Should I “Place Membership” With A Church?

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 8

  • Did anyone in the NT ever decide to join a particular Christian community?

  • Consider Acts 9:26-28 where we read of the newly converted Saul of Tarsus who “assayed to join himself to the disciples at Jerusalem. I like the term “placing membership”..We should all discourage, what I call, “Jack in the Box Christians”, jumping from here to there…Some folks like to drift from congregation to congregation, never accepting any responsibility nor being helpful in the work. If one is an identified member of a local church the members can look after him in case of illness, or if he has special needs. If he should fall away they could try to reclaim him.

  • What an analogy Steve. Thanks, and well written!!

  • Yes, Paul did in Acts 9:26-28.

  • Great article! I have one question: could you give me some guidance for college students and church identity?

    I recently graduated from the University of Alabama (last weekend), and this was a subject I struggled with. In my four years I attended 1 congregation for the first 2 years and 1 congregation for the second 2 years. The first two years I knew the college group well, but never really knew the whole congregation. The second two years I got to know the congregation very well. In all four years I attended the Tuscaloosa congregations much more often than my “home congregation.”

    I never “placed membership,” but I often felt much more at home with the Tuscaloosa congregations. Any thoughts would be appreciated, I’ll be heading to medical school for the next four years and will have a similar situation!

  • Jeremy, I’ve always heard it said that “…home is where the heart is”. If your heart, and theirs, isn’t in it, then keep on looking. If they love you and you feel that love, make no hesitation. Make sure they adopt you, and you adopt them.

  • Good morning brother. I so whole-heartedly agree with your thoughts. One thing that might help in the process of individuals commiting to a local work, is to not extend the priviledges of membership to one who is unwilling to become a part of the work. This person would not be asked to pray, lead singing, or be included in congregational matters. In our personal family, we would not allow anyone who is a visitor to be included in important decisions. Likewise, we feel the same principle holds true in the church family. At the beginning and end of every service Bill greets our visitors and names them. Perhaps acknowledging individuals as visitors from time to time might awaken then to the understanding that they need to commit to the local church if they want an intimate relationship with that body and all the benefits of such. We all need to identify ourselves as servants of God working with His church locally, submitting to their leadership, and utilizing our God-given talents as commanded by God. I pray these thoughts might be useful. Love and appreciate all you do for the cause of Christ, In Him, Laura Dayton, Owenton Church of Christ, KY Bill’s wife 🙂

  • “Hokey-pokey” Christianity is interesting for two reasons. First, a person gets to be involved on one occasion before stepping back. Then, they “dance all about” living life their own way. Second, one becomes a second-class Christian. That is to say that they come, enjoy the benefits, and rarely commit to much. However, “hokey-pokey Christianity doesn’t please God.

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