Committed Church Membership: The Sixth Mark of a Healthy Church Member

To many Christians today, church membership is a non-essential or an enigma.   Be it from the proliferation of extra-church ministries (i.e. Bible camps, collegiate ministries, or other parachurches), the ever-increasing array of Christian teaching diassociated from church membership (i.e. Christian TV, radio, Bible studies, etc), the creation of hybrid-churches (i.e. multi-site, Internet and virutal churches), or the simple neglect to teach this subject in many churches (thankfully, not all), many Christians have little concept of God’s desire for Christian’s to be inseparably united to a local body of believers.  Or at least, that is how it was for me, but I don’t think I am alone.

In my own life, church membership was a truth I had to grow into.  For instance, for the first five years of my Christian life I was not a church member.  I was baptized at age 17, but not a church member until 22.  This was not a conscious rebellion against the church, but an unaddressed, ecclesial ignorance.  Therefore, it my conviction that churches and pastors today must teach on the importance of church membership, if our churches–Baptist, Presbyterian, and otherwise–will be thriving outposts of Christ’s kingdom.  In Thabiti Anyabwile’s book What is a Healthy Church Member?, the sixth mark of health is understanding and embracing this reality.

As an aside, but also as an entry into this week’s applications, let me add personally that as it concerns church membership, I have been much helped by my friends and teachers at IX Marks.  If you are not familiar with this ministry, I encourage you to take an afternoon at your nearest coffee shop or library and peruse their website.  From articles to audio interviews to straight-forward teaching on the subject, let Mark Dever, Matt Schmucker, and their church-loving peers, encourage and challenge you with biblical teaching and practical ways to grow as a committed church member.  (Perhaps, the first thing to do is to listen to Mark Dever’s SBTS 2002 chapel message: Membership Matters).   I remember listening to this sermon while mopping up the children’s building at Woodland Park Baptist Church, and thinking, “I have never heard anything like this before!”  It gave me a whole new love and priority for the local church.

After considering this neglected biblical truth in more detail, you could begin to grow as a committed member through these five points of application:

1. Take a step of obedience in one area of church membership.  Thabiti Anyabwile lists 8 characteristics of a committed church member: (1) Attends Regularly; (2) Seeks Peace; (3) Edifies Others; (4) Warns and Admonishes Others; (5) Pursues Reconciliation; (6) Bears with Others; (7) Prepares for the Ordinances; and (8) Supports the Work of the Ministry (68-70).  Does the members in your church do this?  Can you imagine if they did?  Be a trendsetter in your church: start practicing these corporate spiritual disciplines and encourage others to do the same.  Taking God at his word, and stepping out in Spirit-empowered obedience will have untold impact on you and your local church.

2. Develop a ministry of presence at your church.  Realize that your attendance matters.  In my own life, I started going to church regularly at age 17.  When I did, there was an older gentlemen who greeted me at the door every week.  In addition to the preaching of God’s word, I truly believe that his enthuiastic hospitality was one of the ways that God brought me to himself.  When we go to church, we are not simply going as consumers; we go as those upbuilding and supporting the rest of God’s people.  And when your Christian liberty “enables” you to freely skip church, it may have a negative effect on another brother or sister who is depending on your presence.  The ministry of presence is vital for all believers and should be something that we gladly live out each week.

3. Learn the names of every member of your church and use the church directory to pray for one another.  John 10:3 says that Jesus calls his sheep by name, and that when he speaks, his sheep hear him and follow (10:27).  So too, for Christians, especially church leaders and shepherds, we must be committed to knowing those in our church, calling them by name, and praying for them.  Now, with that said, I realize, some churches are ginormous–which is a technical term for “really big”–and that such feats would tempt some to pride if they learned 7,500 names.  However, within these larger churches, are smaller groups, however they are classified.  The point here is not legalism, but love!  Out of love, you should know the names of those in your flock, and by whatever means you can, learn to pray for your fellow members by names.  You may say, “I don’t know how to pray for those I don’t know.”  Well here are two ways to respond: (1) Get to know them!  Ask their name, their family situation, where they serve in the church, where they work outside the church–simply put, be curious.  This is where number 2 helps number 3.  (2) Pray Paul’s prayers for those people whom you still don’t know.  If they are believers, these are great ways to make concrete petitions for fellow-members to grow in Christ.  D.A. Carson’s book on the subject, A Call to Spiritual Reformation, is an excellent resource to help you here.

