What does it mean to “join” a church? Is membership important? What does church involvement look like? What are the core values at play, and where do they come from?
Although I won’t attempt to answer all these questions here, I do want to highlight a couple of my favorite scriptures on church participation, and I pray these will be an encouragement for those considering a bigger role in their faith community. I also hope to provide a framework for pastors and leaders as they communicate the value of “joining in” in a deeper way…
“As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 PETER 2:4-5)
“Present yourselves as building stones for the construction of a sanctuary vibrant with life, in which you’ll serve as holy priests offering Christ-approved lives up to God,” is how The Message paraphrase sums up this passage, and I love the language here! These scriptures tell us that since church members are “living stones” we need everyone involved for the sanctuary to be “vibrant with life.” Vibrant church is not a spectator sport. The Bible calls the church the “body” of Christ…a living, moving, organism where every cell counts.
Peter goes on to say in 2:9-10: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God…”
“But you are the ones chosen by God, chosen for the high calling of priestly work, chosen to be a holy people, God’s instruments to do his work and speak out for him, to tell others of the night-and-day difference he made for you—from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted.” (The Message)
This is where we get the phrase “the priesthood of all believers,” and it’s a beautiful picture. Can you imagine it? Everyone getting into the action of God’s work in the world, everyone playing a vital part in the grand story of the Gospel, every church member exercising his or her priestly calling and gifting within their community of faith…this is a picture worth fighting for!
If we agree that this ideal has some validity to it, then the next question is; what would that look like practically? The Bible, once again, paints a portrait to capture our vision and imagination:
1 Corinthians 14:26 …When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.”
hmmm…”built up”; interesting picture…with “living stones” maybe?
…and The Message says, “When you gather for worship, each one of you be prepared with something that will be useful for all: Sing a hymn, teach a lesson, tell a story, lead a prayer, provide an insight.”
This is what I like to call an every-member-functioning body, and I believe it is the calling of every church leader to give themselves fully to this vision; facilitating, encouraging, and championing the idea of every person playing their God-given part.
In 20 years of itinerent church ministry experience though, I have yet to see a Sunday morning service look like the verses above. There are many factors, challenges, and reasons for this that are beyond the scope of this article, but there is one place I have experienced it over and over again; small groups. When believers gather together with 10-15 others in community to pray, talk, and support one another, the vibrant colors of Christ’s body begin to reveal themselves in stunning, diverse, tangible ways. It seems the Spirit has used the idea of community to grow us in Christ since the beginning. We were created by a God who’s nature is community (the three-in-one; Trinity), and this is how we’ve been wired. Community is one of God’s primary “means of grace” to draw us to Himself and form us into the image of Christ.
Fred Buechner says, “You can survive on your own; can grow strong on your own; prevail on your own; but you cannot become human on your own.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a contemporary martyr who was executed for his faith at the hands of Hitler’s regime, wrote a short, powerful book on community called Life Together, and in it he distills our true connection to each other. He writes, “Our community with one another consists solely in what Christ has done to both of us. This is true not merely at the beginning, as though in the course of time something else where to be added to our community; it remains so for all the future and to all eternity. I have community with others and I shall continue to have it only through Jesus Christ. The more genuine and the deeper our community becomes, the more will everything else between us recede, the more clearly and purely will Jesus Christ and his work become the one and only thing that is vital between us. We have one another only through Christ, but through Christ we do have one another, wholly, and for all eternity.”
So let’s dive in. Let’s not miss the treasure in each other. Let’s not miss the reward of fully participating in our fellowships. Let’s not miss the tapestry of gifts woven throughout our congregation.
As a songwriter and worship leader, with the notes and rhythms of music coursing through my veins, I find myself drawn to orchestral images, and Dietrich gets me once again with this;
“God has prepared for Himself one great song of praise throughout eternity, and those who enter the community of God join in this song.”
Let’s sing, friends!