In case you missed last Sunday, this is Church Membership, Part 2. I think the responsibilities that go along with church membership are pretty high and should demand an awful lot. That’s why I began last week with a lesson about the privileges and blessings of being a member of a congregation. That’s really the only way the responsibilities make any sense. Because along with the high cost of being a member come great rewards. And just to refresh your memory, those rewards are that you are known, you are needed and you are loved and cared for. And those are pretty significant blessings.
But this morning, we want to look carefully at the costs that go with the blessings. What are our responsibilities to the congregation here at Glenwood?
Let’s begin by looking in on the life of the church there in the very beginning in Jerusalem: Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:41-47)
Now, I realize we can’t replicate the conditions of those early days of the church. But there are essential principals we see in their life together that ought to be a part of the church in any age, in any location: They devoted themselves to their life together (the word in the original language has the meaning of “devoted to being together” see the same word in 1:14 “joined together constantly” and 2:46 “they continued to meet together” – the primary focus of the word is on the being together – everything else is incidental to that). In their being together, they spent their time learning the word, fellowship with each other, the Lord’s Supper – that sounds a lot like what we do on Sundays. They were together every day, not just in worship, but in getting together in each other’s homes for meals, sharing what they had in order to take care of each other’s needs. That was church – great blessings, great responsibilities. They realized how important it was to be together, and sacrificed to be a part of it.
What should that look like in a 21st century context? Let me start with some obvious, fundamental responsibilities to your church family:
Show up. I know – you can be just as close to God out on the lake or up on the ski slopes or sitting in front of the TV with Joel Osteen preaching as you can sitting here in church. I realize we live in a place where recreational opportunities abound and we all love to get out and enjoy the great outdoors. We have families we need to travel to see, and trips that we need to take.
And I know there are things that come up, and some days it’s just hard to get up. I know because we had three children – and there’s no magical wand that comes with being a minister that removes all the obstacles. But even when our children were little, we were never late to church, because we planned ahead of time to be at church on time. We didn’t wait until Sunday morning to decide whether we were going to church that morning – it’s a decision we had made a long time before, that when it was time for church that’s where we were going to be. When something’s important – like work or school, we manage to get there everyday and on time. Church is just that important. It’s more important, really! When we come to church we have an appointment with the God of heaven, and we have brothers and sisters who count on us.
And a part of the responsibility to be here is what you bring with you. We can’t come with the attitude “What’s in it for me?” We can’t come and sit in our pew and ignore the folks around us. We’re here to strengthen and encourage one another. When the Hebrews writer wrote, “do not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing,” it wasn’t a club to beat people into more regular attendance just so we have bigger numbers. Listen to the context in which he writes these words: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Heb. 10:24-25). The reason we need to meet together is to encourage one another and to spur one another on to love and good deeds. We have a responsibility to one another. When I come, it’s not for what I’m going to get out of it, but because of what I’m going to give to others. I want to come prepared – having spent time during the week praying for others and thinking of others and how I can encourage them.
A second responsibility of church membership is to give generously. I’m all for giving that feels good, and nobody is going to calculate a tenth of your income and send you a bill. But folks, we’re in this together. It costs money to keep up a building and pay the utilities and buy Bible school curriculum and support our missionaries and give benevolent help to the needy. There are certain things a congregation has to have money to do. And we all enjoy those blessings of being members at Glenwood. We show up and the lights are on and the communion is prepared, and there’s coffee in the pots, and toilet paper in the bathrooms. We sit on comfortable pews and enjoy heat in the winter and AC in the summer.
And when you give irregularly or give stingily, or don’t give at all, you’re telling your brothers and sisters around you – “you pay my way, it’s not my concern.” If you are a member of this congregation, you have a responsibility to give in a way that demonstrates your commitment to the life of this congregation.
And I want you to know that ministers aren’t exempt from giving generously also. I’m a member of this congregation just like you are, and just because my salary comes from my work here, I still have a responsibility to give generously to meet the needs of this church family. And I do – and I want to encourage you to, also.
A third responsibility is your involvement in the life of this congregation. As I said last week, one of the blessings of being a part of a church family is that you’re needed. Well, one of the responsibilities of being a part of a church family is… you’re needed. God has given every member of this congregation a gift or an ability which this congregation cannot function effectively without. This family needs you to use your abilities to serve the Lord. We can’t do it without you. You have a responsibility to be involved in some ministry or some area of service beyond just showing up and occupying a seat. Paul wrote, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10). It may be something simple like passing communion or saying a prayer or fixing a meal for a shut-in or volunteering in the nursery or preparing communion or greeting visitors. It may be something more intensive like serving as a ministry leader or teaching a Bible class or hosting a Life Group.
