Will Membership Make a Difference?
The Vital Joys of Joining a Church
How pleasant it is when a church family lives together in harmony (Psalm 133:1). For those of us who have tasted and seen the goodness of God in our church fellowship, we deeply desire our Christian friends to experience the same. But many of our friends believe attendance is enough, especially when supplemented with the wealth of resources Christians have online.
The plethora of sermons, articles, and podcasts available today causes some to question if committing to a church family is even necessary. Why should you commit to a local church? Why should you refuse to settle for merely showing up, listening, and going home, instead of investing in something more costly?
We commit to formal church membership to experience God’s goodness in providing vital joy. By vital I mean necessary for Christian obedience and therefore a thriving spiritual life. By joy I mean savoring the worth of God in the experience of mutual church accountability. Let’s consider the vital joys of oversight, protection, discipling, and displaying.
The Vital Joy of Shepherding
The Lord commands his people, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Hebrews 13:17). But how will our leaders truly care for and give an account for our souls if we have not made ourselves accountable through membership? How does a shepherd do his work when he doesn’t know which sheep are his?
As great as online preachers may be, they do not (and cannot) keep watch over our souls. Even if we attend one church regularly, but have not officially placed ourselves under the leadership of that church, then our pastors cannot carry out what this verse demands of them. And what a blessed obligation it is! But if we commit to the church, we have the blessing of leaders watching over our souls.
Pastors are responsible before Jesus, the chief Pastor (1 Peter 5:4), to “watch over your soul.” While that may initially sound intrusive, realize that they watch over you “as those who will have to give an account” to God on judgment day. They don’t have free rein to arbitrarily satisfy all their curiosities and preferences through the church. When members of a church have pastors who are sensitive to the weight of divine accounting, watching over their flock with care, they are immensely blessed.
To skip or put off membership is to surrender a depth and durability of shepherding care we would have enjoyed otherwise.
The Vital Joy of Church Discipline
Christ lovingly calls us to enjoy him in the impossible task of seeing to it that no one in our churches falls short of the grace of God through sexual immorality or other sins (Hebrews 12:15–16). How can we “see to it” that they don’t fall short?
The answer is that Christ calls Christians in churches to guard one another through restorative discipline and correction. In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul commands the church: “purge” (or “remove”) the unrepentant professing Christian “from among you” (1 Corinthians 5:13), and “deliver this man to Satan” (1 Corinthians 5:5). This necessarily implies both a mutually understood accountability and a defined group called “you.” Without membership, no one can be removed. Why did Paul command handing him over? “So that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” Through meaningful membership and faithful church discipline, we experience the joy of guarding others and being guarded.
Our church experienced this vital joy in seeing a sister restored after moving into a sexually immoral relationship. After being excommunicated, we prayed for her and mourned the loss of fellowship. Eventually she saw the folly and futility of her sin and hated it. She happily and hastily returned to the church in repentance and faith. The joy of the members receiving her back into fellowship is still one of my happiest memories of tasting the goodness of God as a church.
Knowing members will check in with you, help you kill sin and pursue joy in Christ, and remove you if necessary is a blessing unavailable to those who only attend churches at their convenience and on their own terms.
The Vital Joy of Discipling Others
We experience vital joy in discipling others. When we lack integrity, we weaken joy. The Lord Jesus commands his people to disciple the nations, baptizing them and teaching them to observe everything he commanded (Matthew 28:19–20). If love is the overflow of joy in God that seeks to expand in the God-centered joy of others, then we must disciple people to enjoy God more deeply through obeying his commands.
We do this with words and with how we live, but either way, we do it most effectively in the context of a consistent and committed church family. To be obedient to God (and to enjoy him more fully), we must be baptized and take the Lord’s Supper as members of a local church. When we disciple others to this life-consuming obedience, our joy in God multiplies.
For our joy to grow exponentially in discipling others in the context of the local church, we disciple them to pass it on to others (2 Timothy 2:2). As they pass it on, we see some of the ripple effect of our discipleship in a way that brings greater joy. The apostle John rejoiced in this way when he said, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth” (3 John 4).
The Vital Joy of Displaying Christ
Joining a church is to functionally join the body of Christ. To enjoy Christ together in love for neighbors and one another embodies Jesus. Christ told his disciples that others would know they are his disciples by their love for one another (John 13:34–35). By our unity displayed in the church, the world will believe that the Father sent Jesus as his Son and Messiah (John 17:21). In our love and unity embodied in the new-covenant community, “the manifold wisdom of God” is now being “made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 3:10).
Our collective, Christ-centered joy expanded in love for one another displays Jesus in the flesh and blood of the gathered assembly. And this unique joy-empowered display is itself an increased and vital joy for Christians. As a parent of five children, I love immersing my family in the church’s heavenly yet imperfect love, in order that my kids may know, obey, and enjoy the Lord Jesus. The church embodies Christ in a myriad of ways that my wife and I can never display on our own.
If you merely attend church, I encourage you to join a church so that you can experience the vital joys of oversight, of guarding and being guarded, of discipling others, and of displaying Christ. Those who stay on the fringes miss out on so much. Read some of these passages and rehearse some of these delights to treasure Christ’s new-covenant community through personal and mutually understood commitment. Committing to the body multiplies our joy, strengthens the church, and honors Christ.