Members you try to retain, but Disciple-makers you send out.
Like a country club, gym, Mosquito Squad, or WholeFoods, churches have embraced franchise methods that need to keep its current membership to pay its dues so they leverage the current consumer to maximize future growth. We overtax our staff, stress over how to “save” the Body of Christ (as if He needs a savior), devise assimilation strategies and do “Evangelism Bait and Switch.” Membership is something you try to retain…
…but Disciple-making is a process of releasing people back into the mission field. It is interesting to notice that this is the strategy implemented by Jesus and then Paul. Jesus gathers up a bunch of people, teaches them, wipes away their sins on the cross, invigorates their souls with the Holy Spirit, and then lets them get to work. In fact at one point, a bunch of disciples stop following Jesus because they realize how tough the mission really is (John 6:66, should be an easy verse reference to remember). Then Paul’s strategy: he shows up into a community, lives with them, teaches them the gospel, empowers local leadership and then leaves for another city. And those who claim to be members of his church he chastises.
When Waypoint was getting started, someone called me out for the language on our website that in our over-scheduled and over-burdened lives the church tries to compete for our attention. He looked at me and said, so all we have to do is show up for an hour on Sunday. I smiled and said…no not really. First, it’s really about 52 minutes. Second, if you notice the thread in our messages…it is actually because we expect you to be living a life worthy of the gospel throughout the week and making an impact where you live/work/play.
It struck me the other week that Waypoint’s logo is really a pass through point, where people come from different directions, converge in the middle, and then get back out onto the streets. In some ways I view Waypoint as a mission outpost on the rugged fringes of SouthPark and MyersPark seeking to equip people to share their faith where God has placed their daily lives. Whether you pass through once, thrice or every week, that is our charge. It is not about hanging around but to get out in service to Christ.
As Eugene Peterson interprets Romans 12:1
So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him.
So, I struggle with a biblical concept of membership in the church, because members expect perks and privileges. I do not see membership in Scripture. And before folks try to argue about the language about being a member of the body, notice the metaphor Paul is using. He is not describe a process to be implemented but a way of living; a member of your body does something on behalf of the rest of the group. Paul is not talking about membership or getting on a roll at some institution–he is talking about being a member, a tool; one who works on behalf of the community: an eye sees, an ear hears, a finger wags, a vein works below the surface, a spine provides critical support, a hippocampus does something.
And before they then try to quote Hebrews 10:24-25 at me, lets read it together: “let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another.” This is the point of the church, to be a gathering space the stirs us up to go and do something. Membership is merely a mechanism to provide connection, deepen commitment, and acknowledge an individual’s submission to a community’s authority.
We often read into biblical passages, like the Corinth church, our western style of organizational participation–and in doing so we misunderstand the eastern model of familial relationships. I don’t need to create a membership strategy for my family; I don’t need to take roll and count heads: census taking was something they did in the Old Testament, often to the leaders detriment. But like a family, and the Body of Christ, the church should mature in community, be broken, and then distributed.
Scripture is not interested in retaining members, but equipping disciples to go and do something on behalf of God.
So how is Christ working through you?