Church Membership…and what’s it look like?

This past Wednesday I taught our Discovering Oak Park Class, which is a class for those who are (1) interested in understanding what it means to be a member at Oak Park, (2) those who need to attend the class for the purposes of completing their membership or those (3) who have questions about what it means to follow Jesus.  I pulled from a number of different resources to help complete our membership packet and I thoroughly enjoyed delving into different books and websites to discern what I needed to incorporate into this class.  It’s a class that only meets two times for a total of about two and a half hours so the pressure is on to be a good steward.  The material is broken up into four sections, with some being much more heavy than others.  The section breakdown is as follows:

  • The History of Oak Park Baptist Church
  • Theology/Doctrine of the Bible
  • Expectations – what we expect of members and what members can expect of us
  • Question/Answer – undoubtedly, questions will arise and I wanted to allocate time for this

I had a great time teaching through it this past Wednesday and I’m looking forward to this next Wednesday to walk them through Oak Park’s understanding of what the Bible puts forth as expectations for Christ-followers!  That being said, I wanted to briefly summarize a book that I ready entitled, “What is a Healthy Church Member?” by Thabiti M. Anyabwile, who is the senior pastor of First Baptist Church, Grand Cayman Islands (nice huh?!?).  In his book he describes what characterizes a healthy member.   Here they are:

  • A healthy church member is an expositional listener.  “Expositional listening is listening for the meaning of a passage of Scripture and accepting that meaning as the main idea to be grasped for our personal and corporate lives as Christians” (pp. 20).  How do you practice “expositional listening?  Thabiti suggests meditate on the sermon passage during your quiet time, invest in a good set of commentaries, talk and pray with friends about the sermon after church, listen to act on the sermon throughout the week, develop the habit of addressing any questions about the text itself and cultivate humility.
  • A healthy church member is a biblical theologian.  A church member can be come a biblical theologian by reading a good book on biblical theology, studying the Scriptures thematically, adopting the New Testament’s attitude toward the Old Testament, studying the Old Testament with Jesus and the New Testament in view, studying the books of prophecy in the Old Testament, knowing and agreeing to support your church’s statement of faith, and seeking doctrinal unity and avoiding needless disputes.
  • A healthy church member is gospel saturated.  Church members become gospel saturated by hearing the gospel and preaching the gospel to themselves (something vastly undertaught and for the most part never mentioned), knowing and guarding the gospel and of course sharing the gospel.
  • A healthy church member is genuinely converted.  Everything, and I truly mean everything, hangs in the balance of whether or not someone rightly, accurately, biblically understands conversion.
  • A healthy church member is a biblical evangelist.  Thabiti quotes six things Mark Dever says church members should keep in mind concerning evangelism.  He says, “tell people with honesty that if they repent and believe they will be saved – but it will be costly.  Tell people with urgency that if they repent and believe they will be saved – but they must decide now. Tell people with joy that if they repent and believe the good news that they will be saved. However difficult it may be, it is all worth it!  Use the Bible.  Realize that the lives of the individual Christian and of the church as a whole are a central part of evangelism.  Both should give credibility to the gospel we proclaim.  Remember to pray.” (pp. 59-60).
  • A healthy church member is a committed member.  Thabiti opens this chapter by quoting an excerpt from Joshua Harris’ book “Stop Dating the Church.”  In this chapter Thabiti goes through several reasons (explicit and implicit) of the Bible’s understanding of membership.  I found this chapter to be very insightful and tremendously appreciated his thoughts on a subject that many times Christians and even pastors have a hard job articulating a Scriptural philosophy of membership.
  • A healthy church member seeks discipline.  I have every intention of coming back to this in a later post but suffice it to say, discipline is an absolute necessity for the church to distinguish itself from the world and in carrying out discipline among the church we are displaying what God does to each one of us who are legitimate children of God (Hebrews 12).
  • A healthy church member is a growing disciple.  Part of my testimony is that at the age of 18 I finally understood that that my personal decision to repent of my sins and trust in Christ needed to and should manifest itself in all facets of my life; for many years I was stagnant and complacent in my faith.  The church plays an important part in that (certainly that would be one of the ways to grow seeing as the title of this book is being a healthy “church” member!) but also of paramount important is for an individual to abide in Christ (John 15).  We’re told abiding in Christ will (not maybe, not there is a strong likelihood) bring about fruit.  So abide in Christ.
  • A healthy church member is a humble follower.  Thabiti states, “…no serious attempt to define a healthy church member can neglect reflecting on the interaction between church members and church leaders” (pp. 95).  Humility should mark every Christian and that humility should manifest itself in humble-followship. 
  • A healthy church member is a prayer warrior.  I heard a comment years ago that will forever remain with me (I think it was Thomas Watson’s “A Body of Divinity”) and the comment is that “a man is who he is when he is on his knees.”  Basically what the comment is driving at is that a Christian’s spirituality, power, and maturity are directly commensurate with the quality of his prayer life.  This is scary for me and more than anything that I long for (and by God’s grace I mean this) I want to develop and cultivate an intimate prayer life. 

Okay, so how is that for brief?!?  But now, you don’t really need to go purchase the book because I’ve just typed it all out – kidding.  In all seriousness, I’m certain you would benefit from this book.  It’s help to crystallize some issues I’ve been thinking of and the book does serve as a great resource if you’re ever wondering what healthy church membership looks like or if you’re putting together a class to teach others.  So thanks Pastor Anyabwile for the wisdom and insight.

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