A friend of mine comes to worship at our church when she’s not out of town for work. She’s gung-ho about mission and service, and has served with tireless compassion and dedication on several mission trips.
But she hasn’t joined the church. She’s not a “member.” When I ask her about it, she says that since she’s out of town so much for her work, she isn’t able to be here as much as she would like to. And if she can’t make the commitment, she isn’t going to join.
I cannot begin to tell you how much I respect her for that!
Nobody should ever pressure a person to join a church. It’s something a person chooses to do. My friend worships, serves, gives; from outward appearances she seems like one of the most active members of the congregation. But she hasn’t become a member of the congregation because the circumstances of her life do not allow her to make the kind of commitment she wants to make.
Being a member of a church is about “want to” - not “have to.” Why bother becoming a member? Quite simply, because you have chosen to follow Jesus, and subsequently you have realized that by yourself you cannot do so. You need some people to help you. And in return for their help, you will offer yours to them.
Because the fact is, it isn’t easy to follow Jesus. C.S. Lewis puts it this way: “If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity.” The Gospel is challenging, and the call to follow is rarely a call to comfort.
You may ask: Well, if it’s not a “have to” kind of situation, why would anybody “want to” then?
I may respond: Because life is supposed to be meaningful, and following Jesus is what provides that meaning.
I heard Donald Miller say recently that deep down people do not actually want to live lives that are successful; people want to live lives that are meaningful. I’ve been pondering that idea ever since.
People find meaning from all kinds of sources. Career. Status. Family. Science. Baseball. Star Wars. Helping people. Hurting people. Just about anything can provide a person with a sense of purpose, a foundation for life. But much of it is transient, and provides only a temporary touch point.
I think there is innate in people something that seeks to transcend. We seem to have been hardwired with an inkling that there is more to the world that what is apparent on the surface. And along with that inkling is the suspicion that the “something more” is what infuses life with meaning.
Jesus is speaking directly to that inkling when he says, “Follow me.” Initially there is a sense that maybe, just maybe, this way could lead somewhere. There’s a small nudge, a kind of hesitant but eager desire to see what might happen. When the way is walked well, with the love and support and encouragement of other followers of the way, it doesn’t take too long for the confirmation to come. Life means something. There is purpose, there is vision, there is a mission to undertake and good friends with whom to undertake it.
Last night, the Chamber Choir from Kickapoo High School came to our church to sing at a fundraiser concert for a mission trip. Now, I don’t know the faith backgrounds of all of the kids who were here. I don’t know what the “believe” or even if they do. But I know that nobody required them to be here, to give a couple hours of their weekend away like they did. They were here because they chose to be here, and they chose to be here because a member of their choir is also on the mission team hosting the fundraiser, and she asked them to be here.
Whether it was to show support for their friend, or because they wanted to help fund the mission trip to Kenya, or just because they love to sing together - they chose to be here because it meant something to them. Their presence here was not because their director required it; he wasn’t even here! It was because the experience was meaningful.
In the same way, a person chooses to be a member of a congregation. Not because someone requires it. Not because it is expected. Not because you will be graded at the end of the quarter, and this stuff is going to be on the quiz.
You choose to “show up” and be a member of a church because you want to follow Jesus, and doing so infuses life with transcendent meaning.
(This is Part 2 of a three part series on church membership. Part one is called “Support & Accountability.” The working title for part three is “But What About the Jerks?”)