We’re in the process of redefining our membership commitment at Kleipot Gemeente. The reason for this is a strong feeling we have that we simply cannot allow a mediocre version of the Christ life in our personal lives and as a community. Being part of a local church should be an invitation into a life of service and growth. It cannot be viewed on the same level as membership to the golf club or gymnasium. A few years ago I stumbled upon the story of Church of the Savior in Washington DC. In her summary of the church’s journey Elizabeth O’Connor writes some brilliant thoughts on membership, (all italic quotes in this post are from the same book).
“The very conception of making membership genuine rather than nominal, and therefore difficult, is bitterly resented by some, who rightly see this conception as an implicit criticism of their own superficial standards of membership”
What are we asking ourselves when people become members of our community? I think in most churches we ask almost nothing and therefore we get nothing. Because we’re so ego-driven we translate the amount of people we have in our Sunday services to the amount of success we have. Just ask any pastor what question he has to field most. The most asked question is “So how many people do you have at your church?” the question aims to measure attendance on a Sunday. Any clear-thinking person should know that numbers on a Sunday means nothing. Ortiz once said (paraphrased) so you think your church is growing because more people attend; just remember that a cemetery also grows!
Although the weekly assembly of the congregation is important, it cannot be the only thing we ask of a member of a community. (I think some will even find this a hard requirement). In our individualistic self-centered environment it’s so easy to just go our own way and drift into oblivion.
“The old established church presents numerous difficulties because it is encrusted with tradition and weighted down with the burden of nominal membership. Whereas, in the Church of the Savior, the normal attendance at a public meeting far exceeds the membership, the situation is reversed in the ordinary established church.” p.VII
What would happen if someone in our community doesn’t come to the weekend gathering? Will that person be missed? If the answer to that question is no, then I don’t think we have an authentic expression of church. As redeemed communities we will have to create organic relationships where people are an irreplaceable part of the community fabric. In our community we use the shards of our clay pot to represent this. When you become a member of our community, we break a pot and every new member receives a broken shard. On the inside of your piece you write a prayer. During the week the new members come together to glue the shards together. If someone decides that they have something better to do and don’t join their friends – then the pot can’t be glued together. This is the kind of picture we want to continue even after people became members. If you’re not involved then we dissolve.
When someone decides to disengage from our community it’s not sad because it makes our numbers smaller. It’s sad because someone who God wants us to know has been gone and now we’re missing someone in the family. I believe it’s in this spirit that Hebrews 10:24-25 says:
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
Gordon Cosby (the founding pastor of COS) experienced the following event that really challenged me.
“Gordon worked with Joe over a period of time, investing something of himself in the relationship. He baptized Joe into the Christian faith, as he had many other men. Several months later he inquired of Joe’s officer,
“Tell me, how is Joe getting along?”
“What do you mean?” said the officer.
“I mean as a Christian. What kind of life is he leading?”
The officer leaned back in his chair and laughed.
“If Joe’s a Christian”, he said, “Nobody in the company knows it.”
There are for all of us a revelatory moments in which we see ourselves. As a chaplain, Gordon Cosby had to make out a report on the number of conversions and the number of baptisms each week. He wanted his report to compare favorably with the other chaplains’ – and he wanted a promotion. After all, he rationalized, he could do more for Christ and His work as a Division Chaplain; and too, the reports were sent to the denominational representative, who could influence his future. In the case of Joe he saw himself conforming to the world’s standard of success; putting first the praise of men. On that day Gordon Cosby was through forever with paper membership; he began to ponder how to assure the integrity of belonging to the Body of Christ.” p.10-11.
Two of my immediate thoughts in terms of membership in our community are:
1. If membership commitments are made without accountability and discipline, then we will not grow as a community.
2. I think we’re going to move to a yearly membership commitment; therefore everyone will loose their membership in January of every year.