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Church Membership 101

October 13, 2019

Well friends, this past week was a very exciting one for our Triller family as we are now proud members of our local YMCA. Given a sense of urgency with the early October snow, and after Callie saw that they provide childcare and after Noah and I saw the small kids pool where I can teach him how to doggie paddle, we were each ready to sign on the dotted line.

Over these next few weeks we’re going to be doing a short sermon series on Church Membership and think through what it looks like to be a thriving and flourishing member of a local church. And I’m sure many of you are thinking, “Why oh why would you do a sermon series on Membership? Because on one hand, you might think to yourself, “Oh man, that sounds so boring,” or for many of you, you might be thinking, “I already am a church member, so what’s the point?”

And so the reason for doing this series is that on one hand it gives those who are not yet members time to really consider and explore becoming members yourselves, and for those who already are members, this series will give us all the chance to really think through and reflect on what it looks like to be a thriving and flourishing member here at First Presbyterian Church.

And this is something that I think we naturally already do in other parts of our lives with the other roles that we play. Whether it’s deliberate or not, in one way or another, we’re all asking ourselves, “What does it look like to be a loving and committed husband or wife in this season? What does it look like to be a faithful and dedicated father or mother or grandparent? What does it look like to be a good employer or employee? And how in the world do I balance all of those roles all at once?" On some level, we’re all asking those questions, but yet, my sense is, it’s probably not all that often that we’re asking ourselves,

“What does it look like to be a thriving and flourishing church member?” and in many ways, that’s the question we’ll be exploring over these next few weeks.

Now for what it’s worth, there’s no commandment or verse in the bible that says, “Thou shalt be a church member,” but yet as you read through the New Testament and letters written to the early church, it sure seems like membership or at least the idea behind it is highly encouraged.

And that’s because rooted in this idea of membership is this belief that the Christian life is meant to be lived out in relationships with other Christians and that relationships flourish most when people are sacrificially committed to one another. As followers of Jesus, we need other Christians who will share life with us and who will be there for us in good times and bad. Additionally, we need people who will encourage and challenge us to grow as disciples of Jesus Christ. And so in many ways, becoming a member is saying to those in the church, “I’m committed to helping you grow in your relationship with Jesus. I know I need people around me to do that and I know you do as well. Will you commit to doing the same for me?”

And the reason that I tell you about my family’s new membership to the YMCA isn’t so that we can set up a time to workout together, although I’m not opposed to that, but rather to contrast it against church membership, because the truth is membership in a local church is so very different than the way we think about and talk about membership in every other sphere of life, including the YMCA.

So for example, what does it mean to be a member of the YMCA? Well, it’s simple really. We give them money, and they give us access to their gym and all the amenities that come with it. It’s a simple exchange of goods and services. It’s a transactional membership.

However, being a church member is very different. Rather than being about a fair exchange of goods and services, instead it’s about entering into a committed relationship with other followers of Jesus. And in fact, if we want to keep the analogies going, becoming a church member is much more like being adopted into a new family than becoming a member at the YMCA.

With that in mind, one of my fears in doing this series is that you would leave here each week thinking that I want something from you. Thinking, “Daniel just wants something from me. If I’m not a member, he wants me to be one and if I am, he wants me to be a better one.” And friends, if that’s what you leave here thinking each week, then I have failed miserably. I have absolutely failed. So, please know, above all, my hope and prayer isn’t that you leave thinking that we want something from you, but rather for you. I myself and our elders want this for you, because we believe that being a thriving and flourishing church member is and will be life giving for you and a great encouragement to you as your grow in your faith in Jesus Christ.

Alright, that’s enough of a lead up. Let’s get to our passage. While in future weeks we’ll think through the specific roles and responsibilities of a church member, this morning we’re simply going to think through what church membership is in general, and to do that, we’re going to look at Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 12. It’s one of, or maybe the signature passage, when it comes to church membership, or really what the church is in general.

As we go through our scripture today, I want us to see four things that this passage teaches us about church membership.

Here’s the first:

In the church, each member shares a common faith in Jesus Christ.

When Paul says,

13 For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body

He’s reminding us of what you and I have in common. He’s reminding us why you and I know each other, why we each have a relationship with each other in the first place – and that is, a shared faith in Jesus Christ.

And yet at the same time, if you look around the room, you’ll notice people who are incredibly different from you, people who likely wouldn’t associate with each other otherwise, people that you maybe even struggle to have a conversation with because you can’t figure out for the life of you what the two of you have in common.

When Paul then writes that the body of Christ is composed of …

—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free -

He’s highlighting that the church is a cross section of society that is filled with diversity in many ways, filled with people who are very different from each other.

