we should make time to get to know other Christians and talk, study and pray in small informal groups so that we can grow together. For most Christians belonging to a HOME GROUP will be very important.
7. To serve God in practical ways in the church and in the world using the skills, abilities and spiritual gifts He has given. (Romans 12:4-8)
Most Christians would also expect to find a practical or pastoral task which is their sphere of service within their local church and we discover our ways of serving God through the church. It is here that our spiritual gifts can be recognised and developed. We can learn to serve God and the church best in a loving atmosphere with the help and guidance of older Christians.
8. To give sacrificially to God to support the church and Christian work. (2 Corinthians 8:2-4, 7)
“The New Testament does not envisage solitary religion; some kind of regular assembly for worship and instruction is everywhere taken for granted. So we must be regular practicing members of the church. Of course we differ in temperament. Some (like you—and me) find it more natural to approach God in solitude; but we must go to church as well. For the church is not a human society of people united by their natural affinities, but the body of Christ, in which all members, however different (and he rejoices in their differences and by no means wishes to iron them out) must share the common life, complementing and helping one another precisely by their differences.” (C. S. Lewis)
If you would be interested in joining the Membership List of North Springfield Baptist Church do please speak to Rev Peter Thomas