We have been at our church for almost three years, and we still do not have a star beside our names. Granted, it took us several months before we felt like we should have a church directory and then another few months to notice the stars. Technically, they aren’t stars. They are asterisks, but a star evokes sweet memories of attendance charts and shiny gold star stickers. Stars meant you were special. You counted. You’re in. You’re a member.
Church membership is still a fairly “new” concept for me. I grew up in church, but from a child’s perspective membership meant being in long meetings where elders argued with other elders. I’m sure there were other things involved in membership, but no one at church never emphasized or brought up the idea of membership. We were always the “kids” for whom the Korean-speaking “adults” were building the foundations of the church so that one day the kids would take over. The problem often is that the adults never see the kids as adults and the transfer or sharing of power and responsibility never really happens, IMHO.
Peter and I actually can’t remember exactly how we became members at our last church. It was a church that I had attended throughout college, and we returned to it after we had moved closer to home and had our first child. Maybe I had been grandfathered in and then Peter was voted in after the church set up a more formal structure with by-laws, vision statement and website. What I remember were the meetings and many conversations about plans, budgets, and proposals. I do remember throughout a series of meeting involving our pastoral staff, positions and salaries, I grew increasingly aware that I had finally become an adult in a church. The budget, how people’s offerings and tithes – some sacrificial, others afterthoughts and all God’s – were being used, saved and stewarded mattered and members were being asked to prayerfully consider the matters at hand. When a family asked for their child to be dedicated we, the members, pledged to participate in the spiritual development and nurture of that child.
After leaving that church almost five years ago, our goal was not church membership. Our goal was to find a place where we could rest, heal, and hopefully fall in love with Jesus’ bride – the Church – again.
Since then we have slowly gotten gotten the hang of things here at what/where/whom we now call “our church” – the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer (“debts” and “debtors” not “trespasses” and “trespass”), stand to sing the “Doxology” after the offering is taken, the awkward “Passing of the Peace”, etc. We’ve gotten to know a few folks and even completed the pre-membership class. But we never took what I suppose is the next step.
We initially waited because we didn’t “feel” like we were really part of the church. Our kids were finding friends much faster than we were, but isn’t that usually the case? The barriers, excuses and awkwardness in the transition between complete strangers becoming acquaintances becoming friends have grown for me over time and age. We tried to “feel” our way through serving and putting ourselves out there in the front, the narthex, the behind-the-scenes – music, drama, dance, magic tricks and coffee, and we have come to this place where we are willing to sit in the tension of knowing what we hope for – deep friendships and rich community that overflows – is not quite where we are at…yet.
So are we ready to make the plunge and become members? Do we want to become, should we become, is it time to become members and gain more, risk more, invest more and be responsible for more than a star by our names?
You aren’t asking for advice, and even if you were, I would not feel qualified to give a formal boss advice, so here are my feelings about church membership for what they are.
Personally, I think that church membership is a lot more like a birth certificate than a marriage certificate. It is an expression of a reality that you choose to formally acknowledge. You are already accountable to your church because you share in the blood of Jesus together. You are already brother and sisters and inextricably bound with your congregation. Membership, IMHO, mostly allows your church to practice church discipline with you, and, in return, you get to help the church discern the best stewardship decisions by voting at meetings. Church discipline may sound like a negative, but, of course, it’s actually God’s grace that we get to go through the process of sanctification in a community of believers and not try it on our own individualistic whims.
A marriage certificate (at least in America) says “we both like each other and want to spend the rest of our lives together”Church membership says “I may not like the person sitting next to me in the pew, but we are siblings, born into the same family through Christ’s blood and we will be spending all of eternity together so please help me act like a family member and I will help you act like one too.”
Of course, I meant former boss. However, you are also a formal boss 🙂
Not that formal, though. I don’t think I ever used my china and crystal when you guys were over for dinner. 😉