Wednesday, May 11, 2005

FAQ: What about Membership at Grace?

Ok, so maybe this isn't a "frequently asked question", but it is an "occasionally asked question," one I was just recently asked in an email I received last week. . . .

Pastor Tim,

I won't take a lot of your time but I do have a quick question. We have been attending Grace for approx. 6 months. We heartily agree with your teaching. We have looked through the church's website and can't find any information on church membership. Does Grace have church membership? If Grace doesn't have membership how do they deal with discipline, elder's responsibility to shepherd the flock, etc...?

Thank you so much and have a great day!

I thought it might be valuable to post answers to these frequently and occasionally asked questions here on the blog as one more way to keep us all moving in the same direction and let you know what's happening "beneath the hood" here at Grace. There is so much to communicate and never enough time or ways to communicate it. As much as is possible we're committed to "transparent leadership" at Grace. So feel free to ask questions that are on your mind. We'll take them one at a time as time allows. Here's my response to the "membership" question. As always, your comments are welcome and encouraged. I read them all, as do others.

Dear Friend,

Thanks for your question about membership here at Grace. A little background might be helpful. . . .

When I began to explore a possible call to ministry at Grace, just over two years ago, I, too, was surprised to discover that Grace Church has never had a consistent formal membership over its 75 year history. In the late 80s/early 90s there was an attempt made to implement what they called a "covenant of fellowship" but the church did not actively pursue the concept over the long haul and it soon disappeared. In the candidating process, I was very clear with the Elders about my commitment to membership as a shepherding mechanism. The Elders all expressed an openness and a willingness to explore the concept. In my first year here, we worked to develop a 1-3-5 year vision for Grace which included a "roadmap to church membership" and its implementation over a three year time frame. (We are a bit behind schedule on this project!) It will be a delicate and complicated process for Grace (and may meet with some resistance) that will involve an overhaul of our constitution, but this is process to which we are committed. Currently, we have assigned two Elders to the task of gathering constitutions and membership information from other churches.

Second, here are five reasons, off the top of my head, why I am committed to church membership at Grace:

1. Care/Shepherding/Discipline: Galatians 6:10 says "So, then, while we have the opportunity, let us do good to all people, but especially to the those who are of the household of the faith." This passage establishes a priority of care. We need to know who is of the "household of the faith" to whom is our first responsibility for care and shepherding. Currently, we don't know WHO Grace Church is. The church is very dynamic with lots of folks coming and going. We are committed to the concept of church discipline, but without a formal membership it'`s difficult to know who to go after in the event of sin. This is an ongoing frustration of our Elders and one we discuss often. A formal membership will enable us to shepherd more effectively those who are of the "household" and also "all men."

2. Guarding the Faith & the Flock: We need to insure those who are serving have a confession of faith. I want to know that those who teach my kid's classes are believers. Part of membership should involve hearing a testimony of faith. It is our responsibility to guard the faith and guard the flock.

3. Assimilation: We need to more quickly assimilate new folks at Grace into service at Grace. Right now this happens haphazardly and randomly. Folks need to be around for a while before they find their place, because we aren't sure where they are spiritually. Membership can "fast track" this process and give us an opportunity to explore gifts, talents, experience and how they might be employed at Grace for the glory of God and the good of his people.

4. Training: Membership provides a purposeful and strategic way to instill the theological and philosophical distinctives and core values of Grace Church (For example, the "centrality of the Gospel!"). We need to be clearer about who Grace is, how Grace works and how folks can be involved.

5. Building Commitment: Membership provides a way to communicate expectations of members and expectations of leadership at Grace. It allows us a chance to emphasize and call folks to Christian service and Christian stewardship as important dimensions of the Christian life and life at Grace.

I hope this is helpful. Like you, we believe this is an important issue. It's on the radar and in our sights. It will take a while for us to get there. In the meantime, please join us in praying that God would bless the process. If you have any additional questions, please don't hesitate to ask them.

In Christ. . . Pastor Tim


The Bowens said...

Hi Tim, and all our beloved at Grace - How interesting that this should come up right now! Certainly during the ten years we were a part of Grace Church (94-04)we considered ourselves to be "members" although of course during that time there was no formal membership process.

We are now in the process of becoming formal members of our new Church in Calgary and it's interesting how much a sense of belonging and responsibility to the Body this gives us. Not that we didn't feel as though we belonged at Grace, or that we didn't have a responsibility to the Body there - but by stepping up to the plate and formally declaring ourselves to be members of the Body at Bethany Chapel we have had to seriously think about our role here.

