This series of posts is an invitation. I have not lived up to the ideals that I will soon present. If you know me, then you know that I succumb to cynicism, bitterness, and selfishness, all of which affect my relationships in the church. If you do not know me, that simple fact is proof of my weakness. If I have not yet met you, then I have not fully pursued the convictions that I will soon introduce. So, with these posts I don’t intend to elevate my own character or to propagate human teaching. Instead, I hope that the Chapel Hill Bible Church would gather together around the Scriptures to learn from God Himself the importance and the role of church membership in the Christian life.
In my previous post, I stated my conviction regarding the structure and function of the local church and defended that position from Scripture. In this post, I want to consider one verse in Hebrews and think about how it should influence our thoughts on and practice of church membership. Hebrews 13:17 reads,
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.
When you were a child, and you didn’t clean your room, or you got in a fight at school, or you forgot to take out the trash, did you ever confess your wrongdoing to your parents or guardians? I certainly did. Though I knew that my parents would love me despite my disobedience, it was nonetheless devastating to know that I had disappointed them. I am sure many of us share this experience.
With this in mind, consider Romans 14:12: “each of us will give an account of himself to God.” Like we often confessed in the presence of our earthly parents, we will one day give account to our Father of our whole lives, including our obedience and our disobedience. If standing before our earthly parents and confessing was difficult, how much harder will exposing our sins in our Father’s presence be? Thanks be to God for Jesus, whose righteousness will cover us when we give an account. But, the point remains: offering an account while standing before God will not be easy.
Elders (pastors, overseers) are not exempted from this. In fact, they will have two additional mantles to bear. First, the elder is held to a higher standard than someone who does not teach God’s word (Jas. 3:1). Second, elders will provide an account of the lives of their “flock” (borrowing language from 1 Pet. 5) – those whom they led and taught. So, the pastor bears a double burden when he stands before the Father: he is held to a higher standard of living than the non-elder Christian, and he recounts the disobedience of those whom he led. If he is like Paul, he endured anguish for his church as he labored for their sake during his earthly life (2 Cor. 11:28). But on the final day, he must experience this anguish in the presence of the Father.
I am not a pastor, and I have not faced God in the fullness of his presence. None of us reading this post have done the latter. However, our common experience of fessing up to our parents can illuminate what it will be like to give an account for our own lives. And, we can begin to understand what our pastors will face as well. It is easy to see that our pastors have immense responsibility. Recognizing this, we should work for their well-being as they care for our souls. One way to do this is through membership, as I will presently explain.
Joining the membership of a local church is a willful act of submission. When one becomes a member of a local church, one submits to that church’s leadership. The official nature of joining the church is not intended to bind us to rules and regulations. Quite the opposite, actually: it helps us flourish spiritually. We love our pastors by submitting to their leadership. There are two specific ways that submission accomplishes this end. First, if the pastor must give an account on behalf of his flock, it would help him to know precisely who makes up his flock. And those under his care – that is, those who have submitted to his shepherding – constitute his flock. Second, take note of this clause in our passage: “let them do this [lead us] with joy and not with groaning.” When we submit in obedience, we help our pastors to rejoice in their work. What more could we want for them?
To be clear, the benefits of membership do not merely affect our pastors. They also accrue to us, the members of the church. I want to highlight one way that the member’s submission to pastoral authority is for his or her benefit. The member is meant to receive the pastor’s wisdom, instruction, and love. Just because you aren’t a member of CHBC doesn’t mean you can’t receive this – you still have the opportunity to hear our pastors preach the word of God. But, because the pastor is expected to give an account for those who submitted to his authority, he has a vested interest in the member’s spiritual life, one that even surmounts his love for a Christian brother or sister who has not submitted to his teaching. Church membership offers us an opportunity to love our pastors by submitting to their God-instituted authority over us.
If you have questions about membership at the Chapel Hill Bible Church, please contact Ryan McKee, our Community Pastor.
While the core event of our life as a church community is the Sunday morning gathering, we are a large church, and the Sunday morning gathering does not foster relationships in the same way that a small group setting can. As such, life groups constitute much of the church’s community life. These are ten-to-twenty person groups that meet regularly outside of the Sunday morning gathering. If you have not joined a life group, I encourage you to do so.
Finally, I want to discuss this topic with you and by doing so get to know you better. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call/text at 919-428-4891. My wife and I would be happy to have you over for a meal or coffee. We live just two minutes from the church, so you won’t have to travel far!