“Placing Membership”

shepherdOnce 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.

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Comments 12

  • Steve, excellent comparison between “brotherhood eldership” and “brotherhood membership.” I suppose this is more a problem in the U.S., where many cities have more than one church. I understand Sao Paulo sees something of this problem as well. Do you reckon the church in Rome dealt with this, since there were a number of house churches? Except they didn’t have cars and might not have footed it across the city to another brother’s house meeting. 🙂

  • Well written piece…

  • This is a great way to get the point across. I believe, if you do not mind, I will use this in a sermon. I am seeing this more and more. We want all the perks, but none of the commitment. Sometimes this desire to be a free agent is the beginning of the end of faithfulness to the church. When no one expects you at the congregation, then no one is looking for you.

  • Let’s see, how’s this original little couplet for the idea:

    Without discipleship or God’s good works,
    The non-commitment crowd wants all the perks.

  • Steve,

    Great article! I love the comparison between elders and members. I struggle with how to deal with those who think that it is OK to “vote with their feet” when it comes to the church. It seems that the thinking is, if I don’t like something, if you do something I want done, or if you do something I disagree with then, I’m leaving. It seems that we have let consumerism come into the church.

  • […] a comment of mine, I popped out a couplet to express a thought in a previous comment left by a preacher: Without […]

  • Matthew, feel free to use whatever you can in a lesson. The one point I feel our people need to understand is that this “free-agent” mentality is unbiblical; just as unbiblical as a “free-agent” eldership. We wouldn’t stand for the later, yet accept the former.

  • Great article. I agree 100%. You really took a good angle to prove the point. So, I am looking forward to using this where I preach.

  • The problem with you reasoning is it is unbibilical and without merit. A true follower of Christ will realize that a church organization with leaders cannot have dominion over you nor or you to come under their domain. Only Christ has dominion. “Placing menbership” is no where mentioned in the new testament. “At large”, members and eldership is not possible or taught in New Testament. These are word thought up by organization to pull the unaware sheep into man-made organization.
    Sheep are never required to acknowledge or submit to rules set up by Church Organization. Sheep are never required to place theirself under an Elder but overseers are required to watch out for the sheep. You have got everything backwards.

  • Hello Dan, I appreciate you taking time to comment, but I must say that I disagree with them. You made quite a few assertions, but offered not a single Scripture in support of your assertions.

    I would ask you to consider the contrast in the following statements…
    “Sheep are never required to place themselves under an elder…” – Dan Best

    “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. – Hebrews 13:17.

    Friend, you’re right in saying that elders are required to watch out for the sheep, but you are mistaken when you say that sheep are never required to submit to elders.

  • “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. – Hebrews 13:17.
    You can certainly obey those who rule over you without placing membership in a “second” church. There is only one church. I Corinthians 3:4 “For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal?” A similiar statement today could be said, “I am of the church on the East side” and someone else, “I am of the church on the south side, and someone else may say that “I am of the church that is across the street from you.”
    Placing membership or joining a church that one is already added to has possibly divided many hearts and souls in the same community. Sad… We should be of the word by calling BIble things by Bible names… One more thing. Why does one infer that placing membership shows that they want to be involved. Why can’t we be identified to a church by ones actions and not by ones words. We are all one body. If one has been baptized into Christ, made the good confession, repenting of his/her sins… and is involved in the Lord’s work (evangelism, loving one’s neighbor…) placing their check in the plate each Sunday, Is that not expressive enough? James says it best, “2:18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. I think that we could infer by James statemtent that many may say, “I am a member of this church,” but in reality our actions speak louder than our words. There may be many that are members who havn’t “placed membership” and conversly, if this is true, than many who have “placed membership” may not even be members at all.

    Maybe that one problem is that people begin to believe that what we do “inside” our worship buildings for the 4 hours a week, means more than what happens in the other 164 hours of the week, but this is an entire different lesson.

  • Hello Matt, please consider the following reply to your post.

    You said…
    You can obey those who rule over you without placing membership in a “second” church. There is only one church…”

    My reply…
    Of course there is one church, but that one church is situated in various locations. The shepherds of those local gatherings are charged with the responsibility of shepherding only those who are part of their local gathering. To try to shepherd those outside their local gathering is unauthorized. Well, how can a shepherd know who is and isn’t a part of their local gathering if some indication isn’t given to them. Just saying they’ll be able to tell by their presence isn’t sufficient, for there are Christians who flit back and forth between local congregations, making both sets of shepherds expend time and energy trying to figure out if these people are theirs or someone elses.

    You said…
    Why can’t we be identified to a church by ones actions and not by ones words.

    My reply…
    Because it’s insufficient. How many actions does it take? Attending two potlucks, one door knocking, and a youth devo? You are aware, are you not, that there are many people who do many good works with a congregation, but who would say they are not identified with that local congregation? Why make this so hard on the elders? Why are you trying to make this something that they are going to have to catch all the clues left. Also in the process they can’t jump to a conclusion to hastily and assume they want to be identified when actually they don’t, and they can’t drag their feet and fail to shepherd those who wish to be identified with them. What’s wrong with just telling them? What’s the problem with that?

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