Last month, we explored what it means to be “members” of the body of Christ. By virtue of our baptism, we are members of the church whether we want to be or not. Our relationship to Christ also places us into relationship with each other, since we are all part of the same body.
But what about being on the roster of a local congregation? This is what most people typically think about when they talk about being members of a church. At Zion, we have a formal membership roster just like most congregations. A person becomes a member of our congregation when they are baptized here, or they can transfer their membership from another LCMS congregation, or take classes here to be confirmed as a member.
But many wonder, “Why bother with all that? Why can’t I just attend church as I please, and not be bothered? What does it matter if my name is on the roster or not?” In a certain way, I am sympathetic to this objection. The membership roster of Zion Lutheran Church is not the Book of Life. Having your name in that book is what really matters (Rev. 21:27).
On the other hand, formal church membership is both beneficial and a necessary part of our profession of the Christian faith. Becoming a member of Zion or any church is about placing yourself under the care of the church’s pastors, and making a public confession of what you believe by joining a church that aligns with your confession. Saying you are a Christian but don’t want to belong to a congregation is a bit like saying you are a baseball player but don’t want to belong to a team.
It is a tremendous blessing to be a member of a congregation. For one, membership means you have a pastor who cares for you and who will teach you and shepherd you on the way of everlasting life. The author of Hebrews in chapter 13 reminds us that our pastors will have to give an account of us to God on the last day. As a pastor, I take that charge extremely seriously. It is my responsibility to lead you to the Gospel, and call you back when your life or confession of faith goes astray. But, it is also a joy to care for you in that way (Heb. 13:7)! What a wonderful gift to possess as a Christian – to have pastors that love you and care about your eternal salvation and who watch over your soul. It is one of God’s greatest gifts to you, but it’s something you can really only have if you are a member of a Christian congregation.
A question that is often connected with this is, “Which church should I become a member of?” Many think that the denomination of the church they belong to is not very important because they think most churches teach basically the same thing. For that reason, the tendency today is for people to “church shop” until they find a church that suits their preferences and desires. But this is not how God would have us choose a church.
The most important thing about a church is what the church teaches. Whether or not the building is beautiful or comfortable, whether or not the pastor is friendly, whether or not the music is pleasing to me are things that really don’t matter to the mission of the church. The church’s mission is to preach the Gospel in Word and Sacrament. To do that, the only truly important thing is that the congregation teaches the pure Word of God and doesn’t mix in the word of man.
This past summer, my family took a vacation to Mackinac Island. It is a beautiful island situated in the strait between the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan that is only accessible by ferry. As we prepared to board the ferry to leave at the end of the day, there were two ferry boats that pulled into the dock. The ferry that we were in line for was getting crowded, while the other ferry looked more comfortable and empty. We switched lines and just as we were boarding that ferry, one of the workers said to me, “Are you going to St. Ignace?” We were not. We would have been much more comfortable on that empty ferry, and we would have been stranded on the wrong peninsula, without a car and no way to get to our hotel on the other side! When you are on a boat, the biggest consideration you should have is whether it will safely get you across the water and to the right destination. When you are a member of a church, your biggest concern should be that it preaches God’s Word which alone will give you faith that will save you.
is a blessing to belong to a congregation because a congregation is a family.
Not only do the pastors look out for you, but the other members will too.
Sometimes people say they don’t come to church because they don’t know anyone.
But the truth is they also don’t know anyone because they don’t come to church!
In a Christian congregation, there are so many people from all walks of life
and all ages that are gathered around the gifts of Jesus. They are your brothers
and sisters, and they want to love you and pray for you and encourage you. They
also need your love and prayers and encouragement. That is something that can
only happen when you are a committed member of a congregation.
I hope this discussion of formal membership helps you to appreciate being a member of Zion all the more! Next month, we’ll finish our discussion of church membership with a discussion of why we come to church and what we receive.
Watching over you in Christ,