Today I had two, very different experiences – I prepared for our church members’ meeting coming up on Sunday and I spoke with a young man who wasn’t convinced that the organized church was relevant anymore. It made me think about church and fellowship and why we do what we do. Does church membership make any difference? Is there a need for Christians to gather in an organized way? As long as I have a Bible and Jesus, can’t I improvise the rest? Those questions led me to a quote of Max Lucado’s that I’ve read before and found insightful and encouraging. In the book Fearless: Imagine Your Life Without Fear he writes,
Questions can make hermits out of us, driving us into hiding. Yet the cave has no answers. Christ distributes courage through community; he dissipates doubts through fellowship. He never deposits all knowledge in one person but distributes pieces of the jigsaw puzzle to many. When you interlock your understanding with mine, and we share our discoveries, when we mix, mingle, confess and pray, Christ speaks.
Lucado highlights for me 3 critical perspectives on church and fellowship:
1. Isolation and hiding are a result of ‘questions.’ Lucado writes that “questions can make hermits out of us, driving us into hiding” to express the fact that it’s often the struggles in our spiritual lives that keep us from getting close to other believers. Disappointment with God, shame over habitual sin, bitterness toward other Christians – there are many reasons, but a refusal to get close to people in spiritual fellowship is usually a symptom of spiritual sickness. It’s often when we feel we may have a cavity that we fear going to the dentist. If church membership is something you’ve resisted, or small group involvement is something that you’ve never felt comfortable with, I think it’s worth asking what some of the ‘questions’ that are that keep you at arm’s length from fellowship and church commitment.
2. Isolation and hiding make things worse not better. After noting that spiritual struggles can drive us into hiding, he warns, “Yet the cave has no answers.” We often assume that we can figure it out ourselves. When we struggle, we like to struggle alone. We’ll appear from the cave once we’ve resolved our questions, we think to ourselves, but isolation and hiding usually just makes things worse not better. To return to our cavity analogy, avoiding the dentist delays healing and deepens the tooth’s decay. God’s plan to help us grow always involves people.
3. Christ reveals Himself to us in church community. Lucado highlights three aspects of fellowship. It’s in church community that Christ distributes courage, dissipates doubt and dispenses knowledge. We seldom can find the courage to change, make difficult steps of obedience, or establish godly routines without others around us, trying to take similar steps. There really is strength in numbers. And while God does speak through prayer and Bible study, doubts can seldom be dispelled without someone else’s help. It’s like the faith and confidence of other Christians is something that we can borrow in times of doubt and discouragement. Spiritual knowledge, too, is revealed to us in fellowship. God seems to deliberately withhold the full perspective from any one person so that we need to rely on a community of faith and not a single guru with all of the answers.
How this all relates to church membership is that it’s a step on a continuum of involvement in church fellowship. It moves someone from curious to committed, from interested to engaged. It’s like the difference between a man who’s attracted to women but wants to keep his options open, and a man who says, “I do,” to a specific woman and so formalizes the relationship they enjoy.
I’ve heard of one church that has done away with the language of “members” and instead uses the term “owners” to communicate the sense of responsibility and empowerment they want their people to feel. Regardless of the terminology, I still believe in church membership and pray that this Sunday will be a time when the members of our church join together in owning the vision that God has stirred up among us and lead us forward in greater health and strength as a result. And I pray that the number of members or owners will grow in the days ahead as we draw near to one another in fellowship and formalize our commitments together.
In awe of Him,