4. Inform yourself of church business.  Most churches have regularly scheduled business meetings.  As a committed member, you should know what is going on in your church.   This gives you opportunity to join in prayer with what God is doing in your midst; it gives you time to ask the pastor, elders, or other members about the business at hand; and it protects your church from the wiles of Satan who would love to bring division to your church by uninformed members making hasty, uninformed, and unspiritual comments at the meeting. (By unspiritual, I mean those comments that have not been sanctified by prayer, the Word of God, and even time– James 1:19-25).

5. Study the New Testament to learn what the church is and does.  Perhaps this should actually be the first thing you do, but either way, your commitment to the church is directly related to how important you think the church is, and the only way you can have a proper understanding of the church, is to get God’ Word on it.  One way to do this is to simply use a concordance (online, or in print) to look up every instance of ekklesia / church in the New Testament and see how the Bible uses it.  Is it speaking of a local assembly?  An abstract universal entity?  A heavenly gathering?  Or what?  Then you should ask, what is God’s intention for the church and how should we be participating in that?  Answering these questions will go along way to seeing how vital church membership is.

Overall, growing as a committed member is a process, but one promises lasting joy as union to Christ in his body promises inimitable opportunities to grow up into Christ.  As Ephesians 3:10 tells us, the church reveals the wisdom of God to the world, and is in fact the wisdom of God.  Sadly, most people don’t see it that way.  Consider these steps of application this week, and I trust that you too will see how the events that take place within the local body of assembled believers are more important than the events that occur in the Pentagon, the Kremlin, the halls of congress, or any place else for that matter. 

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

A Biblical Evangelist: The Fifth Mark of a Healthy Church Member

On Sunday night, the church I am interim, Calvary Baptist (Seymour, IN), looked at what it means to be a “Biblical Evangelist” according to Thabiti Anyabwile’s helpful study What is a Healthy Church Member?  During our time together, I suggested five ways to live out a life of intentional evangelism.  In addition to memorizing an evangelistic tract and /or a series verses that outlines the gospel, consider the following steps of towards evangelistic fervency:

1. Community Evangelism.  Pray for a different ‘lost’ family member, friend, co-worker each day of the week.  Then, invite someone to church each week.  Imagine, under God, what your church would look like if every member of your household of faith took seriously these two practices–praying daily and inviting weekly.  Coupled with the faithful preaching and teaching of the gospel at your church, this exercise could bear much, much fruit.

2. Spontaneous Evangelism.  In Colossians 4:3, Paul says, “Pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ…that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.”  Paul not only preached boldly, he prayed dependently and recruited others to pray with him and for him, so that God would open doors for evangelistic witness.  In my own life, earnest prayers like this have regularly been answered with God-ordained encounters to bear witness for Christ.  The problem is not God’s faithfulness to answer such prayers, but my weakness to keep praying for more opportunities.  May we learn to pray unceasinlgy with Paul for open doors to spontaneous evangelism.

3. Lifestyle Evangelism.  The Great Commission instructs us that “as we go” (participle) we are to “make disciples” (imperative).  Put in one word, evangelism should be our “lifestyle.”  There are dozens of ways to do this.  Let me suggest four: (1) live a life that leads to “Why”–as 1 Peter 3:15 suggests, live a life that causes others to ask you about the hope you have in Jesus; (2) get to know people by asking questions that will lead to more informed and more specific applications of the gospel, ask God to give you a heart for people and look for ways to interject Christ into daily conversation; (3) perform ‘strategic’ acts of kindness that will show the love of Christ and that instigate conversations about Jesus; and (4) commit yourself to being a regular and recruiting participant in your church’s evangelistic programs– don’t miss the joy of joining others in your church as they share Christ in your local context.

