Discovering Membership Part 5: Significance, Small print and Next Steps
Welcome to our Discovering Membership course!
The purpose of this course is to get our EBC community reflecting on whether membership may be appropriate for them. To do that, there are a few things that we need to understand about what church is supposed to be about in the first place. We’ll then get on to how we at EBC express that in our particular way of doing things, and finally talk about membership itself – what sets it apart from simply belonging to the church, what indications to look for (that membership might be for you), and the significance of membership in our church’s life.
As a recap on this, please take a few minutes to look at our introductory blog and Parts One to Four (see previous blogs, below).
In this fifth and final section, we take a look at why membership is really significant for us as a church, what our constitution has to say about it, and some next steps for you to consider.
Earlier in the course we talked we talked about the fact that “church” is much more than a well-meaning club – it is a called out gathering of believers on a mission for God! We’ve also explored how we want to be radically inclusive, like Jesus, and accept people into the church family just as they are. There is a tension here though – if anyone can belong, how do we ensure that church remains church and doesn’t slip into becoming just a club?
Safeguarding the church and its mission
Having a church membership safeguards our Christian beliefs, mission and values, for it is with the church membership that the decision-making authority of the church rests.
Theoretically, as we reach ever wider to our community at large, there could come a point at which committed Christians are outnumbered by non-believing or “notionally” Christian attendees. In fact, at the time of writing we have well over 400 people attending the church on at least a monthly basis, but only a quarter or so are members! That being the case, we have to have a mechanism for ensuring that we remain true to the mission and purposes of the church’s founder – Jesus!
As a charitable trust, EBC is also legally required to have trustees making sure that we adhere to charity law and to make sure that we are indeed what we declare ourselves to be – a church! Our trustee team is drawn from our membership – in fact our trustees are our Elders and Leaders, all of whom are considered carefully by our members and appointed by vote of our membership only.
The Elders team is given (by the members) responsibility for focusing on the spiritual direction of EBC, while the Leaders team focusses more on strategy, finance and operational matters, which in turn helps ensure our various teams are on the right track and well resourced. Yet the Elders and Leaders are bound to report back to the church meeting so that collectively we can weigh and test things together, making sure we are moving in alignment with God’s will.
A Priesthood of All Believers
In the New Testament part of the bible, the apostle Peter writes to the early church and picks up on Jesus’s declaration that He would build His church. Interestingly, Peter uses a building metaphor to describe the church and refers to Jesus’s followers as “a holy priesthood” and “a royal priesthood” –
As you come to him, the living Stone – rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him – you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture it says:
‘See, I lay a stone in Zion,
a chosen and precious cornerstone,
and the one who trusts in him
will never be put to shame.’
Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe,
‘The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone,’
‘A stone that causes people to stumble
and a rock that makes them fall.’
They stumble because they disobey the message – which is also what they were destined for. But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter2: 4-9, NIV).
Again, Church membership, with its emphasis on and requirement of belief sets apart the “royal priesthood” (often known as the priesthood of all believers) from the wider gathering of people who have not necessarily yet come to that point of belief and commitment.
It is the church meeting (that is to say, the membership) which ultimately discerns together the will of God as it relates to the running of EBC – thus making sure that the Elders and Leader are on the right track.
It is the church meeting that appoints senior leaders, ministers and trustees.
It is the church meeting that decides on important matters relating to the building.
Again, as a priesthood of all believers, we have a collective role as a membership in the fundamental oversight and governance of EBC – which is why membership is a vitally important part of our church!
Aligning with Jesus’s Teaching
Membership is important individually as well as collectively, in that it serves as a marker for each one of us – and others – that we are fully committed followers of Jesus. It’s not that Jesus talked about “membership” of His church, but it follows that if the indicators we looked at last time (in part four) are all in place, we have at the very least made a clear decision to follow Jesus and are following up on that decision by loving God, loving other people and growing to become more like Him.
Given the huge significance and authority of the church meeting (membership) in the life and direction of the church, it is fundamental to us that people must have made that decision to recognise Jesus as their personal Lord and Saviour before entering into membership.
The Small Print
Our EBC constitution is a document which sets out in formal terms the way in which we “do” church, from a legal and technical standpoint.
Here is what is says about membership – what follows is a straight “cut and paste” from the current document –
Membership is open to those who:
accept the Beliefs of the Church
meet the Church’s qualification on Baptism
commit themselves to serving Christ within the Church and beyond
abide by the decisions of the Church Members’ Meeting
acknowledge their responsibilities as Church Members
have their membership application accepted by the Church Members’ Meeting.
In a sense this is a more formal way of saying that those indicators we looked at in this course are all in place and being adhered to and that we agree to accept the authority of the Church Meeting’s decisions. For existing members of course, it’s a good discipline to remind ourselves of what we signed up to!
Here’s what our constitution has to say about actually becoming a member –
Becoming a Member:
A person wishing to become a Church Member shall apply in a manner determined by the Church Members’ Meeting
The Church Members’ Meeting will consider and vote on the application for membership and if accepted the new member will normally be welcomed publicly.
In practice, the “manner determined by the church meeting” has been that the potential member meets with one or more of the Elders to discuss what being a member is all about (going through some version of this course) before being presented to the church meeting for a vote.
The idea is to make sure that membership is indeed appropriate and has been carefully considered before the vote!
There is – or should ideally be - the opportunity for the person to give to the church meeting their testimony – saying publicly why they have arrived at their decision to apply for membership. With the exception of the voting part which follows, this is very similar to what happens at baptism – which is another reason why baptism has historically been the route to acceptance as a member.
If you are considering applying for membership, here are some next steps for you to consider –
Discuss with friends – get the insight and wisdom of friends at church who can guide you.
Is membership open to you? (i.e. check against the “small print” above).
Examine the indicators – is membership appropriate now?
Book in for a chat with Simon or Steph who will go through the course material with you.
Church Meeting – short interview/testimony and vote
Welcome! A formal way for the membership to welcome you.
Thank you for taking the time to go through this course material. Whether you are already a member or not, hopefully it has given you some clarity about what membership is all about and that you have discovered some things you didn’t know!
Membership is a very important and significant step – not to be taken lightly or without prayer and careful deliberation. Always remember the church is “the bride of Christ” and He is committed and faithful to His bride. Are you committed to Him? That’s the question to for all of us to consider.