Why Membership Matters

February 4, 2014 — 2 Comments

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:

For many in the missional church conversation, this particular topic tends to take a back seat, but there is a strong warrant for membership biblically and necessity as a church on mission over time.

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?

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:

For many in the missional church conversation, this particular topic tends to take a back seat, but there is a strong warrant for membership biblically and necessity as a church on mission over time.

The Biblical Basis for Church Membership

Our church leadership calls people to become a partner at the Austin Stone, and believes other churches should thoughtfully pursue church membership.  While there is no direct command to “join a church” in Scripture, we see God commanding us to join or partner with the local church in two ways:

The Church is Publicly Visible

Jesus established the church to be a visible, public collection of people gathered to worship Him and make His name great. This is more than a loose collection or even a movement; God is calling us to closely affiliate with one another confessionally, to be on the same mission together, and to serve together. This is why we use the term partnership at the Austin Stone. (Matthew 16:18–19, Matthew 18:15–20)

Christians Submit to Leadership and One Another

Scripture repeatedly commands us as Christians to submit to our leaders, which requires that we have intentionally placed ourselves under the care, leadership, and oversight of specific leaders – the elders of a local church. Through partnership at the Austin Stone, we express our desire to be counted as a part of this community, and the leaders of this community become spiritually accountable for us. (Hebrews 13:17, 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13)

Other Resources

For more information on the biblical basis for partnership or church membership, I would recommend:

  • Jonathan Leeman, Church Membership: How the World Knows Who Represents Jesus (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway 2012).
  • John Piper, The Meaning of Membership and Church Accountability, Desiring God, http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/articles/the-meaning-of-membership-and-church-accountability


Although we’re already almost a month into the new year, I’m just now getting my ducks around the blogosphere.  Looking back, I focused a great deal of time and attention on the practical aspects of missional communities.  

In this coming year, I’m going to continue writing content in the theological, philosophical and practical world of missional communities, but also want to expand the conversation here into broader issues of ecclesiology and leadership.

As far as topics go, here are some things I’ll be writing on:

  • Covenant Membership in the Church
  • Church Discipline
  • A Theology of the Church
  • Practical Issues on Hiring and Interviewing
  • Team and Culture Development

If there are things you’d be interested in hearing about, go ahead and post them here in the comments!

Things have gone pretty quiet around this blog…the holidays and the hectic pace of life have kept me from writing.  As i have been preparing for this new year of ministry, I spent some time looking back over the past few years and came across some old resources.

It’s simultaneously humorous and enjoyable to see how our team has grown and changed in our understanding of missional communities.  Below is a historical look at how missional communities have developed through preaching, curriculum and storytelling. I pray they are encouraging and helpful to you!

Sermon Series

Fall 2007 Vision Series – We are the Church Together

This is where we started moving toward missional communities rather than small groups.  We accompanied it with our first alignment curriculum, using our existing values language which is still a significant part of our ministry today.

Fall 2008 Vision Series – A Church for the City

This is where we defined missional communities as being “For the City”, and full-scale started calling them missional communities.  One of the later lessons in the curriculum was most helpful in helping people go from “small group” to missional community.

Spring 2011 Preaching Series – Missional Community

This sermon series was a fun collaborative project with several of our pastors who focused primarily on cultivating missional communities at The Austin Stone.  You can hear how many of our thoughts had matured and changed up to that point.

Fall 2013 Vision Series – This Matters

Most recently, we spent some time as a church focusing on the core values that shape our missional community life together.  The curriculum was meant to define these values and reinforce the core practices of missional communities at The Austin Stone.

Other Sermons

In addition to the series above, there have been several different sermons dedicated to missional communities at The Austin Stone…here are a few that were unique and especially powerful.

Stories of Mission by Stew and Joey Shaw – April 2008

Although we don’t have the video that accompanied this sermon, this was a different way of presenting the vision through simple stories of what folks in our body were doing.  Additionally, we integrated stories of both local and global engagement, reinforcing our commitment to making disciples of all people.

Missional Community by Stew – January 2009

This sermon was a vision refresher, focusing on mission as the catalyst for community.  It became very important for one of our important ideas: “if you aim for community, you rarely get mission, but if you aim for mission, you almost always get community”.

Community vs. Biblical Community by Matt Carter – October 2009

Matt powerfully unpacks the distinction between worldy community and authentic biblical community in this sermon.

Stories of Missional Communities

Finally, you can clearly see the development and learning in our journey towards missional communities by the stories we have told over the years.

Fall 2008

These stories emphasized strongly the theme of demonstrating the gospel through tangible acts of service.  As a church, we were discovering the imperative of engaging in the ministries of mercy and justice.

Fall 2009

The first story is a wonderful snapshot of a group doing prison ministry.  It was about this time we realized how much we had focused on serving, while we were missing the primary thread of disciple-making.  Jon and Morgan’s story is an excellent piece explaining how a young couple pursues mission in their everyday life.

Fall 2010

In response to the stories and emphasis of the past two years, we wanted to return to the “every day missionary” idea and tell stories of normal people living intentional, everyday lives for the fame of Jesus.

Spring 2012

We had finally arrived at a core set of practices, and this story puts them on display incredibly well.

It’s been an incredible ride to learn, grow, and lead through the transition to missional communities at The Austin Stone, and I pray these resources encourage you to pursue Christ and greater faithfulness to His mission!

I pray you are reminded of the infinite value of our Savior this Christmas…may He bring you joy and rest!  I’ll be picking back up blogging after the new year, so until then, enjoy a fun picture of my kids:

Engstrom kids Santa 2013