Some things you don’t volunteer for, you just do because you are a member. If you are a member here at the Glenwood church, you need to be in a Bible class, you need to be a part of a Life Group, you need to be here on Wednesday nights. Not just for what you get out of it, but for what all the rest of us get out of you being here. And I know, there’s always a reason for why you can’t do this or that, but ask yourself honestly whether your reason for not being here and not being involved is really a legitimate reason or if it isn’t just an excuse.
And more than the activities and programs you’re involved in – I want to instill in every one of us a “whatever it takes” attitude. There just seems to be an assumption that “someone else” will take care of it. Around our house, we used to ask our kids, “Do you think the maid is going to pick up after you?” There are weeks this auditorium looks like a train wreck after worship on Sunday mornings – bulletins strewn around, song books laying on the floor, candy wrappers, coffee cups and torn up attendance cards just tossed on the pews and floor. Take a few seconds before you stand up and leave to look around and gather your trash and put song books back. We don’t have a paid janitorial service come in and clean every week – it’s Dennis and Lynn Bader, and Dale and Jean, Jessica and Austin Hawkins who volunteer to come in get the building ready for us and pick up our trash and vacuum the floors and clean the bathrooms. And God bless them for it, but we don’t need to make their job harder.
So, when you’re walking down the hall and see trash on the floor, pick it up; or you’re in the fellowship room and folks are cleaning up, lend a hand; if there is a workday, show up. It’s a part of being a part of the family. It takes all of us to keep things going.
These have all been practical, functional kinds of aspects to being a church member. I want to spend a few minutes talking about the spiritual responsibilities that go with being a member of this congregation.
Last week we looked at Heb 13:7,17 “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith… Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.”
When you become a member at the Glenwood church, you enter into what is essentially a covenant relationship with the shepherds here. You are asking them to keep watch over your soul. And the writer indicates they will have to give an account to God for you – they become spiritually responsible for you. Can you imagine what that’s going to be like at the judgment? But you see, if they accept that responsibility, you must willingly allow them to look after you. Did you hear the words the writer used? Remember, consider, imitate, obey, submit. How many of us even occasionally check in with our shepherds to let them know how we’re doing, or go to them for counsel when we’re struggling, or submit to them when they ask us to do something we don’t want to do? Those words aren’t suggestions, they are divine imperatives. As a member of this congregation, you have given the elders permission to be involved in your life and told them to lead you wherever they believe will be best for you. If they are accountable to God for your soul – you must be accountable to your shepherds. And I can already feel the bristles rising on some of your necks – “Accountable! Nobody tells me what to do.” I’ll tell you what – God does – and his explicit command is that you and I obey and submit to the spiritual leadership of our shepherds.
Let me tell you another spiritual responsibility we have as members of this congregation. We have an obligation to each other be involved in each other’s lives. We’re not just a bunch of strangers who accidentally showed up at the same building this morning. We chose to come and join our hearts and our voices and our lives together in worship and in fellowship. But look around you for a moment, and in a 10 foot radius around you, do you know everybody’s name (anybody’s name)? Do you know what they do for a living? Do you know how they are doing spiritually? Let me go back again to that passage we looked at in Hebrews 3:12-14 last week: “See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first.”
If you are a member of this congregation – this church family, you have a responsibility to consider one another, to encourage one another, to share your lives with one another. And you have to know one another to do that. And you can’t do that if you show up late, leave early and only every now and then. You have to spend time with one another to be involved in each other’s lives and encourage one another. This isn’t an optional extra for the super-Christians among us, this is at the very heart of what it means to be a part of the Lord’s body. We cannot have unity with people we don’t know. That’s what Life Groups are about, that’s why we come to Bible classes, that’s why we have fellowship dinners – to give us opportunities to grow in our relationships with each other and grow together as the body of Christ and the family of God.
I want to bring this lesson to a close with Paul’s words to the Philippian church. The Philippian church was Paul’s pride and joy – they were the Macedonians Paul bragged about who had given themselves first to the Lord, and then out of their severe poverty had given generously to the collection for the saints in Jerusalem. They had been there for him as partners in the gospel when all the other churches had abandoned him. Paul thanked God for them every time he thought about them. But they still needed to be reminded of this:
“If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:1-5).
Isn’t that really what being a church member comes down to – having the same attitude as Jesus? Having more concern for others than you have for yourself? Being truly (not just theoretically, but functionally) united in Christ as we work and grow and live together in the body.
Posted on Sun, January 12, 2014
by John Roberts