Archive for the ‘Church Membership’ category

Consequences of Meaningless Membership

May 25, 2011

Al Jackson, one of the men I esteem highly in the SBC has written about unregenerate church membership in the May-June 2011 IX Marks e-Journal.  In particular, he spells out the consequences for meaningless membership.  Quoting Vance Havner, he says that “we are many but we are not much.” Jackson writes:

The Southern Baptist Convention is most likely far smaller than what we report. And our membership rolls most likely contain a multitude of unregenerate individuals. Our Baptist forefathers would view our present condition with shock and horror.

What are the consequences of such meaningless membership?

It Gives a False Assurance of Salvation to Multitudes

It is common for a man or woman to join a Southern Baptist church, but then to stop participating in worship and fellowship—sometimes for decades. Yet when the church says or does nothing, the individual continues to believe he or she is saved. This is the case because of our refusal to obey God in the matter of discipline.

We often say that we love inactive members too much to discipline them. Actually, our lack of discipline reveals our lack of love for these people who give little or no evidence of the new birth. Many such people are under the just condemnation of a holy God. This is the greatest and most grievous consequence of allowing them to maintain church membership without church involvement.

It Harms Our Gospel Witness

Hypocrisy within our churches is common, and Southern Baptist churches almost universally fail to practice church discipline. As a result, Christ’s bride is stained and soiled when she should be progressing toward radiance, holiness, and blamelessness.

Church history professor Tom Nettles has said that “holiness should pave the way for evangelism.” In other words, the holy lives of a congregation should undergird its gospel witness. Those who proclaim the gospel of God’s saving grace in Christ Jesus should be able to point to an assembly of believers who are new creations in Christ.

It Makes for Some Ugly Business Meetings

The typical Southern Baptist congregational meeting is characterized by routine motions and decisions. However, occasionally, when the Spirit begins to move in God-glorifying ways, unregenerate church members who haven’t been seen for years suddenly appear at business meetings. The result is not pretty. God-glorifying initiatives are halted, and godly pastors are often voted out. The occasions on which this has happened are too numerous to count.

It Hinders our Missionary Efforts

Yes, it is true that we have the largest number of missionaries worldwide of any American denomination. Our 5,000 International Mission Board missionaries span the globe. Yet this translates to one missionary for every nine Southern Baptist churches. In light of the Bible’s clear teaching on missions, is it unrealistic to think that every church should have a least one missionary serving internationally? More than 30,000 Southern Baptist churches have no missionary from their ranks. How can this be? Where is the passion to declare God’s glory among the nations?

Monday is for “kingly” administration: The Membership Process, Part 2

June 7, 2010

Last week, I took up the first part of the membership process, namely the membership application and class.  Today, I want to finish up the membership process by taking up the interview and congregational vote.  It goes without saying that these processes are always being evaluated and subject to change as we look to discover how to give faithful oversight and care to the health and growth of the church.

The Membership Interview

Grace is the first church that I have attended or have been on staff with that conducts membership interviews.  For many Baptist churches, a person is accepted into membership upon filling out a membership card and being presented to the church almost immediately.  I would argue that such approaches have played a significant role in the unregenerate state of membership in the Southern Baptist Convention.  But that was not the point of this post, was it? 😉  But all jesting aside, answering the why question for interviews will play a significant role in how you do them as well.

We schedule membership interviews throughout the week, and we generally do them before/after services on Sunday or in the late afternoon/evening during the weekdays.  At least two elders are present at the interviews (although we are looking at possibly doing it with just one), which typically last an 1-1.5 hours (depending if a couple is interviewed together).  The prospective member is asked to bring with them a written version of their testimony which we add to the application (we had already received).  Our approach to the interview is conversational and somewhat informal (it is intimidating enough for most people!).  The outline of our interview typically flows in the conversation like this:

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Monday is for “kingly” administration: The Membership Process, Part 1

May 31, 2010

There are four major components of what I call the “Commission Continuum”–that is the metaprocess of kingly administration from beginning to end.  Those four components are assimilation, membership, discipleship, and leadership.  I just completed the first component of the assimilation process and want to address the membership process in a couple of blogposts.

