Once upon a time, there was a man who fell “sort-of-in-love” with a woman. I say, “sort-of-in-love” because he would never make a commitment to her. They dated for a long time, enjoyed each others company, shared the same interests, had the same hobbies, and spent hours together every week. However, whenever the subject of marriage was introduced, the man hurriedly changed the subject. In fact, he expressed his belief that marriage was unnecessary. He tried to reassure his female friend that there wasn’t anything wrong with her, he just liked the freedom of single-life. He didn’t want to be “tied down,” and he didn’t want to have to answer to anyone for his actions. He wanted to come and go as he pleased and didn’t want to be burdened with the obligations and responsibilities that come with marriage. Yet at the same time, he wanted this woman that he was “sort-of-in-love” with, to continue to devote her time, energy, and attention into his life and to meet all of his needs.
Likewise, once upon a time there was a Christian who began attending a local congregation of God’s people…
From time to time, I hear some people express their disdain for the process of “placing membership” with a congregation. They want to visit, attend worship services, participate in special activities, but they don’t want to be accountable to anyone. They don’t want to accept responsibility for involvement in the local work of the congregation, and contribute little more than their sporadic attendance to the local church, yet they want the church to continue to meet all their needs.
But friends, responsibility is a two-way street. We wouldn’t tolerate an eldership who tried to overstep their bounds and “shepherd” sheep from another shepherd’s flock. We would quickly remind these men that there’s no such thing as a “brotherhood eldership” or an “at-large eldership,” and that they are to shepherd the flock that is “among them” (1 Peter 5:2). But now, that raises some questions:
- If we will not tolerate a “brotherhood eldership” or an “at-large eldership,” then why would we be inclined to tolerate an “at-large membership?”
- How can elders do no more and no less then shepherd the flock that is among them, when the sheep refuse to acknowledge they are a part of the local flock?
- Why would Christians not want to assist the shepherds of a local church in making known to them that they are under their oversight?
While I certainly understand that one should be very cautious before submitting oneself to the care of an eldership. I also understand that in coming to a wise and prudent decision, a certain amount of time is needed to learn about the congregation and it’s shepherds. However, I am also aware that there comes a time when one should submit himself, not just to a local eldership, but to the divine plan of God for the church.
What do you call such a practice? I don’t know. We commonly refer to it as “placing membership.” If you don’t like that, call it “identifying with a local church.” If you don’t like that term either, then come up with one that adequately conveys what is taking place. I’m not so much concerned about the designation we give, so long as we do it.