4. Thoughtful Evangelism.  Growth in anything requires time, persistence, and studied contemplation.  This is true for evangelism.  So, if you are serious about wanting to grow as a biblical evangelist, let me suggest a handful of helpful resources

  • Mark Dever, The Gospel and Personal Evangelism is the first book I would recommend, as it provides an excellent discussion of what the gospel is and how to go about telling others the simple, and yet eternally signficant, message of forgiveness and hope.
  • Robert Colemen, The Master Plan of Evangelism examines the life of Jesus and shows how the best evangelists are disciple-makers.  This book has been formative in my understanding of ministry, especially in the idea of spiritual multiplication.
  • J.I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God is an excellent theological inquiry into the relationship between God’s sovereignty in salvation and man’s responsibility to share the gospel with all people.

5. Discipled Evangelism.  Finally, there is no better way to grow as a “biblical evangelist” than to “do evangelism!”  And there is no better way to do that then to find a friend or older member in your church and learn from them and with them.  Timothy, Titus, Silas, and others co-labored with the Apostle Paul and learned first hand how to boldly share their faith, so too we should link arms with others in the church to grow in evangelism.  This co-laboring strengthens relations within the body and maximizes the effectiveness of the church’s witness.   If your church does not have such a ministry team, perhaps you, in coordination with your pastor, could help implement such an evangelistic unit.

In truth, evangelism is not something that we can do in the strength of our flesh.  Most of us experience great feelings of defeat whenever we think of evangelism, and yet this is one of God’s clearest instructions for us, to go and make disciples, sharing the good news with all the nations.  In fact, the Holy Spirit has been given to us for just such a ministry (Acts 1:8), and it is only as we join in what the Spirit of Christ is doing in the world that our joy is complete (cf. 1 John 1:1-4).  So, this week, let me encouage you to take hold of one of these action steps and to go forward with boldness and conviction to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.   You won’t be disappointed that you did.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

A Genuine Convert: The Fourth Mark of a Healthy Church Member

When I was in high school, my family moved into a new home, and lets just say, “It was a fixer-upper.”  I’ll never forget waking up the first morning in that ranch-style house and laying for what seemed like hours, hiding under the blankets as flies landed on my head.  Gross!  The floors were torn up with nails jutting out and the kitchen walls were covered with years of baked on grease, tobacco smoke, and other browning agents.  While my parents owned the home and the property had been transferred to them, it was evident that they had only just begun in their cleanup process.

With our relationship with God, we find something similar.  When the Triune God ransoms a sinner from the throws of hell and saves him or her from a life enslaved to sin, the condition of that sinner’s “house” is in a word: Wretched!!  Much worse than my high school abode.  Nevertheless, the transfer of property is certani, and the conversion process is permanent.  Powerful changes will be forthcoming.

Over time, just as my family cleared out and cleaned up that dirty house, so the Holy Spirit comes into the life of a believer and gives us him or her a new priority for God’s word, a new appetite for holiness, a new love for others, and a new power to walk with God–just to name a few of the changes.  All in all, the life-changing effects of conversion are visibly evident, and as the Bible teaches this is part of God’s design.  The one-time purchase is necessarily followed by a life-time of Christian growth and sanctification.  The moment of conversion results in a myriad of Spirit-filled changes.

In this weeks chapter, Pastor Thabiti touches on this important but often neglected truth — Genuine Conversion.  As the fourth mark of a healthy church member, he sets a course to consider the reality of our conversion and to challenge us to know for sure that God has in fact moved in.  From his helpful admonitions, let me give you five ways to meditate on genuine conversion and ways you can encourage others who are clinging to Christ by faith.

1. Read 1 John and consider your own conversion experience.  On page 55, Thabiti provides a helpful set of diagnostic questions.  Take time to read the Scriptures and consider them.

  1. Do you walk in the light or in the darkness (1 John 1:6-7)?
  2. Do you love God the Father or do we appear to love the world (1 John 2:15)?
  3. Do you love other Christians (1 John 3:14-15; 18-19; 5:1)?
  4. Do you have the testimony of the Holy Spirit that we are children of God (Rom. 8:15-16; Gal. 4:6; 1 John 3:24b)?
  5. Are you persevering in the faith (1 John 5:4-5)?