Once regular attenders have expressed desire to become members of Grace, the process looks something like this:

a.  Membership Packet (with application for membership)
b.  Membership Classes
c.  Membership Interview
d.  Congregational Vote (during Members’ Meeting)
e.  Formal Recognition at Communion Service (last Sunday night of the month)

Membership Packet

Inside the membership packet, we include the following information:

1.  Membership Application
2.  Church Purpose and Vision
3.  Church Covenant
4.  Church Confession
5.  Church Constitution

I am currently working to add our church’s core values/practices and philosophy of ministry which includes being a church planting church and interweaving gospel, community, and mission in the fabric of our identity. We ask the prospective members to read through these documents, become familiar with them, and note and questions or issues they may have with these pre-commitments.  We also make these documents available on our church website (we plan on revising/editing our constitution and updating the language of our covenant later this year).  For those of you who would like to see what our application looks like, click here.  It is a simple, one-page application that prospective members fill out and give to one of the elders who assists in setting up the membership interview.

Membership Classes

In the past, we have held our membership classes on consecutive Monday nights, devoting 2-3 hours each night to instruction, discussion, and fellowship.  However, we are looking to rework the schedule for a Friday night-Saturday noon deal where the class can be taken in one weekend.  Although we have not done this yet, here is a schedule I have worked up in recent weeks:

Friday Night

6:00-7:30 Dinner with Pastoral Team and Their Families (Grace Gathered)
7:30-9:00 Session 1 (Who we are, what we believe, core values/practices)

Saturday Morning

8:30-10:00 Session 2 (How we live and operate, systems and structures)
10:30-12:00 Session 3 (What we are doing [ministry] and where we are going [mission])
12:00-1:00 Lunch with Deacons and Grace Growth Group Leaders (Grace Scattered)

The goal behind these classes are not simply to drill them with information about the church but to give them access to the leadership and gain a sense of life in the body.  With two opportunities to share meals with the church leadership, prospective members can have everyday conversation and learn more about the day-to-day lives of those serving the church whether pastors, deacons, or small group leaders.

Those who attend the membership classes will have various degrees of exposure to church life, but it is important not to assume anything, especially the gospel.  There may some, perhaps several, who are seeking to become members of your church who are unconverted, and it is through the membership class that they learn of their need first and foremost to repent of their sin and trust in Jesus Christ.  Another important aspect of the membership classes is the informal approach that can be adopted where they feel comfortable asking questions or raising issues they have without feeling embarrassed or intimidated.  Whether newly converted or believers who have been long-time members of another church, if you are careful and intentional in the various expressions of church life, people will have questions or express curiosity as to why things are done the way they are.

In my next post, I will conclude the membership process talking about the membership interview, pastoral assessment, and congregational vote.  For those of you do membership classes, I would love to hear how you do it (format, content, how often, etc.) and in general what your membership process looks like.  Thanks for contributing to this discussion!

Monday is for “kingly” administration: The Assimilation Process, Part 4 (Prospective Members)

May 24, 2010

The Assimilation Process:
Part 1: First-Time Guest
Part 2: New Believers
Part 3: Regular Attenders

The fourth and final aspect of the assimilation process is the prospective member (I will launch into the membership process next).  Membership in a local church may be a difficult thing for some attenders, especially if they think that it is not required or feel that they are being forced to sign a contract.  But membership in a covenant community of local believers is vitally important.  To assist our attenders in understanding membership better, I have compiled these excellent Q&A links from IX Marks and printed them off for their reading pleasure.  Also here is an excellent four minute response from John Piper on the importance and necessity of church membership:

I don’t want to jump ahead into the details of the membership process just yet, so let me just say a few things in general at this point in the membership process.  As a Baptist church, we at Grace strongly believe in regenerate church membership which simply says that the church should be comprised of born-again, baptized believers.  We also believe that a church ought to be pre-committed in what we believe (church confession) and how we agree to live together (church covenant).  During the assimilation process, regular attenders ought to be exposed to the nature and constitution of your church, including how intentional and careful you are when it comes to membership.

If your approach to church membership is fickle or flimsy, it is likely that you will experience nominal church members, a wide back door open, increasing need for corrective church discipline, and greater potential of disunity in the body of Christ.  Obviously, none of these things can ultimately be eliminated, but if you are careful and intentional with how you handle membership on the front end, you communicate to the congregation that you genuinely care for the sheep and you communicate to the prospective member the privilege and responsibility of membership from the beginning.  In a way, a healthy and robust approach to church membership serves as a form of church discipline and an expression of devotion to Christ, the church’s Head, in pursuit of a pure church who embrace the gospel and are unified with a common purpose to glorify Jesus in word and deed.

