I started to write "expect of each of your members" but "hope" really captures it better. What is the minimum that you want to see happening in a person's spiritual journey before you would invite them to join your church? Remember, we are in the business of making disciples not signing up members. So what should be going on in a person's spiritual life before you welcome them into membership? Is it enough that they simply ask to join?
It sounds rather legalistic, doesn't it? And I don't mean it to. My own thinking about this was pretty fuzzy. For years I believed it was better to let the invitation to membership be like the invitation to Holy Communion and welcome all who “love Jesus and want to love him more.” Then, about five years ago, Doug Anderson said something that crystallized my thinking:
"Whatever a person is doing in their spiritual journey
when they join the church, they consider that to be ‘normal.’
Everything else is then considered optional."
· If they are coming to worship about once a month, that's now normative. Is coming to worship once a month what your congregational leaders would consider normal?
· If they are not committed to living a life that reflects Jesus' ways and will, that's now normative. But shouldn’t a disciple be committed to becoming more like Jesus?
· If they are not involved in a small discipling group or a spiritual mentoring relationship, that is now normative. Should that be normal in congregations committed to making more and better disciples?
· If they are flipping a $10 bill in the plate when they come, that is now normative. Does that reflect a Biblical understanding of stewarding our financial gifts?
· If they are not involved in serving others, but only see the church as a place for others to care for them, that is now normative. How is that normal for those dedicated to following the one who invites us to pick up our cross and follow him in service to others?
What Doug Anderson helped me see was that if we encourage people to join our congregation without their lives already being shaped by Christ in these fundamental ways, then we encourage them -- usually without meaning to! -- to think that these practices are unnecessary extras, rather than essential aspects of the life of discipleship! By raising the bar, by holding out for more from those who join our congregation, we are actually helping persons to mature spiritually.
But aren’t those who attend, but aren’t members treated like second class citizens? Absolutely not! Membership isn’t about a higher level of perks. Actually, it is about taking on a higher level of responsibility.
But won't the congregation have fewer members this way? Absolutely, but being a member will actually mean something.
But what about previous members who joined without fulfilling these hopes? They are still members. We can't force them to do anything, but we can encourage them to live up to the same minimal hopes we now have for new members.
And what are the hopes you have for all new members? That needs to be discerned and owned by the leaders of a congregation after prayerful study. And it may take a process of several years to raise it to the level you eventually want to maintain. My personal list would include:
· Attends worship at least three times a month, unless sick or out of town.
· Is involved in a regular discipling small group or spiritual mentoring relationship.
· Invests their talents and passions joining Jesus in ministry to others.
· Is giving proportionally and significantly for them.
· Has cultivated personal spiritual disciplines, such as daily prayer & Bible reading.
· Is willing to commit to the congregation's behavioral covenant **.
(** A brief, positive, and written description of how the congregation is committed to treating one another, reflecting the example and teaching of Jesus.)
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Dr. Jeff Stiggins
The Center for Congregational Excellence