You see, one of the things that makes the church so beautiful, and admittedly, a bit messy at times, is that it is a collection of incredibly different people that share at the very least, one thing in common: a love and commitment to one another and to Jesus Christ.

In so many areas of our lives, we live in these bubbles or pockets of people, separated by gender, or age, life stage or socioeconomic status. Much of that isn’t necessarily bad, it’s just the way life is.

But yet, not the church. The church is filled with men & women, young & old, black & white, rich & poor, blue collar & white collar, married & single, friends, it even brings together the impossible, Republicans & Democrats, worshipping together.

And friends, if that doesn’t give you hope in the church given the miserable political climate that we face today, then I’m not sure what to tell you.

God, through the working of his Spirit, brings all kinds of different people, from all different places, baptized into one body, with one thing in common: a shared love and commitment to Jesus Christ. And this same beautiful and motley crew comes back week after week, to worship together, to as Paul puts it, “drink of one Spirit.”

The church is a beautiful and messy group of people and each and every week I get the best seat in the house and get to look at the church. One body, many members.

Alright, that’s the first thing I want you to see. In the church, each member, although different from the other, shares a common faith in Jesus Christ.

Here’s the second:

In a church, every member is essential. Every member matters.

To describe the relationship between the church and its members, Paul uses the body as a metaphor, saying

15 If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body.

While it’s a bit of a ridiculous metaphor (after all, feet don’t talk), the point is simple. The body is made up many parts - head, shoulders, knees and toes. Each part is different. Each part matters. Each part is essential. Each part plays a significant role, is an indispensable part that together is greater than the sum of its parts.

So what does this tell us about a church and its members? It tells us that you are not a number, but rather you are an essential piece of the puzzle and have something important to contribute to the church itself, that each and every one of you has something we need in order to be the church that God calls us to be.

When Paul writes this, it’s believed that he’s speaking specifically about spiritual gifts, that is, the gifts and talents of each member, and trying to remind the Corinthian church to not elevate one gift in importance over the other.

I’m always amazed by the way God provides for the needs of our church through the God given gifts and talents of our members. Some of you have beautiful voices that lead us in worship, some of you have the gift of hospitality and greet people in ways that make them feel loved and cared for and noticed. Others of you are great with your hands, and have construction and handy man skills that allows our building to carry out ministry in all sorts of different ways. Others of you are great at planning, organizing, administration. Others are great working with kids. Others have incredible skills when it comes to computers and technology. The church is filled with people who each bring their unique God given gifts and talents to help create something beautiful, healthy and flourishing, something far greater than the sum of its parts.

And it runs even deeper than just gifts and talents. We each come with our unique life experiences, perspectives and backgrounds that can, in it’s own way, be a blessing to those around you.

For example, I know that a handful of our members are in the 4th quarter of life, and you might be wondering, “What do I have to contribute, what do I have to offer in this season?” And of course, the answer is, a whole lot. Not only are there the various ways that you already use your gifts and talents for the good of the church, not only are some of you prayer warriors, who lift up our people in prayer, but you all have incredible wisdom, insight and perspective that our younger generation desperately needs.

I’ve made this comment before, but do you know what it’s like for young parents to give advice to other young parents? It’s like a middle schooler giving dating advice to another middle schooler. It’s like the blind leading the blind. It’s like the Lord of the Flies. Friends, we need your insight, we need your perspective and I confess I need to do a better job of asking for it. This is one of the beautiful aspects about the intergenerational church that we have. Younger generations learning from older generations and older learning from younger, even today, as some of our youngest led us in worship just a few minutes ago.

Friends, do you see what Paul is getting at here? No member ought to ever think, ‘I’m just a small, inconsequential piece of the puzzle.”

No, no, no, no, no. You are never just a number. You are so much more than that. We need what you have. You are an absolutely indispensable part of the whole.

So that’s the second thing I want you to see - In a church, every member is essential. Every member matters.

But yet, but yet, here’s the third, and it plays off the second.

If every member is essential, then that means that …

In a church, members are dependent on the others.

Paul later goes on to say …

21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”

Here once again, the point is relatively simple. While yes, each member plays an important role and contributes something indispensable to the greater whole, the truth is, one person is a foot, another an eye, another an ear, another a hand. Each part of the body needs the other parts to function. Each part of the body needs the other parts to flourish and to be healthy. If the whole body was a foot or an ear, well that would be a pretty weird body. It also wouldn’t be very functional.

So yes, while each member plays an important role, each member is dependent on others to be all that God calls them to be.

And this, as I briefly mentioned earlier, is the heart of church membership. It’s looking at the people around you and saying, “Hey, I can’t be a Christian alone. I need other people to walk this road with me. I know I need people around me who can challenge and encourage me in my faith, and I’m guessing you do too.”

As a church, we acknowledge that we need one another, and the cool thing is, help may come in unexpected places.

