Over the next two posts, I’m going to focus on church membership (which we call “partnership” at The Austin Stone) from a few different angles:
Why Membership Matters
As I talked about in the first post, I believe there is a strong biblical warrant for church membership. The Austin Stone is blessed to have many friends who lead many different kinds of churches, some of whom disagree with the necessity of church membership, and some who see no reason for it. In this post, I want to highlight the benefits of membership in the local church. Below are a few reasons:
Membership enables the church to commit to faithfulness together
Through membership, we commit to faithfully live out our identity as lead servants and lead missionaries of our together. Covenant membership is a common recognition that we are called to live out our mission in unity, “striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.” (Philippians 1:27). Membership is a commitment to be faithful to each other as we strive toward Christ together, and cultivates a common set of expectations (built upon the foundation of the Scriptures) that all in our community can agree upon.
Membership gives us the opportunity to regularly celebrate and repent together
Each year, we take the time to stop and reflect the ways that God has been faithful to grow spiritual fruit in our lives through what we call Annual Partnership Renewal. Our entire covenant community takes a season to reflect and pray on their commitments to the local church, and to consider how we might more faithfully follow Christ in the year ahead.
Through this reflection, we will be drawn to celebrate and repent, both of which bring much glory to God and joy to our hearts! As a pastor, this is one of the most fruitful times of shepherding we have corporately, and provides a great deal of insight into the collective life of our church.
Membership enables us to be unified in doctrine when theological questions arise
As we grow to know God more intimately, questions about our faith will inevitably arise. As members, we intentional placing ourselves under the leadership of our elders and submit to a shared doctrinal statement or confession of faith.
When questions arise, we can call on this doctrinal statement as a resource to teach and equip us while we seek understanding through faith. This common doctrine ought to be clear and precise, and convey the breadth and depth of doctrinal convictions of the church leadership.
For more information about the doctrine of The Austin Stone, please read our Affirmation of Faith.
Membership ultimately glorifies God
God has built the church on people that confess their faith in Christ publicly and represent Him to the world (Matthew 16:13–20). We are Christ’s ambassadors to the world, and Jesus teaches us that unity in the church – even in mission and service – shows the world that we follow Christ (John 13:35). Covenant membership allows for a highly visible display to the world of our public association with Christ.
What benefits do you see in church membership? What problems?
2 replies on “Why Membership Matters”
We’ve really struggled with this question because I believe everything you said.Since leaving a traditional conservative evangelical church almost a year ago to be part of a 4-year old church plant that has what they call “an external elder board”. These are people I’ve never met except one I spoke with for about 5 minutes. How is it I’m supposed to submit to people who couldn’t pick me out of a lineup?
For now we’re serving in every way we can and hoping the church will have biblical elders at some point that we can joyfully submit to as they demonstrate an example of a Christ centered life for us. Even with the enormous problem of reciting a covenant that says we submit to elders that we’ve never met, we’re still toying with the idea of becoming partners because it seems like a really important New Testament concept.
I’d really encourage you to sit down and speak with the pastor about the future of eldership in that local church. We often counsel new church plants to appoint elders very slowly, while at the same time looking for and training up called, qualified and gifted men to lead in a local church.
As far as the tone of that conversation, I would really encourage you to affirm the leadership of that pastor, and simply ask general questions about his passion and potential plan for pursuing elders to lead in plurality with him. I’ll pray for your church!