When Michael and Liam began meeting for Monday morning breakfast at 6 a.m. more than five months ago, they originally thought it would be a one-time event. They met in a couples’ Bible study group in their church. For many reasons, they hit it off and were becoming good friends. The two men enjoyed their time together so much that the one-time event became a weekly event. It was now rare for the two friends not to meet on Monday mornings.
But on this particular Monday morning, the conversation turned from lighthearted discussions about sports and family to something more serious. Michael and his wife had noticed some changes in Liam’s demeanor in their Bible study group. He no longer seemed as interested in studying and discussing the Bible as he did talking about their church. And his comments were often critical about the congregation. Still, Michael was caught off guard on that particular Monday morning. Liam loved the poached eggs in the little restaurant; it was his regular order. But on this Monday morning, he hadn’t touched them. He was barely sipping his coffee.
Liam didn’t take long to get to the point. “Michael,” he began, “Lana and I have decided to leave the church.” The pause seemed to last minutes. Neither of the men knew who should speak next.
Michael took the initiative and spoke softly yet deliberately. “You want to tell me about it?” Michael inquired. He honestly didn’t know if Liam wanted to say any more about it. His friend seemed resolute. Nevertheless, Liam began to explain his feelings and decision.
“Lana and I went to the church to learn deep truths about the Bible,” Liam offered. “But Pastor Robert is just not feeding us. We’re not getting anything out of his messages. Sitting in the service on Sunday morning is a waste of our time.”
Michael didn’t respond but could tell that Liam had more to say.
“There are several great people in the church,” Liam continued. “You and Karen are the best, and there are a few more like you.” He paused and his facial expression became even more serious. “But, honestly, Michael, our church is full of hypocrites. Did you hear Jim at the kids’ basketball game? He embarrassed me the way he was calling out the refs. What kind of testimony is that for a Christian? And of course, everyone knows about Neal. He was supposedly this pillar of the church, and we found out he’s been cheating on his wife for more than a year. What kind of church is this with these kinds of people?”
Liam was angry but controlled as continued to vent. “Look, Pastor Robert acts like he cares for us, but I’m not sure he does. I told him that Lana’s dad was in the hospital for hernia surgery, and he never visited him.”
Michael knew that Lana’s father was not a church member, and he lived 50 miles away. He also knew that Pastor Robert called him and prayed with him. But he also knew that any rebuttal would not be timely at the moment. Michael held his tongue.
It seemed that Liam’s mild rant was winding down. Liam seemed exhausted, ready to bring the conversation to a close. He did, however, offer a few pointed comments membership and two insightful questions.
“Michael,” Liam began softly. “I really like you and Karen and your kids. All of you are a class act.” He paused briefly. “But you seem enthused about the church. You keep serving and contributing. Don’t get me wrong, but I wonder at times if you are blind to all the problems in the church.”
Then Liam offered a closing that spoke more than he realized.
“We are two different types of church members,” he stated. “Why is that? Why do we have such different perspectives?”
Nine out of 10 churches in America are declining or growing at a slower pace than that of their communities. Simply stated, churches are losing ground in their own backyards.
Another way of looking at it is generationally. About two-thirds of the Builder generation, those born before 1946, are Christians. However, only 15 percent of Millennials, born between 1980 and 2000, are Christians. Millennials are the largest generation in America’s history with almost 80 million members.
And we have all but lost that generation.
We can blame it on the secular culture. And we often do.
We can blame on the godless politics of our nation. We do that as well.
We can even blame it on the churches, the hypocritical members, and the uncaring pastors. Lots of Christians do that.
I’m proposing that we who are church members need look in the mirror. I’m suggesting that congregations across America are weak because many of us church members have lost the biblical understanding of what it means to be a part
of the body of Christ.
We join our churches expecting others to serve us, to feed us, and to care for us.
We don’t like the hypocrites in the church, but we fail to see our own hypocrisies.
God didn’t give us local churches to become country clubs where membership means we have privileges and perks.
He placed us in churches to serve, to care for others, to pray for leaders, to learn, to teach, to give and, in some cases, to die for the sake of the gospel.
Many churches are weak because we have members who have turned the meaning of membership upside down. It’s time to get it right. It’s time to become church members as God intended. It’s time to give instead of being entitled.
A New Path
Though it’s a small step, I’m suggesting that church members consider a new path. There are six steps we should carefully and prayerfully take. Let’s consider each of these steps to be the type of church member God intended us to be.
First, let’s note the metaphor of membership. It’s not membership as in a civic organization or country club. It’s the kind of membership given to us in 1 Corinthians 12:27, “Now you are the body of Christ and individual members of it.” Because I’m a member of the body of Christ, I must be a functioning member, whether I’m an “eye,” an “ear,” or a “hand.” As a functioning member, I will give. I will serve. I will minister. I will evangelize. I will study. I will seek to be a blessing to others.
Second, I will strive to be a source of unity in the church. I know there are no perfect pastors, staff, or other church members. But I’m not perfect either. I won’t be a source of gossip or dissension. One of the greatest contributions I can make is to do all I can in God’s power to help keep the church in unity for the sake of the gospel.
Third, I will not let my church be about my preferences and desires; that’s self serving. I’m in this church to serve others and to serve Christ. My Savior went to the cross for me. I can deal with any inconveniences and matters that aren’t my preference or style.
Fourth, I will pray for my pastor every day. His work is never ending. His days are filled with constant demands for his time, with the need to prepare sermons, with those who are rejoicing in births, with those who are travelling through the valley of the shadow of death, with critics, with the hurts and hopes of others, and with the need to be a husband and a father. My pastor cannot serve the church in his own power.
Fifth, I will lead my family to be good members of this church as well. We will pray together for our church. We will worship together in our church. We will serve together in our church. And we will ask Christ to help us fall deeper in love with this church because He gave His life for her.
Sixth, I will remember that this membership is a gift. When I received the free gift of salvation through Jesus Christ, I became a part of the body of Christ. I soon thereafter identified with a local body and was baptized. And now I”m humbled and honored to serve and to love others in our church. I pray that I will never take my membership for granted, but see it as a gift and an opportunity to serve others, and to be a part of something so much greater than any one person or member.
Adapted with permission from I Am a Church Member by Thom S. Rainer (B&H Publishing, May 2013)
Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife,
Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam, Art, and Jess; and six grandchildren. Dr. Rainer publishes a daily blog at thomrainer.com and can be found on Twitter at @ThomRainer and on Facebook at facebook.com/Thom.S.Rainer.