This past week Callie and I had dinner with Andy and Hallie Tipton, who have two sons, Sawyer, who’s 3, and Jhett, who’s 7mo and going to be baptized here in our church two weeks from today. And Hallie and Andy were telling us about something amazing that’s been happening here each and every Sunday, something that you and I don’t ever get to see. For a while now, Sawyer, the 3 year old has been hesitant to go down to Sunday School, after all for a 3 year old, that’s where all the big kids are and where his parents aren’t. Which is kind of a bummer, because I’m sure Hallie and Andy would love to be able to worship and not be distracted once in a while. But over this summer, Sawyer got to know one of our 3rd graders, Raigan, one of Eric & Liz Wright’s daughters, and these days Raigan, after kids message, finds Sawyer and walks with him downstairs to Sunday School, which itself is just awesome, but here’s maybe my favorite part. Sawyer now refers to Raigan as “my girl.” Which might just be the most precious thing ever.

Friends, that’s the body of Christ at work. It’s where families help out other families in need. it’s where 3rd graders help 3 year olds and it’s where 3 year olds affectionately refer to 3rd grade girls as “my girl.”

And you all, we not only need each other while we’re here at church, but we also need to do life together, sharing life together outside of church, where we can help each other think what it looks like to be a follower of Jesus in the everyday stuff of life, and I’ll give more examples of this in the weeks to come.

In a church, members are present with one another. Empathize with one another. Share the highs and lows with one another.

Paul says,

26 If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.

Continuing on with the body metaphor, Injuries and illness can sometimes impact not just one isolated part of the body, but sometimes the whole thing.

And so as the body of Christ, we rejoice alongside those who are rejoicing and we mourn with those who are mourning.

We rejoice alongside one another as we celebrate baptisms, births, job promotions, birthdays, anniversaries, graduations. Friends, this is why Callie and I want to come to your stuff, whether it’s your kids sports game or choir concert, we want to be your cheerleader and celebrate with you! Church members rejoice with other church members who are rejoicing.

But yet, we also suffer with those who are suffering:

My mom has this quote, where she says, “As a parent, you're only as happy as your least happy kid.” Which I can’t verify, but intuitively makes sense. And I think in some aspect that’s true of how we ought to feel about other members when they are suffering. We get down there with and walk alongside them when they’re in the valleys, whether that’s due to a death in the family, addiction, marital conflict, financial struggles, etc.

A couple weeks ago, we had a memorial service for Judy Hazelbaker and I was just so grateful for the hospitality shown by the women here in our church. Just an incredible and powerful display of hospitality – putting on a beautiful reception for a family that was mourning. Caring for a family in a time of grieving.

We rejoice with those who are rejoicing and we suffer with those who are suffering. That’s what the church does.

So to recap, church members share a common faith in Jesus Christ, each are essential to the whole, yet dependent on the others, and suffer and rejoice alongside our brothers and sisters in Christ.

I’ll end with this …

As we kind of hinted at earlier, one of the things that makes the church so beautiful is that it is a stunning blend of unity & diversity, which in itself, points to something even more beautiful.

Unity and diversity within God himself. Paul says,

12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.

Pastor Mark Dever, in his commentary on 1 Corinthians, notes that you would think Paul would say “so it is with the church.” After all isn’t Paul talking about the church? But for whatever reason, Paul says, “so it is with Christ.” What’s he getting at here?

Well, the thinking is that the church, as one body with many members, is meant to reflect the character of God himself.

One of the fundamental Christian beliefs is that we worship one God, in three persons. Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Each person is fully God, and yet they are each different from one another and have different roles. Each one works in concert with the other. Each part of the Trinity loves, serves, delights in, and glorifies the other. It’s a stunning blend of unity and diversity. One God, in three persons. Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

And if your head is spinning, let me add a few other perplexing questions …

How can Jesus be fully God and fully man?

How can scripture be filled with divine inspiration yet written by human hands?

Or how about this one …

If the sun is so hot, why is space so cold? (and I realize there’s an actual scientific answer to the space question, it’s just that my little brain can’t handle of it).

As for how God can be both 3 in 1, here might be a helpful way to think of it -

Friends, Is a choir 20 or 1? Is a marriage 2 or 1? Is a basketball team 5 or 1? Is First Presbyterian Church 80 members or 1? Is God 3 or 1? Yes. Yes, yes, yes. It’s both.

The church, it’s unity and diversity, points to God himself. After all, the outside world ought to look at us and think, “What in the world do those people have in common? What could possibly have brought them together in the first place?”

Well, of course, it’s God himself who brought us together to form this thing we call the church. One body, many members, who together, as we’ll talk about over the next few weeks, Gather, Grow, Give & Go.

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