So who are those that are prospective members?  People who have come to understand/embrace the gospel and have also come to understand/embrace your church.  In the next series of posts, I will explain the membership process that we have laid out here at Grace.  Till then, let me hear your thoughts on you approach membership.  As a learning community, I believe we can strengthen and encourage one another’s efforts to serve the body of Christ!

The Church Consumer

March 23, 2010

Now I know this video is somewhat silly, and I assume intentionally so (to make the point).  The question I think worth asking is, “Does the culture in my church accommodate, encourage, or tolerate this kind of perspective about the church?”

HT :: Phil Awtry

This Week at Sowing Grace (6)

December 22, 2008

The following posts were made available at Sowing Grace this past week:

Sunday: n/a
Monday: Monday Is for Membership: Gospel Saturated, Part 2
Tuesday:  Missional Moleskine (Journaling) [Cultivating Community Contacts, Part 8]
Wednesday: n/a
Thursday: Atheist Penn Jillette on Hating Unbelievers
Friday:  Fuel Friday: Acts 29 Boot Camp (Dallas)
Saturday: Never Empty Your Brain of the Gospel!

You can subscribe to the Sowing Grace feed or check out the site for more information and upcoming posts.

This Week at Sowing Grace (4)

December 1, 2008

The following posts were made available at Sowing Grace this past week:

Sunday: Paul’s Prayer to the Roman Church
Monday: Monday Is for Membership: Biblical Theologian, Part 2
Tuesday: “Holy Wordliness” (Cultivating Community Contacts, Part 5)
Wednesday: Thanksgiving Break
Thursday: Thanksgiving Break
Friday:  Thanksgiving Break
Saturday: Thanksgiving Break

You can subscribe to the Sowing Grace feed or check out the site for more information and upcoming posts.

This Week at Sowing Grace (3)

November 23, 2008

The following posts were made available at Sowing Grace this past week:

Sunday: Paul’s Prayer to the Ephesian Church
Monday: Monday Is for Membership: Biblical Theologian, Part 1
Tuesday: Developing Missional Patterns (Cultivating Community Contacts, Part 4)
Wednesday: Leadership in the Early Church (study in Acts)
Thursday: Greatness Redefined (chapter 3)
Friday: Fuel Friday: Church Planting Novice (Jonathan Dodson)
Saturday: Mark Dever on Three Things for Church Planters

You can subscribe to the Sowing Grace feed or check out the site for more information and upcoming posts.

This Week at Sowing Grace

November 8, 2008

The following posts were made available at Sowing Grace this past week:

Sunday: Paul’s Prayer to the Colossian Church
Monday: Monday Is for Membership: Expositional Listening, Part 1
Tuesday: Cultivating Community Contacts, Part 2
Wednesday: Centrality of the Word in Acts
Thursday: The Promise of Humility (Chapter 1)
Friday: Fuel Friday: London Dwell Conference Audio
Saturday: A Cross-shaped Mission

You can subscribe to the Sowing Grace feed or check out the site for more information and upcoming posts.

The First Order of Business Is to Know the Gospel

October 23, 2008

Thabiti Anywabile, in his excellent little book What Is a Healthy Church Member? has a chapter on being gospel-saturated that is work the price of the entire book.  Allow me to post an excerpt where Anyabwile express the importance and definition of the gospel.

“The first order of business is to know the gospel . . .

The gospel or good news of Jesus Christ is that God the Father, who is holy and righteous in all his ways, is angry with sinners and will punish sin.  Man, who disobeys the rule of God, is alienated from the love of God and is in danger of an eternal and agonizing condemnation at the hands of God.  But God, who is also rich in mercy, because of his great love, sent his eternal Son born by the Virgin Mary, to die as a ransom and a substitute for the sins of rebellious people.  And now, through the perfect obedience of the Son of God and his willing death on the cross as a payment for our sins, all who repent and believe in Jesus Christ, following him as Savior and Lord, will be saved from the wrath of God to come, be declared just in his sight, have eternal life, and receive the Spirit of God as a foretaste of the glories of heaven with God himself.”

