These days, many have departed or disconnected from the local church. Some are burned out, and some have just been burned by the messiness created by mean-spirited or misdirected church people. However, many other members and non-members are thinking in fresh ways about the positive role of the church as they address their need for spiritual community and their desire to serve in ways that make a difference.
Why connect with a church in the first place? Popular author Philip Yancey, who readily confesses his struggles with the church, ultimately affirmed, “I go to church as an expression of my need for God and God’s family.”
A few years ago, a young military couple approached me after a worship service and said, “We would like to talk to you about joining the church.” I invited them to my study and began the conversation by saying, “Tell me a little about your faith journey and church background.” They looked at each other and said, “We don’t have a church background, so we want you to start at the beginning.”
I proceeded to talk with them about what it means to be a follower of Jesus, what it means to be baptized, and the importance of being connected to a spiritual community. They indicated that they were ready to start their journey of following Jesus, and they wanted to be baptized. But then they added, “Before we join the church, we need to ask, what are the responsibilities of a church member?”
That is a great question. I’ve discovered that many individuals have been church members for years who have not given much thought to their responsibilities as members of a congregation. Some churches now refer to their congregants as participants rather than members. I understand their reasons, and I heartily endorse the emphasis on participation. However, congregational churches that are not part of a diocese, presbytery, or adjudicatory need to emphasize the importance of membership for both spiritual and legal reasons.
Micah 6:8 challenges us “to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God.” In Matthew 16:19-20, Jesus commissions his early followers to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
These two provide a missional objective for all of God’s children. What can church members do to inspire and energize each other around this core mission? Here are 12 things that could be included in the job description of a church member:
- Gathering with others to worship is a spiritual practice that sets the heartbeat of a church. It is so vitally important that Hebrews 10:25 urges us “not to give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing.” Streaming is a “Godsend” to those who cannot attend on-site because of health challenges, caregiving, or work schedules. However, gathering in person is even more meaningful, enabling us to experience the presence of God as we see and feel the presence of other worshippers.
- We have the privilege of praying for each other through all the seasons of life, including times of tribulation and occasions of celebration. James 5:16 is one of many scriptures encouraging us to “pray for one another.”
- I Thessalonians 5:11 reminds us to “Encourage one another and build one another up.” In a time when many are discouraged and disheartened about their future, one of the most needed ministries of the church can be a ministry of encouragement.
- Whether you call it “quiet time” or your “daily devotional,” a time for personal prayer, Bible reading, and reflection keeps us centered on God’s directives for our lives. Just as Jesus regularly withdrew to a quiet place, to center our busy lives we can designate a time and place for inspiration and reflection.
- Whether your method of giving involves storehouse tithing (Malachi 3:10) or first fruits giving (Proverbs 3:9-10), church members have the privilege of strengthening missions and ministries through their systematic stewardship. I Corinthians 9:7 advises, “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
- In Luke 14:23, Jesus urged his disciples, “Go out…and compel them to come in, so that my house may be full.” Jesus’ method of reaching people was highly relational. It involved one friend influencing another to discover the path to God’s grace and forgiveness.
- Every individual is endowed with spiritual gifts and talents. And no one person or minister has the full package of gifts and talents needed to make a church effective. Therefore, I Peter 4:10 proposes, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.”
- In addressing some conflict in the early church in I Corinthians 14:40, Paul taught them, “Let all things be done decently and in order.” One of the best ways to preserve harmony and promote God’s mission is for each member to participate in the process.
- Ephesians 4:3 emphasizes, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.” These days it seems that individuals and organizations more easily devolve into conflictual and adversarial postures. However, if we adhere to the teachings of Jesus and follow the leadership of the Holy Spirit, we will become bridgebuilders and peacemakers.
- Hebrews 13:7 instructs us to “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” Let us pray not only for our ministers, but for all who serve on our church staff.
- In my experience, many of those who are not connected to a church or who do not have a meaningful faith commitment are open to conversations about faith. So, a big part of fulfilling the Great Commission is learning to share your faith story with others without being condescending or judgmental. Your story is powerful. I Peter 3:15 (MSG) suggests, “Be ready to speak up and tell anyone who asks why you’re living the way you are, and always with the utmost courtesy.”
- Just as individuals have different spiritual gifts, different followers of Jesus will become passionate about specific causes and concerns such as world hunger, poverty, peacemaking, human trafficking, the persecuted church, human equality, unreached people groups, and many more. Not every Jesus follower can work toward every cause, but every Jesus follower can work toward addressing at least one concern about which you are passionate.
Despite its imperfections, I believe in the ministry of the local church in its many iterations including traditional church, house church, online church, and fresh expressions, for example. The church or spiritual community is the place where I see and sense the Spirit is most at work to accomplish God’s mission in the world. Be assured the local church is most effective when each member does their part.
Philip Yancey admits, “I rejected the church for a time because I found so little grace there. I returned because I found grace nowhere else.”
As we fulfill our role as church members and followers of Jesus, may we create communities where those who feel disconnected or discouraged can discover a generous supply of grace and more.
(Barry Howard serves as the pastor at the Church at Wieuca in North Atlanta. He is also a leadership coach and columnist for the Center for Healthy Churches. He and his wife, Amanda, currently reside in Brookhaven, Georgia. You can follow him on Twitter at @BarryNotes.)