By Tim Becker, Pastor of Discipleship at FBC
When my wife, Renee, and I were in our mid-20’s, I took a software engineering job in Rochester, NY. We began attending an independent Baptist church. I had started reading the Bible when I was 17 years old. I was no Bible scholar, but I valued the Bible and wanted to live according to what it said. Someone had told me that church membership wasn’t in the Bible. I kind of liked this. I could go against “the establishment” by not becoming a member, and I could feel confident in doing that because church membership wasn’t in the Bible. I didn’t realize it at first, but this fed my pride. I liked being right. And I liked being independently right. I enjoyed thinking that I saw this truth more clearly, more rightly, than others. A young whipper snapper, right?
My over self-confidence continued. More than once my pastor or an elder in that Baptist church asked me to join the church. I responded by confidently telling him that church membership wasn’t in the Bible. And I would tell him how I am surely as invested as I could possibly be. I was tithing, leading adult Sunday school classes, attending many church events with my young family, and was heavily involved in relationships in the church. Why would I become a member?! I was already doing all that a member would do. Surely joining wouldn’t change my involvement in the church? It would just be putting my name on a roll, and that wasn’t in the Bible.
As the years went by, the pastor invited me to participate in a number of small group men’s studies. These really helped me grow in my knowledge of God and his word and in living that out. In one of those groups, the pastor gave us an assignment to study and write what the Bible taught about church membership. As I said earlier, I valued the Bible and wanted to live by it. So I took this assignment seriously. Through my study, my earlier conviction was confirmed that church membership is not named in the Bible. But to my great surprise, I found that the idea of a promised relationship with a local body of believers is assumed wherever church life is described. I was humbled to see that what we think of as church membership is assumed by the New Testament. My study forced me to give up my proud confidence that church membership wasn’t in the Bible.
At the time of the study, we had attended the church for about 14 years. So we knew many people pretty well, including the elders and deacons. One Sunday after worship, an elder I knew well (and respected) came up to me in the foyer with a membership application in his hand. He appealed to me to fill it out and become a member. His gentle push was just what I needed. Renee and I filled out the application, had a membership interview with the elders, and the members voted us in.
Then my second surprise about membership happened. Remember how I said I was sure that I was fully committed already, that my becoming an official member would not change anything about how I related to the church? Well, I changed. I found myself acting more like an owner than a participant. When a church need or major decision arose, it wasn’t “them” who would need to figure it out. In my mind, I needed to do what I could to help. As I said, I began thinking like an owner rather than just a participant. I had been so sure I knew that membership wouldn’t change anything for me. I was wrong.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, I share this to encourage you. Just as I was in my church, many of you are committed participants of First Baptist. Some of you feel a resistance to officially becoming a church member. Others of you may not consider it important enough to pursue. God used church membership to help me relate to my church according to the New Testament call and to promote my family’s growth in Christ. I can’t imagine going back. I’m so grateful for what God has done for me and my family through our committed involvement in the local church. I would encourage you to pray about this, talk with your spouse, and seek out conversation with someone in leadership at FBC. May God make his bride, the church, ready.