This is question four in a five part interview series with Dr. John Hammett on the Importance of Church Membership. Dr. Hammett (Ph.D., The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) currently serves as Professor of Systematic Theology and the Associate Dean of Theological Studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, NC.
Dr. Hammett, What are the responsibilities of being a member of a local church?
Along with all the privileges of church membership there also are some responsibilities. I’ll list two simple and general privileges, and specifiy within those categories.
1. Living out the Covenant Commitment
This is not so much a list as a lifestyle. I like to call it living the “one-another” life. Again, there are at least 31 different one-another commands in the New Testament. Love one another is the most frequent (17 times), but there are also commands to encourage, pray for, honor, build up, forgive, rejoice and weep with, be devoted to, and literally dozens more. It means saying to yourself, “These people matter to me,” and then living it out. In a church this large, that will probably only happen when you get into a small group and begin to share life.
In I Peter 4:10 we read,
Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.
We each have a certain amount of time, energy, abilities, resources. They are all God’s gifts to us and to our church family. Our calling is to “faithfully administer,” or manage them. Now how we live out our responsibilities of stewardship will look different than someone else. We are all managing different sets of assets. Right now, some have heavy responsibilities at home or work, or with loved ones. How God has gifted us will also direct us in different paths of ministry, but we should know (or be finding out) how God has gifted us and should be involved in using that gift, in large or small ways, depending on what responsible stewardship means for each of us. Some will be able to do more than others. But there are some basics I think are common responsibilities for all. Let me specifiy those basics.
I know there will always be times of sickness and when you’re out of town, but we are commanded to gather habitually.
Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:25)
One of the greatest gifts of my childhood was never missing going to church. We had to be pretty near death’s door to miss church, and so when I went away to college I didn’t know you could do anything else on a Sunday morning. I never considered not going. That’s the habit to develop, not the habit of giving up gathering. That is the path to spiritual coldness and deadness.
This is financial stewardship. I know it’s tough in this economy, but as God gives us resources, we are called to manage them in a godly way.
In a church of any size, there are many things going on and no one should be completely unemployed. I’m sure your pastor could mention a dozen pressing needs.
But not just in the church, but in our neighborhoods. One of the best things I see happening in a number of churches is serious efforts to engage our communities and express Christ’s love in simple acts of service: having a local mission trip to do an extreme makeover on a local school, or doing routine maintenance on the homes of senior citizens, or buying backpacks and school supplies for underprivileged kids.
By this I mean allowing the health of the church to mean something to you. That will mean you pray for the ministries, for fellow members, for leaders. I know of one church that encourages members to pray through their membership directory, a page a day, even for those you don’t know. And it would mean that when there are decisions before the church, you pray and help the church use Godly wisdom.
Churches usually have very few business meetings during the year, but when they do, I would guess that the attendance is abysmal. On the one hand, it may be that the congregation trusts its leaders; on the other hand, it may say the people don’t care very much. I think God wants us to care; I think he wants the church he has called us to to matter to us; enough to move us to come and give, and serve and pray, and seek God’s face, and have a voice. And even accepting these responsibilities is itself another privilege, because the one we’re ultimately serving is the One to whom we owe everything, and serving him is true freedom and joy.