As many people have said before me, divorce has become so commonplace that pretty much everyone expects to get divorced at some point in their life. Those who were willing to enter into a covenantal with each other seem all to ready to break that covenant as soon as things get more slightly more difficult. I fear in our attempt to chase after the ever elusive “easy life” we have done away with hard work and commitment to anything. We don’t want to be unnecessarily tied down to one place (which is why so many people my age either don’t work or work at Starbucks). We don’t want to be accountable to anyone (which is why so many people jump around from job to job). And we feel like we don’t need anyone else around us to help us through life (which is why we don’t get involved in a church). And for those that do get involved in a church, they typically remain only as long as that church agrees with them without expecting too much from them (which is why people refuse to become members of a church). I worry that the divorce culture has entered in to the culture of the church, and at the drop of a hat, we are willing to divorce ourselves from the church that we have committed ourselves to.
One of the first questions to ask is why do we even have church membership? Is there a difference between being a member and just going to a church? In a word, yes. Kevin DeYoung has an excellent post about it at his church’s website, but he boils it down to 5 basic points:
- You make a visible declaration of your commitment to Christ and his people.
- It’s counter-cultural to make a decision and actually stick with something.
- It helps us to keep accountable.
- It helps those in church leadership to better know how to help you.
- It gives you an opportunity to make a promise.
The last point is the one that people seem to take far too carelessly.
When someone commits to a church, that are committing to grow, serve, give and contribute to the life of the church for better or for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, from this day forward until death do us part. If you’ve ever been to wedding before, that last part should sound familiar to you. Similarly to enter into a wedding covenant, entering into a church membership covenant isn’t something that should be taken lightly. With all the divorce happening in the culture around us, we should be even more adamant about sticking to our commitments. Yet I’ve found already in my 2 years of ministry that people take church membership far too lightly. We often have trouble getting a quorum at our annual meetings, some members have left the church instead of sticking around and working things out, and some people who are members don’t even come to church! I think it’s time for those who are in the church to make a commitment to their church and be willing to stick with them no matter what happens!
Does this mean there’s never an appropriate time to leave a church? Absolutely not. Just as in a marriage, there are times where you should not stay married (unfaithfulness, abuse). If a church begins to teach things contrary to Scripture, don’t stay there! But if it’s simply because you don’t like someone or something in the church, then stick around and make it better. The church isn’t meant to be full of consumers, but givers. What’s the last thing you’ve done that has given back to your church? In his book ‘What is a Healthy Church Member?‘, Thabiti Anyabwile says, “The health of the local church depends on the willingness of its members to inspect their hearts, correct their thinking, and apply their hands to the work of the ministry.” If we had more people who were willing to do that, I think we would have much healthier churches who are on mission for Christ and living “in complete harmony with each other, as is fitting for followers of Christ Jesus” (Romans 15:5). So find a good church, get plugged in, become a member and be willing to work through whatever comes with them. If you can’t find such a church, maybe it’s time for you to start making a difference in the church you’re already in. If something isn’t working like it should, maybe, just maybe God has brought you to that church to help promote a healthy, Christ-centered church.
“Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it”
-1 Corinthians 12:27
If you’d like to learn more about this I’d suggest checking out the following books: