If I Were a Church Member
By: Dr. Steven C. Riser
|By: Dr. Steven Riser; ©2006|
|How should we regard our privilege and shape our responsibilities as members of Christ’s church?|
- 1 If I Were a Church Member
- 1.1 Introduction: “If I were a minister”
- 1.2 Explanation
- 1.3 I. Praise God for the Privilege of Membership
- 1.4 II. Engender a Spirit of Love/Harmony in the Body
- 1.5 III. Seek to Encourage Christians Along the Way
- 1.6 IV. Graciously Submit to the Church Leadership
- 1.7 V. Support the Church in Every Way Possible
- 1.8 VI. Daily Witness to Christ in Character/Conduct
- 1.9 Conclusion
- 1.10 My Personal Covenant with God and My Congregation
If I Were a Church Member
Introduction: “If I were a minister”
Some time ago a religious journal ran a series of intriguing articles under the general title, “If I were a minister”. Every article was written by a layman whose privilege it was to “sit under” a particular preacher Sunday by Sunday. Ministers were firmly yet kindly told all sorts of things—how to preach, how to pray in public, how to visit the sick, how to counsel the perplexed how to work happily with all sorts of people, how to deal with the strong-willed and tender-hearted members of the flock, how to manage the cranks who come along and so on. They were urged to be tactful without being insincere, to be patient without being slack, to be interesting without being sensational, to be relevant without being disloyal to the historic Christian faith.
I thought it appropriate to answer that article with another article: “If I were a church member.” I feel somewhat qualified to speak on this subject because I have been involved in the church for a quarter of a century before becoming a minister. Suppose I had not become a preacher! Suppose I had remained all my life as a church member—what then? How shall I have regarded my privilege and shaped my responsibilities as a member of Christ’s church? Where does one begin? I would begin with the biblical conviction that: “It is God’s will that I become and remain an active member of a local Christian congregation.”
I. Praise God for the Privilege of Membership
I would consider it a wonderful privilege to be a member of Christ’s Body—His Church. Every Sunday, as I joined in the worship of the congregation I should sincerely thank God for the high and holy privilege of being a part of “the household of faith” and of “the ground and pillar of truth.” I should rejoice in the fact that I belong to “the flock of God.” I wouldn’t allow my membership in other organizations to detract from or hinder my participation in the Body of Christ. Children’s sports, personal entertainment, even civic organizations would be secondary to worshipping, growing and serving Christ in His Church. With this never-ceasing wonder in my heart, I would strive to be an active participant and not merely a silent partner of God’s family. For I know that God hasn’t called me to be a secret service Christian or to just attend but to join in mutual commitment to the Family of Faith of which I am a part.
I would understand being a church member is not a spectator sport and that my heavenly Father is much happier about people who are productively engaged in serving God than those who remain on the sidelines. God is much more interested in constructive accomplishment than constant complaining. As long as I am alive there is a good purpose for me being here. That purpose consists of serving Christ in and through His Church.
In every church there are two kinds of people: 1) Those who are willing to work; 2) Those who are willing to let them. The last thing I would want to be is “a practical atheist”, one who thought he was doing God a favor by coming to church one hour a week and then living Monday through Saturday as though God didn’t exist.
II. Engender a Spirit of Love/Harmony in the Body
Secondly, if I were a church member I would do my best to engender the spirit of harmony in the congregation knowing that the welfare of one member was contingent on the welfare of the others and as Jesus said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Not that I should always expect unanimity of opinion or uniformity of action; it takes all sorts of people to make a church and differences of opinion are bound to occur. But, I would try to remember that differences of opinion more often than not are but a division of labor in the pursuit of the truth in an effort to discover the will of God in a given situation or a reflection of different spiritual gifts in the service of God or the result of different levels of spiritual maturity (Phil. 3:15).
I would understand that no one except God has all the pieces to the puzzle called “Truth”. I wouldn’t try and absolutize my opinions or be unteachable or dogmatic where I had limited knowledge. I would want to make sure that my actions and reactions were based on God’s revealed Word and objective facts rather than irrational feelings or unwarranted assumptions. Hearts touched by the Holy Spirit can agree, even though heads may differ, in seeking the solution to a difficult problem. So long as my fellow members agree on the main points of the church’s life and witness, I should not be unduly disturbed by minor disagreements. I would remind myself to not make a mountain out of a molehill. I would remind myself of the motto: “Unity in the essentials, liberty in the non-essentials, and charity in all things.”
I would also pray for my Pastor, my congregation and myself, knowing that prayer is not only “the sword of the saints,” but also the solvent of difficulties. In all aspects of the church’s ministry I would seek to create an atmosphere in which other Christians could be constructive and productive. I would ask for grace to love everyone— even those I found it hard to like—the awkward, the touchy, the disgruntled. I would keep in mind the spiritual fact that an atmosphere of prayer is more important than a barrage of criticism.
III. Seek to Encourage Christians Along the Way
In the third place, if I were a Church member, I should seek to encourage my fellow travelers in the Christian way. Life can be difficult; there are many disappointments along the way: there are many things that can discourage us in our relationships with others. But knowing how easily we influence others, I should say to my fellow workers in Christ’s cause, “Be of good courage. Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.” And I should look as if I meant it. I would speak words of encouragement to my Pastor, church officers, staff and teachers as well as my fellow church members knowing that encouragement is oxygen for the soul. While it is true that God should receive all the glory, it’s not inappropriate or unnecessary to express appreciation and encouragement to others.