– Thabiti Anyabwile, What Is a Healthy Church Member? (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), 40-41.

So . . . if you gave your church members 60 seconds to explain the gospel, could they give a similar response?

Steve Lemke on Bethlehem Baptist Church, Baptism, and Church Membership

October 14, 2008

Steve Lemke is not a fan of Together for the Gospel.  The second half of his article is entitled, “Baptists and Presbyterians Not Together: Nine Marks Which Separate Baptists from Presbyterians,” where Lemke lays out his argument for Baptist separation (or, as I would argue, isolation).  Interestingly enough, his first two marks are “soul competency” and “age of accountability”–not exactly bedrock doctrines of the Baptist tradition.  In any case, he proceeds from there to believer’s baptism (mark 3) and baptism by immersion (mark 4).  In the fourth mark, we find yet another major error in Lemke’s presentation–this time it is Bethlehem Baptist Church‘s position on baptism and church membership.

In the pertinent portion of Lemke’s commentary, he writes:

“Piper’s proposed statement did not find general agreement among the church’s elders, and the issue was discussed for several years.  An amended policy was finally enacted in August 2005.  Although expressing preference for baptism by immersion, the amended membership statement expressed the desire ‘not to elevate beliefs and practices that are nonessential to the level of prerequisites for church membership.’  Thus, according to the new policy, ‘Christians who have not been baptized by immersion as believers, but, as they believe, by some other method or before they believed, may under some circumstances be members of this church.'”

Now, for those of you who can remember back in 2005, the debate over baptism and church membership was no private matter.  Documents were made public, and the discussion was one of the most heated in the blogosphere.  I recall in particular one church’s elder body, Clifton Baptist Church, writing a letter to the elders of BBC encouraging them to reconsider the proposed amendment by the elders.

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Southwest Founders Conference

September 25, 2008

The Southern Baptist Founders Conference – Southwest begins today and will continue through the weekend (see schedule).  Executive Director Tom Ascol will be speaking four times on topics including “Church Discipline & Church Growth,” “Biblical Church Membership,” “The Emergent Church,” and Ephesians 4:1-16 (others will be speaking as well).  The conference is being hosted by Heritage Baptist Church in Mansfield, Texas.

Andrew Nicewander will be live-blogging the conference, so I encourage you to check out his blog.  Also, I see that Tom is being tempted to Twitter his way through the weekend as well.  Finally, you may want to check out the live-streaming of the conference via UStream.  First session begins 3:30 p.m. CST on Thursday.

Nathan Finn on Baptizing Children and Church Membership

August 27, 2008

One of the important points to address in recovering a regenerate church membership is the issue of baptizing young children.  Nathan Finn was recently interviewed by Michael Spencer (iMonk) on the important issue of church membership, and I have provided a portion of Nathan’s answer to the question of baptizing children.  Reconnecting the ordinance of baptism with church membership will play a key role in strengthening the integrity of church membership.  Here’s the excerpt from Nathan’s answer (emphasis mine):

Baptizing small children is an innovation in American Baptist life. I think that this is a clear area where we have been influenced by some of the fundamentalists, though it worked in tandem with our home-grown programmatic emphasis on enlistment. The average age of baptism increasingly declined during the 20th century. In 1995, the old Home Mission Board published a study that showed the only age group where baptisms were increasing was the “under 5” category. I have a hard time seeing how this makes us very different than pedobaptists. A perusal of church records and associational minutes will show that our American Baptist forefathers did not regularly baptize pre-teens, though there were occasional exceptions when a child gave extraordinary evidence of both genuine conversion and an understanding of the cost of discipleship as entailed through meaningful church membership.

The practice of baptizing pre-teens has affected church membership in a number of ways. First, it has contributed to the growth of our membership roles—the majority of our baptisms are of elementary aged children and preschoolers. Second, it has contributed to the phenomena of multiple “baptisms” and rededications as teenagers and adults have to assess the validity of childhood spiritual decisions that they can sometimes hardly remember. Third, when coupled with an inadequate view of eternal security, it has led to millions of inactive members who are convinced they are Christians because they walked the aisle as a kindergartener during Vacation Bible School forty years ago. Finally, it has greatly contributed to the decline in redemptive church discipline: what church wants to discipline an eleven year old for having premarital sex, vocal racism, or habitually getting into fistfights with his classmates?

