We live in a day where unfortunately it is hard to find committed churchmen (and women). I am talking about disciples of Jesus who build the rhythms of their lives around the local church and her mission in the world, who see the local body as the hub of their relationships and weave their identity intricately into their covenant community, who take the term “faith family” sincerely and live out its implications in everyday life. They are church members who don’t treat life in the body as optional, participation in the mission tangential, or recognized by others as nominal. They are faithful men and women committed to loving the church for which Jesus gave His life.
Last week at TGC13, I was given a copy of a new book by Thom Rainer entitled I Am a Church Member: Discovering the Attitude That Makes a Difference.” Normally when I receive free books, publishers are clearing out inventory of titles not many people are buying (unless of course you come to one of my Band of Bloggers :)). But in this case, I became particularly interested in this little 75 page book because of its title (a slow reader like myself can finish this book in two hours).
I Am a Church Member is broken down into six pledges:
- I Will Be a Functioning Member
- I Will Be a Unifying Church Member
- I Will Not Let My Church Be About My Preferences and Desires
- I Will Pray for My Church Leaders
- I Will Lead My Family to Be Healthy Church Members
- I Will Treasure Church Membership as a Gift
Each chapter concludes with a summary of what each pledge represents, along with discussion questions. There are several reasons I find this book really helpful.
First, IACM is really accessible to any member of a local church. It is really short, so even for those who don’t like to read, this book can be finished in one sitting. It is also starts where people are and takes them where they need to be. For example, I love Thabiti Anyabwile’s book What Is a Healthy Church Member? (IX Marks). But the first chapter is entitled “A Healthy Church Member Is an Expositional Listener.” Thom Rainer’s first chapter is entitled “I Will Be a Functioning Member.” Now which one do you think is more accessible to the average member? Thabiti’s book assumes you know what expository preaching is and familiar with exposition. Thom’s book assumes you want to be a functioning church member. Both are really important in my opinion, but the latter has a starting point that will engage a wider audience.
Second, IACM is presented with a “church member pledge” that would work well for churches who may not have a church covenant drafted. Members can makes this “pledge” by reading through the book prior to membership (e.g., in a membership class or coupled with a membership packet) and sign the pledge as they join their local church. In other words, this book is not only accessible but also practically functional. I can see who this book could be given to any prospective members or serve as a key component in the membership process.
Third, IACM addresses some of the critical errors with wrong-headed approaches to church membership. Though the book is short, and there are places I wish Rainer elaborated some points, Rainer successfully highlights and corrects unbiblical thinking and approaches so common in churches today. He addresses self-centered “me church” mentality strongly by exposing the preferential attitudes of consumer Christians (“if we approach church membership from the perspective of entitlement, we have it upside down…you always ask first what you can do for the church” (39)), while at other times condemning the church politician wanting to control the church through money, position, or assumed power. Finally, he stresses gross inconsistency of “inactive” membership as “unbiblical…man-made, man-centered, and man-maintained” (15). Churches seeking to move to a more biblical ecclesiology with regenerate church membership could be helped with just the first chapter of this book.
There are two points I would have loved to see Rainer draw out in greater detail. In his chapter on praying for leaders, he gives a great example of the pressures and stress that comes with pastoral leadership (and the demands often places upon him). Church members can often view their leaders solely through the lens of leadership in ministry, not through their primary roles as Christian, husband, and father. Pastors are most profitable in service to the church when they are enjoying Jesus, growing in grace and repentance, and modeling the Christian life for others. Furthermore, members would serve their pastors well to help them protect the ministry from overtaking family life. Being a father and husband is a priority to being a pastor and counselor, yet members with entitlement and demands on pastors can think their “needs” constitute and emergency where the pastor is indispensable and his family is disposable. Church members who pledge to pray for their leaders ought also pledge to understand and appreciate the roles of their leadership as Christian, husband, father, then pastor.
The other area I would have liked Rainer to address is the relationship of church and family (58). While he provides classic texts regarding the roles of husbands/wives and children, he does not really address this issue. I’ve seen members fall into two ditches here. On the one hand, church members use their family as a justification for marginal involvement in the faith family. In other words, members can make their family relationships idolatrous and prevent them from functioning properly in the body of Christ. On the other hand, members can sacrifice their family for the church so that ministry is great but their family is a wreck. They are busy serving others and have no time to serve and care for one another. Leading your family to be healthy church members means avoiding both ditches.
Having said that, I believe I Am a Church Member is a great little resource for local churches to stress the importance of healthy church membership. I hope many church leaders will recognize the value of shepherding their flock to meaningful participation and life in the body of Christ. As Rainer concludes, church membership is a gift that should be treasured…
“Church membership is a gift. A gift must be treasured. It should not be taken for granted or considered lightly. Because it is a gift, we must always be thankful for it. And when we are thankful for something, we have less time and energy to be negative.
When we receive a gift with true appreciation, we naturally want to respond to the Giver. We, therefore, see service to God as a natural outflow of the joy of our salvation and the consequent joy of our church membership. We consider it a privilege to serve the King, so we look for those opportunities at the church where we serve” (72-73).