IV. Graciously Submit to the Church Leadership
Fourthly, if I were a church member, I should realize that no one is infallible, not even me. So I would graciously submit to the authority of the church leadership (Pastor/elders). I would do all I can to promote and preserve the peace and harmony of the church. I should not be fond of having my own way. If I gave offense, even unintentionally, I should be willing to apologize; and I should be equally willing to forgive anyone who might offend me, even deliberately. When I came across a tangle in church life, I should do what I can to straighten it out, reminding myself of the fact that Christ has called me to be a peacemaker, reconciler, bridge builder and healer. I should set a watch on my tongue, thereby escaping the dangers of irresponsible gossip. I should refrain from criticizing the church and its members before nonmembers. Rather, I should “talk it up” widely and enthusiastically hoping to commend it to people who are less than enthusiastic about the things of God.
V. Support the Church in Every Way Possible
Fifthly, if I were a church member, I should support my church in every possible way, by my attendance and my contributions, even to the point of sacrificial giving of time and talent. I should seek to interest my non-church going friends and neighbors in the church and should always speak of Christ’s Church as if it were (as indeed it is) the most wonderful association of people on earth. I would visit inactive members (lost sheep) and inform the minister of any whom I know to be sick, in trouble or in need of a pastoral visit.
I should welcome visitors so that they wouldn’t feel like strangers in God’s house, giving up my seat or worship bulletin if need be. I would even invite them out to dinner after the worship service. I should strive to make my church the most sympathetic and understanding group in the community, a place where poor sinners and puzzled saints could find sympathy, fellowship and inspiration, a place of forgiveness, healing, hope and assurance. In fact, I should do all in my power to bring about the answer to the often said prayer: “Thy Kingdom come; Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven,” recognizing that I do this only as I depend upon the enabling grace of Jesus Christ my Lord.
VI. Daily Witness to Christ in Character/Conduct
Finally, if I were a church member, I should try to keep ever before me the privilege to bear witness in daily character and conduct to the redeeming grace of the Savior. Sometimes I should remind myself of the old Roman proverb, “Nothing is more useful than sunshine and salt.” I should seek to implement in speech and action the saving truth of our Lord’s words, “You are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.” “Salt” to save others from moral decay and “light” to deliver others from spiritual darkness. Thus, there is a close connection between worship and witness: my place in the worshipping congregation would be to keep the “salt” from losing its savor and prevent the “light” from being hidden under a bushel.
Having heard all I have said, you may well exclaim: “What a pity you ever became a minister and did not remain a church member!” However I fear that had I remained a church member I would have fallen short of this very high ideal that I
have set forth. If I found and joined the perfect church, it would not longer be perfect if I were a member. But thank God that where my sin abounds, God’s grace abounds all the more!
It’s not failure, but low aim that is our problem. He who aims at a star shoots higher and farther than he who aims at a tree. What a difference it would make to the Church and our community if only our spirituals aims were higher! How much faster would God’s saving purpose be realized if only each of us strove more earnestly in Christ’s strength to be a worthy member of His holy Body and His heavenly Bride—the Church! Now is the time to renew our personal commitment to Christ and His Church!
My Personal Covenant with God and My Congregation
I come to Jesus Christ and to this Christian congregation, thanking God for His love and His gracious invitation to enter into an abundant life through a personal, redemptive relationship with His Son.
I come in clear recognition of the fact that I have fallen short of God’s best for my life and that there is nothing I can do to earn or merit His approval apart from His sovereign mercy and grace.
I believe that God has made a provision in Christ for restoring fellowship with us. I believe that Christ died in the sinner’s place and that His resurrection is a guarantee of my victory over sin and death.
In accepting Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, I commit and trust myself to cultivating a loving personal relationship with Him as He has revealed Himself in the Scriptures.
I believe that all Christians are called to be conformed to the character and conduct of Jesus Christ. Therefore, I give myself to a life of Christian discipline and with God’s help, determine to use those means of growth which God has given to accomplish this purpose, namely, the Bible—both read and preached, the Sacraments—baptism and the Lord’s Supper, prayer and fellowship, worship, and ministry with the people of God.
- I accept God the Father as my Father through Jesus Christ.
- I accept Jesus Christ as my Savior and Lord.
- I accept the indwelling Holy Spirit, as the one who enables me to live the Christian life.
- I accept this congregation as God’s family and my Christian family.
I come, accepting the responsibility of being a part of this congregation as God’s gift to me and to the community of people where He is redemptively at work. I do not come making demands of it, but rather giving myself to its unity, its peace and purity. I covenant with God and this congregation to encourage, to love, to bear the infirmities of, to pray for, to minister to, to be reconciled with, to forgive, and to be forgiven by my Christian brothers here in accordance with the Scripture, that the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace be maintained among us. I willingly submit to the practice of the government, discipline, and doctrine of the congregation and its officers consistent with the Word of God.
I come to give myself to the mission of the church. I accept the pattern that my life and all I possess be given sacrificially to the Lord for this goal. I covenant with the Lord of the Church that my life, my home, my daily occupation, and all that I have or influence shall be His for a witness of my faith in order that this community and the world might be brought to a saving knowledge of God in Jesus Christ, Whom to know rightly is life eternal.
I come acknowledging the fact that we, in this congregation, are but a single unit in the Church universal, the Body of Christ, which exists in all places of the earth in all generations. Thus we are not only members of a local congregation, but of the whole body of God’s people in heaven and on earth. I come, so believing, and so covenanting, so help me God.