Monday, August 15, 2005

Future Trend #4: Meaningful Membership

Before I get to the new post, here's a great thought from Barna on the topic of my last post, team leadership:

"The longer we deny the benefits of team leadership, the less likely it is that we will experience the power of God in the church, in society, or in our personal efforts. There is only one ministry superstar: Jesus Christ. If we persist in seeking to lead churches through the display of talents and abilities resident within only a few unusually capable individuals, rather than allowing the community of believers to use their significant-but-less-inclusive leadership skills in an orchestrated unison to accomplish synergistic outcomes, the church and society will pay the price for such defiance." Amen.

Now on to trend #4...

What in the world does membership mean today in most churches? Specifically in Southern Baptist churches, it takes so little to be a member that I wonder why we even have membership. If someone simply walks the aisle and confesses Christ or promises to transfer from another church or simply makes a statement that they have been saved and baptized, they're in. We really don't know about their conversion. We don't really know what they believe. They don't know anything about our church. It is absolute madness. And what does it take to lose membership? I'm not really sure - I have yet to see it happen.

I think a major trend that will take shape for young leaders in the church is a rethinking about how membership operates in the local church. There are a couple of reasons this will happen. First, there is an awareness among young leaders that the church has the lost the ability to use discipline corporately in any circumstances. There may be multiple explanations for why the church fails to discipline its members for sinful lifestyles (like a lack of seriousness about sin and poor church government structure), but the major cause is a lack of clarity about what it even means to be a member in the church. How can we discipline those who we have allowed to be "members" but that we haven't seen in three years? If the church is going to try and really use its authority to shape the lives of its people, then we have to begin with a healthier understanding of membership.

The second reason that membership will be examined afresh is because of leaders taking a new look at the benefits of membership. Why does someone want to be a member of our community? If there are extended benefits to being a member of a church, then how can the church make sure that it is careful about what it defines a member to be? If members are allowed to vote on major church issues (like elders, budgets, big purchases, etc.), then shouldn't we care about who the members are? The role that leadership decides that lay people play in the direction of the church will make them think again about what membership means. Do we really want someone who is not walking with Christ to shape the direction of a church? Major issues to think about.

The third and final reason that membership will be changed is because membership is not defined in Scripture. Membership is a construct that churches use to help define their church polity. Therefore, it is open for debate and needs to be changed to better facilitate the church successfully completing those tasks that Scripture does command. If membership simply exists to help the church fulfill its calling, then it needs to be updated when it is hurting the church do that very thing.

SO...look for lots of changes to come in what membership means and how it functions in the local church.

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