I do want to offer one clarification before moving on. I think it is very possible for small children to be regenerated. There are many people I know who can clearly remember being converted at a relatively young age. But being able to understand the basics of sin, judgment, redemption, and faith and being able to maturely covenant in membership with a local church are two different things, in my opinion. Some will argue that virtually all of the New Testament baptisms happen almost immediately after conversion. This is true. I would respond that almost all New Testament examples are clearly adults who are older than even teenagers. Furthermore, we have absolutely zero examples in the New Testament of when to baptize children who are raised in Christian families. Our pedobaptist friends address this situation by baptizing infants. Most Southern Baptists and Independent Baptists address this by baptizing anyone who can articulate a prayer for salvation. I am an old-fashioned Baptist who believes we should withhold baptism until a child is old enough to publicly identify with a local church through covenant, meaningful membership, though I would be reluctant to arbitrarily set a particular age requirement for baptism.

Read the whole interview.

“No One Can Tell Southern Baptists What to Do”

July 9, 2008

That’s the comment by Darrell Orman, chairman of the Resolutions Committee, speaking to Christianity Today after the passing of the resolution on regenerate church membership. Tom Ascol’s response:

“That’s a sad reality. Even Jesus can’t tell some Southern Baptists what to do.”

Am I the only who finds it odd that the chairman of a resolutions committee is on record asserting, ‘You can’t tell us what to do!”? Why, pray tell, does the SBC have such a thing as a Resolutions Committee?

[Observation 2]

Incoming President Johnny Hunt, when discussing about purging membership roles, said that “few church members are in worship every single Sunday.” But is that rationale not an indication of the very reason why we need to practice church discipline that we may uphold meaningful church membership? So we have few people attending church every Sunday; ergo, don’t purge the rolls. How would that work if we said, “Few church members believe in tithing, so we don’t need to receive tithes and offerings anymore.” Instead of being predisposed to the biblical standard, have we not placated to the current standard and sought justification for our negligence? I have stated elsewhere and will state again that I am hopeful that Hunt will lead the way and inspire pastors in pursuing integrity in church membership. Let’s pray for him and the churches of the SBC, that our reporting will be a reflection of honesty and our repenting will be a reflection of humility.

[Observation 3]

In their report on messengers at the Annual Meeting of the SBC in Indy, Baptist Press reveals that those under the age of 40 accounted for only 16.22% of those in attendance. That means that more than 4 out of 5 were over the age of 40; nearly 1 in 3 over the age of 60. The 7,277 messengers represented 3,142 churches in the SBC–a denomination with over 44,000 churches. Seven percent of SBC churches were represented in Indy at the annual meeting. Seven percent.

So going back to the first observation about no one telling Southern Baptists what to do. When the SBC bureaucracy wants to legislate a total abstinence position on alcohol regarding church planters, missionary appointments, or denominational servants, remember that no one can tell Southern Baptists what to do. When you hear denominational leaders policing Calvinism in search committees with arbitrary requirements, remember that no one can tell Southern Baptists what to do. And when the increasing number of empty chairs at the annual meeting lead to redoubling efforts for denominational loyalty, remember that no one can tell Southern Baptists what to do.

Founders Podcast 4: Interview with Andy Davis

June 27, 2008

Yesterday afternoon, I did my final podcast of the conference (there is another one with Dr. Tom Nettles yet to go online) with Dr. Andy Davis. I have heard much about Dr. Davis from Nathan Finn and others, and it was at T4G 06 when I first became aware of his little booklet on extended Scripture memorization. Dr. Davis is a fantastic preacher, and, in my estimation, one of the best relatively known pastors in the SBC. He is a stakeholder with the Gospel Coalition, working for a renewal within modern evangelicalism. All this and more we discuss in the fourth podcast of the conference, and I am sincerely grateful for the time he gave to sit down and share some excellent thoughts on such matters as church membership, scripture memory, the gospel, and the Great Commission.

The total listening time is approximately 43 minutes.

>> Download: FP 4 :: Interview with Andy Davis (at 08FNC)

Previous Podcasts:
3. Interview with Voddie Baucham
2. Interview with Donald Whitney
1. Interview with Tom Ascol