Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Membership Or Ownership?

Church Membership has Rights. Church Ownership has Responsibilities.

Have there been any cases of consumerism that have infected people in your local church? The disease is a silent malignancy in which infected individuals are rarely aware of their sickness.  Consumerism is insisting that everything we are involved in, including our church, be custom-fit to meet our individual needs and tastes. Do you detect the symptoms?  A church music minister encourages the congregation to collectively affirm truth, but he meets resistance by those who only participate in worship that is either traditional or contemporary enough for their “tastes.” Or, spiritual leaders exhort the church to use their spiritual gifts in service and are met with “We just don’t have time.”  A couple desires to be wed in the church, but are unwilling to see the ceremony as a worship service and are completely focused upon the wedding pleasing themselves. But, the unmistakable symptom of consumerism is a failure to make any vital commitment to a local church. Church consumers are in a realm of persistent fluidity and ongoing transition. Like we change our hairdresser, fitness club, pet groomer, or our favorite restaurant, church consumers view their local church as a choice that is always an open-ended question.They are never completely committed. God could "lead them away" at any moment. Church consumers often refer to the church in the second person (“your church,” “your pastors,” “your deacons,” etc.) or, worse, the third person (“that church,” “the church,” “Trinity,” etc.) rather than the first person (“my church,” “my pastors,” “my family,” etc.). Do you suffer from any symptoms of church consumerism? Have you been infecting your spouse and family members? Beware, it’s extremely contagious!

Reseacher George Barna has observed:

“We are a designer society. We want everything customized to fit our personal needs—our clothing, our food, our education. Now it’s our religion.” 

Thankfully, a vaccination is available that has proven completely successful: a Biblical Ecclesiology (doctrine of the church).  One of the ways the Holy Spirit administers this ecclesiastical medicine is through metaphors of the church. The Church is called a body, a building, and a bride, all of which point to the importance and interconnection of each part. A head calls for a body. A foundation calls for a building. A Bridegroom calls for a bride. The bride metaphor speaks of a covenant and of commitment. Perhaps we would do well if we stopped calling “joining” a church as “membership.” Membership, in our time, indicates rights and privileges.  To be a member of something often prompts us to ask, “What do I get?” Like a country club, we begin to look for the perks that membership affords. We become quick to fill out comment cards, and to either cheer or jeer the events and happenings of our club. Perhaps, ownership is a better, more scripturally-informed, title for joining a church rather than membership. As an owner of something, we are committed to the well-being, success, and health of whatever we own. We are vested. It is ours! Membership, then, has rights. Ownership has responsibilities. Here are some of those responsibilities of church 

Rescued People Rescue Others.

The Lord has entrusted every believer with the same Gospel that they are commanded to invest and spread to others (Luke 19:11-27). Owners of the local church are those who share the Gospel. Owners are expected to be “on mission” by seeking to make disciples of all nations. Every owner of Trinity Baptist Church covenants to “seek the salvation of our relatives, acquaintances and all others” (Ephesians 5:8-11; Matthew 28:19-20; Romans 9:3).

Saved People Serve.

Believers are given different spiritual gifts both quantitatively and qualitatively. Yet, every believer is given at least one spiritual gift. Those gifts are meant to be employed, not for one’s own benefit, but for the praise of God and the benefit of others. Owners see themselves as stewards with the resources that God has given to them. A consumer will often only employ their gifts as manipulation if it benefits them. If recognition and appreciation are offered, if the ministry is being managed to their approval, or they are being used in the way they want to be used, they are willing to “serve.” But with those conditions unmet, they bury their talent.

Christians Grow and Change in Community.

Christians are not what they should be. They are not what they want to be. But praise God, they are not what they used to be!  Christians grow. That growth, called sanctification, is a team sport. Sanctification commands in the New Testament are often in the plural, indicating that Christianity is not a solo sport. Consumers often chafe under spiritual leadership, accountability and spiritual pressure.  Distant, non-intrusive Christianity is comfortable for them. Positions on various issues gives them spiritual security; whereas, transparent Christian living makes them uneasy.  Owners recognize that “We are better together!”

Grace Motivates Us To Give.

The grace of God motivates us to give cheerfully, regularly, and sacrificially (II Corinthians 8-9). Owners understand their commitment to give. We covenant together “to contribute cheerfully and regularly to the support of the ministry, the expenses of the church, the relief of the poor, and the spread of the Gospel through all nations (II Corinthians 8:14; 9:7; I Thessalonians 5:14; Malachi 3:10; Hebrews 13:7; Galatians 6:6, 10; Luke 10:7).  God has planned to fully resource His church through the grace-motivated giving of His people through their local church. Consumers practice conditional and political giving. Consumers often view their giving not as a commitment but rather a vote of confidence or agreement with the present place of that local church. Owners, 10% of your gross income is a great place to start in grace-giving. From there, let the Lord grow your generosity through His grace.

Will you become an owner of your local church? We call you to a commitment that covenants “to give the church sacred preeminence over all institutions of human origin.”  Will you, like a marriage, fall in love with your church, in spite of her cosmetic defects? Owners share the Gospel with others. Owners use their gifts in service. Owners participate in loving community. Owners generously support their church. Be healed you consumer!

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