Church membership is not optional. It is a must for every Christian to find, join, and submit oneself to a local church. But once you do join a church, what are your responsibilities?
In his book Nine Marks of a Healthy Church (I have the 2nd edition, not the third, so he may have updated this) Mark Dever promotes the following five responsibilities for every church member at his church: attend services regularly, attend communion particularly, attend members’ meetings consistently, pray regularly, and give regularly (pg. 161).
This is a good start. No doubt you can easily come up with a list of 20 or 30 or 40 responsibilities for every church member, so this list should not be seen as comprehensive or exhaustive. And your understanding of what a church member is supposed to be doing will vary depending on your theological convictions and denomination or church network. But building and borrowing from Dever’s work, I suggest the following five responsibilities for every church member:
1. Attend the weekly Sunday service.
Here in America, many Christians think they are committed to the church if they attend Sunday worship twice a month. I beg to differ. Although illness, vacations, and other personal reasons will keep you from God’s people from time to time, it is imperative for every Christian to attend church on Sundays unless providentially hindered.
By skipping church, you miss out on the Lord’s supper, the preaching of the Word, fellowship with believers, being built up in your faith, and a myriad of other good things. You keep yourself from one of the primary means God has ordained to build you in Christ. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the subtle act of skipping church regularly for trite reasons can lead to disastrous spiritual consequences.
But it’s not just what you get from church, but also what you give (more on that below) to your church. Your presence is needed. Listen to the way Dietrich Bonhoeffer puts it in his book Life Together: “The physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer.”
Simply by being at church on Sundays is a massive encouragement to your pastor and those in your church. You may not always feel like going to church, but you will almost always be glad you did if you push through those feelings on Sunday morning. And even when you don’t feel like going, you’re getting so much out of it that you may not even realize. God works to build you in your faith both obviously and subtly as you faithfully attend church every Sunday.
2. Serve the church with your spiritual gifts.
There is a principle in business called the Pareto Principle. Essentially, it means that 20% of the people do 80% of the work or, more specifically, 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. True in business, and often true in churches. But it shouldn’t be. If you’re a Christian, God has blessed you with a spiritual gift (or gifts). And the purpose of your spiritual gift is not to hoard it, bury it, or to use it to make yourself look awesome, but to steward it well by edifying the church.
What’s your spiritual gift? Administration? Hospitality? Teaching? Use it. Hopefully, the pastors of your church are equipping the saints for ministry (Eph 4:12). Talk to someone at your church about getting involved. Serve. Sign up for a ministry team. Whatever you do, don’t burry the gifts God has entrusted to you.
3. Pursue holiness.
Robert Murray McCheyne once said, “The greatest need of my people is my personal holiness.”
True of pastors. Also true of church members.
I find Christians tend to drift toward one of two areas of thinking. The first area of thinking neglects the church altogether and emphasizes one’s personal walk with Jesus. The second area of thinking tends to neglect meeting with God all week except for Sunday. We need to bring them both together.
Although the Sunday service is unequaled in terms of importance for your spiritual life, you cannot expect the service on Sunday alone to sustain you spiritually all throughout the week. This means that you must be actively pursuing godliness Monday-Saturday, too. What can you do?
Read your Bible and pray in private regularly. Seize your commute to work by listening to sermons and podcasts and audiobooks. Join a small group. Read good Christian books and blogs. Actively seek to kill besetting sins in your life. Gather with God’s people as often as you can. The pursuit of holiness happens through your grace-driven effort to appropriate the means of grace, and through the Holy Spirit working in your life. If you take holiness seriously, your church will be far better off because of it.
4. Promote unity in the church.
I recently gave a five-minute talk on unity at our annual congregational meeting. I didn’t think much about it and barely wrote up any notes. But our members were highly receptive to my words. So much so it sparked a “Unity Weekend” campaign in which we’ll celebrate our unity in Christ together later this spring.
You likely don’t like a few things about your church. That’s normal. Hardly anyone likes absolutely everything about their church, even pastors. Of course, when there is gross sin involved, it needs to be reported immediately. But most of the time, it won’t be heinous sins that weigh you down, but slight annoyances. In these moments, when you’re tempted to quarrel or divide, it’s essential that you don’t. Don’t gossip or slander about anyone. Seek to overlook offenses. Pray for people who bother you. And if you do need to speak to someone about an issue, do so prayerfully and gently.
Yes, your money. If you’re currently a church member, and you’re not giving any money to your church, do realize that if every Christian followed your example, most churches in the world would cease to exist. Although unusually arduous circumstances may temporarily prevent one from giving for a season, the issue for most of us is not extraordinarily difficult life circumstances, but laziness, ignorance, or idolatry. Let me encourage you to search the Scriptures to see what they say about money, and then give to your local church. Pray. Start giving — and see what happens.
I love the local church. I love pastors, church members, church plants, healthy denominations, and networks. We are on the same team in Christ and it’s a beautiful thing. We are so blessed. But those blessings should lead to responsibilities as a church member. Hopefully, this post will encourage you to practice the five mentioned above.
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