2. Invite another mature member to point out blindspots in our Christian walk.   God’s word instructs us that fellow Christians should spur one another on to love and good deeds (Heb. 10:24), likewise that we should speak the truth to one another in love (Eph. 4:15).  Yet, we should not only do this, we should also invite a trusted friend and church member to do this, by asking them to point out areas of weakness and growth.  Of course, this requires humility and a willing spirit, but the fruits of this discipline are invaluable.  

3. Make a habit of recognizing the grace of God in others.  From a great distance, I have been challenged to do this by C.J. Mahaney.  C.J.’s radical commitment to humble himself by laboring to build up others is a model for us all– see his Humility: True Greatness.  His “others-first” mentality is only sustained by the Holy Spirit, and results in a genuine humility and gratefulness that reflects the Son of God himself.  This however, is not an exceptional kind of Christian behavior evidenced in rare Christians, it rather available to anyone who is indwelt and empowered by the Spirit.

4. With another member, set a goal to read a book about genuine conversion.  There are so many good books on conversion, salvation, and how to know the spiritual condition of one’s relationships with God.  Let me commend three:  John Piper’s Finally Alive is a basic and powerful look at conversion and the doctrine of the new birth; Stephen Smallman’s What is True Conversion? is recommended by Pastor Thabiti and looks to be a helpful, 32-page introduction to the realities of conversion; and Donald Whitney’s Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health is another reliable tool to discern the condition of your heart. 

5. With humility, patience, and love, pray for and pursue a member of your church who is walking away from Christ.   James 5:19-20 reads, “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, 20 let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”  There is nothing more loving you could do than to pray for and gently pursue a fellow church member who is drifting from the Lord.  Perhaps they have been offended and need encouragement or exhortation to make amends and be reconciled; perhaps they have been deceived and ensnared by Satan and need a word of truth to free them; perhaps they have simply grown tired and discouraged and need the loving reminder that God loves carried to them by a compassionate friend.  Whatever it is, we will not know until we go.  And Scripture is clear: We are to be our brother’s (or sister’s) keeper.  We are not to be like Cain who shed his brother’s blood, but rather like our Master Jesus Christ, we are to shed our blood for the sake of others (cf. Col. 1:24ff).

This weeks action points are the most challenging thus far– not because of their intellectual difficulty, they are pretty simple to understand– but because they demand so much from us!  In truth, it is only the genuinely converted person who would even want to attempt these things, and who in fact has the humility and power to do them.  Yet, if these action points confront you as hard, do not be discouraged.  Simply turn to the Lord who has sufficient power to make his calling and election sure in your life and to add good deeds to your faith (cf. 2 Peter 1:5-11).  

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Gospel Saturation: The Third Mark of a Healthy Church Member

What does it mean to be Gospel-Saturated? 

That is what we considered on Sunday night — this post is a few days late — when we took another look at Thabiti Anyabwile’s book What is a Healthy Church Member?  His third mark of a healthy church member is to be filled to overflowing with the gospel of Jesus Christ–that is, Gospel-Saturated. 

Ephesians 5:18 says, “Do not get drunk with wine which leads to debauchery [or dissipation] but be filled with the Holy Spirit.”  If I had to take a guess at what gospel-saturation looked like, I would say that just as someone is under the influence of alcohol, gospel-saturation would look like someone who is visibly manifesting the fruit of the Spirit and boldly proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ–after all, to be most “Spiritual” is to be most Christ-centered (cf John 16:13-14).  Consider the apostles on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2).  

In thinking about growing in gospel-saturation, here are five suggestions to help you grow in your understanding and application of the gospel. 

1. Memorize the Gospel.   Obviously, your confidence in the gospel is only as good as your knowledge of it.  The best way to do this of course is to read the Bible, because from Genesis 3:15 to Revelation, the whole Bible is a testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Yet, for a new Christian or one who has not spent a lot of time in the Bible, one of the best things you can do is memorize the turning points of the gospel– things like that God is the holy creator who made us for his glory, that all mankind is sinful and desrving punishment, that the sovereign plan of salvation has been in effect since the fall, and that Jesus Christ’s law-fulfilling life, substitionary death, and justifying resurrection and victorious ascension have secured salvation for all those who repent from sin and believe on Him.  This would be a start.