We believe in membership - although "belonging" happens on its own, membership cuts right to the heart of the matter.

It will be a delicate change to make, indeed! But, it will be worth it! God be with you.

Steve & Susan

Tim Weaver said...

Tim, I'm with you. Those are real issues with Grace Church and membership may be a good way to help us. I think that in a large gathering it provides a mechanism for knowing where people stand in their relationship to this local gathering of believers. In a smaller gathering that is much more easily seen and so it isn’t really an issue..

I know that ‘church membership’ is the common naming for this, but the name bugs me a bit because this is not what the Bible talks about as being a member of the body of Christ. It is something that we would need to keep clear for those who don’t know the difference. One is spiritual and eternal, the other is mechanism to help us see our responsibilities more clearly and spend our time more wisely.

I would be curious to know of other options for filling the benefits that you addressed because I think there is often a tendency to build the organization, but not build the Church and that would be tragic.

Anonymous said...

This has sparked my interest. As one whose family is plugged into the church and its offerings and contributes, though admittedly in a small way, my first impression is that this is a way of being exclusive rather than inclusive. We contribute because it is the right thing to do. It sounds like membership will turn this into an obligation. How are non-members treated differently in a church that has membership?


Pastor Tim Theule said...

Glad this post is sparking some interest. Thought I would respond quickly to a couple of comments here and keep the dialogue going. . . .

In response to #3, please believe me, our desire at Grace is to be as inclusive as possible, not exclusive. I hope it is evident that we are striving to be "missional" in every aspect of our ministry. As I stated in the post, one of the aims of membership is ASSIMILATION, to more effectively integrate folks into congregational life, commitment and service at Grace.

The Scriptures make it clear that giving to the work of the Lord is a matter between the individual and the Lord that is to be done sacrificially, consistently and cheerfully as a response to God's grace in the Gospel. At Grace, giving is not now compulsory. Nor will it be when we implement a membership process. However, a membership process will allow us to give instruction and encouragement on this very important area of Christin living. Jesus was very clear that where our treasure is there our hearts will be also.

Membership at Grace will never be compulsory, but always encouraged. Our aim is not to create an "inside" and an "outside" at Grace, but to Biblically shepherd. By becoming a member, a person will be placing themselves under the shepherding care of the Elders and saying in effect, "I am commiting and submitting to this local expression of the Body of Christ. I am giving the Elder's permission to speak God's truth into my life if the need should arise. I am committed to support the work of the Lord here at Grace with my time, energy and finances." As Elders, we believe that in today's individualistic world, permission to shepherd in this way must be given and ought not to be preseumed or assumed on our part. We want to move folks from merely "coming to church" to "commitment to a church."

Having grown up in churches where membership was a part of congregational life, I can tell you that membership is in no way an alienating mechanism, but an "assimilating" mechanism. In these settings, there have been folks who have refused to become members for various personal reasons. In all cases, these folks were welcomed warmly, cared for deeply and every effort was made to include them in every dimension of congregational life. In these churches, membership was "virtually" invisible. An invitation, not an obligation.

In reference to Tim's comment (#2 I think) about not liking the label "members," I don't like it either. I sort of like "Covenant Partners." What do you think? We'll avoid the label "members" if at all possible.

Also, the invisible, universal, spiritual church expresses itself in visible, local, physical ways. Membership in the universal body of Chrst is a prerequisite for membership in the local body of Christ, but not the other way around.

I hope these thoughts are helpful and clarifying. . . Pastor Tim

hv said...

I agree with Pastor Tim on all of reasons for church membership. The elders of the church will have to give account to God for their spiritual oversight of the flock. How can they give an account for individuals if they don't know who those individuals are? Church membership allows for members to place themselves under the care of the elders as God commands and gives accountablility.

I do have to admit that we came from a smaller church where church membership was over-emphasized; church members even had their names in uppercase letters in the directory, while regular attenders had their names in lower case letters. I don't see that happening at Grace.

In a church this size it will give the congregation a chance to truly identify themselves as part of the local body of Grace Church.

The Bowens said...

Membership, or "Covenant Partnership" or whatever it ends up getting called should be more about an inner commitment than about the way one is viewed by the rest of the body. Shouldn't it?