Here are a few other resources to help you memorize the key turning points of the gospel.  Select one and memorize it–and more importantly memorize the Scriptures contained in each–so that you can better know the gospel and share it with others.

2. Learn to summarize the Gospel in 30 Seconds.  Call this the Elevator Gospel.  If you were in an elevator, on the 95th floor of Sears Tower and the cable snapped, could you share the gospel in the 30 seconds you had before impending death?  Or for those twitteratis out there, could you tweet the gospel in 140 characters or less?  These guys did

Now hear me: THE POINT IS NOT TO SHRINK THE GOSPEL!!!  Or to think that the gospel can be distilled into less than the full canon of Scripture.  But, THE POINT IS to so imbibe and embrace the gospel that you are able to communicate it at any time, anywhere, to anyone.  The goal is to arm ourselves with the gospel so that we can preach to ourselves or witness to another, which leads us to our next two points.

3. Preach the Gospel to yourself.  The gospel does little good for others, when it is not first changing your life.  Because we sin repeatedly every moment of every day, we need to learn how to apply the gospel to ourselves.  To paraphrase Martyn LLoyd-Jones, we need to spend less time listening to ourselves, and more time preaching to ourselves.  This is the model of David in Psalm 103:1, where he commands his soul to bless the Lord (cf Psalm 42-43).  Yet, to do this we must fill our minds with heart-stirring gospel truths.  As you seek to preach the gospel to yourself, consider just a few verses to begin with: Psalm 103:1-5; Lamentations 3:21-26; Romans 5:1; 8:1; Galatians 2:16-21; Hebrews 4:14-16; 1 John 1:9-2:2.  For more gospel-saturating verse suggestions, see Desiring God’s Fighter Verses.

4. Think about the Gospel.  This sounds simplistic and obvious, but really, how much time do you think about the gospel?  For you own sanctification, gospel meditation is necessary.  As you encounter sin, you must take time to see how the Cross of Jesus Christ is the singular, God-given means of forgiving your sin, cleansing your righteousness, and building up your faith.  See C.J. Mahaney’s book, The Cross-Centered Life, for more here.  At the same time, gospel-rumination prepares you for creatively sharing the gospel with others. 

What do I mean?  Well, I can remember the time that walking on the boardwalk in Virginia Beach, coming back from a Campus Crusade evangelistic outreach, I was approached by a jewelry salesman offering som “mighty fine watches and rings.”   Like a dunce, I said no thanks and moved on.  I thought later, what if I had replied, “No, I am not interested in any of your jewelry, because I already have the pearl of greatest price!  Can I tell you about him?”  Now that would have been quite an evangelistic conversation starter, but because I wasn’t thinking that way I missed that opportunity.  So, we must learn to think (creatively) about the gospel, so that as we fill our minds with Scripture and meditate on the gospel, we will be more equipped for the next traveling salesman.

5. Order your life around the Gospel.  In What is a Healthy Church Member? (p. 43), Thabiti suggests that Christians should order their daily and weekly routines in such a way that they are constantly on the look out for gospel-sharing opportunities.  Whether at the grocery, Starbucks, the gym, the neighborhood park, or the local newstand–if those still exist– we should look for people with whom we can build relationships and share the good news of Jesus Christ.  In doing this, we are fulfilling the Great Commission and letting the Holy Spirit work in us to confirm the gospel we believe. 

Now, with these five suggestions in place, I can already hear some detractor saying that I have shrunk the gospel by advocating a 30 second, memorized list of verses.  Maybe.  But that is not my aim, so much as I am trying to think how we, as finite witnesses, can better know and make know the gospel.   In sum, I am simply trying to think through ways of practically applying the gospel to daily life.  I would love to hear how you do it, and how we can better become gospel-saturated Christians.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss