Our church, primarily through our small groups, recently read through a book by Thom Rainer entitled “I Am A Church Member” which talked about the benefits and responsibilities of belonging to a local body of Christians. It covered six primary subjects:
- I Will Be A Functioning Church Member
- I Will Be A Unifying Church Member
- I Will Not Let My Church Be about My Preferences and Desires
- I Will Pray for My Church Leaders
- I Will Lead My Family to Be Healthy Church Members
- I Will Treasure Church Membership as a Gift
We read this book while we were searching for a new pastor for our church, and I believe it was beneficial to our body to walk through these questions.
There is a second book I think we should all read, but as individuals, still working through some of the things discovered in Rainer’s book. This book, “Rediscovering Church“, is by Collin Hansen and Jonathan Leeman, and not associated with Rainer’s book in anything but subject matter. It tackles the same questions, but I think goes into more detail on each, with more opportunity for us to reflect on our thoughts and attitudes concerning the church. Take a look at the chapter headings (and a quote or two from each chapter):
- What Is a Church?
“For instance, think about how people today talk about “joining” a church, as if it’s a club. Or “driving down to the church,” as if it’s a building. Or “enjoying church,” as if it’s a show. What assumptions are at work when we talk about church in these ways? Further, how do these assumptions shape how we engage with our churches? I’d say they make it easy to think about our churches for ninety minutes a week and ignore them otherwise.”
- Who Can Belong to a Church?
“To become a part of a family, you need to be either born or adopted. And the Bible actually uses both concepts to describe what’s called conversion, which is how you become part of this spiritual family of the church. Just as you don’t choose to be born or adopted, so also you don’t choose conversion.”
- Do We Really Need to Gather?
“Sometimes people like to say that “a church is a people, not a place.” It’s slightly more accurate to say that a church is a people assembled in a place. Regularly assembling or gathering makes a church a church.”
“The point is not that attending church makes you a Christian. The point is that attending church is what Christians do. It demonstrates that the Spirit of Christ is in us, and therefore we desire to be with Christ’s people.”
- Why Are Preaching and Teaching Central?
“The best preachers don’t make you marvel at their own skill. They show you God’s glory as seen in his Word. And when you see God that way, you want as much of him as you can get. You grow in eagerness to read and apply the Word for yourself. Then you enter a virtuous feedback loop. The more preachers help you know and love the Word, the more you develop that taste for yourself, and the better taste you develop for meaty preaching.”
“There’s a reason we don’t only read Scripture together in each worship service. Preaching brings the authority of God’s Word to bear, through the mediating personality and experience of the teacher, on a contemporary context with particular local and personal demands.”
“Two things happen with live, in-person teaching that can’t be replicated on a podcast with a pastor you’ll never know personally. First, the congregation and the preacher together experience preaching as a communal event in time and space… second, the preacher’s example and personality set a tone for the whole congregation.”
- Is Joining Actually Necessary?
“When people ask whether church membership is in the Bible, they’re often looking for something programmatic, like membership to a gym or club. And, true enough, that’s not in the Bible. Let’s remove such ideas from our heads. Instead, let’s get into our minds “the temple of the living God,” which is the image Paul uses to describe who we are. This temple cannot be “yoked with” or have “partnership,” “fellowship,” or “accord” with unbelievers. Why? Because God dwells in this temple. He identifies himself with it. Yes, we should still invite nonbelievers into our worship gatherings (1 Cor. 14:24–25). But the point is, a church must be clear about who belongs to it and who doesn’t precisely for the sake of the church’s witness. He wants us to stand out and be distinct so that we can offer an attractive and compelling witness to the world.”
- Is Church Discipline Really Loving?
“There’s one specific thing about God’s love that church discipline teaches us, and it is so often missing from definitions: God’s love is holy. You can’t have God’s love apart from his holiness. His love serves his holy purposes, and his holy purposes are loving. Sometimes people pit so-called “holiness churches” against “loving churches.” That’s impossible. A church must be both of those or it is neither of them.”
- How Do I Love Members Who Are Different?
“The church that gets noticed by the world brings together people who don’t normally associate—the tax collectors and zealots, the sinners and Pharisees. That’s what made the early church so strange that some said it had turned the world upside down (Acts 17:6).”
“…the example of Jesus’s disciples and the early churches led by Paul suggest something we need to rediscover today. Politics and pandemic have stressed many congregations past the breaking point. It might seem easier to look for a church where everyone thinks, votes, and sins the same way you do. It’s better for your spiritual growth, however, to hunker down in a fellowship of differents.”
- How Do We Love Outsiders?
“How do insiders and outsiders relate? We can see that Jesus asked the first church leaders, the ultimate insiders, to undertake the business of turning outsiders into insiders through conversion. That process could start within their own homes, with their children and extended families, but it would eventually extend to strangers around the world. The church must never lose sight of this evangelistic calling. Whatever else the church does, it teaches and then models how to become a disciple of Jesus Christ.”
“You don’t need the church to be born again, but you need the church’s help to walk on your wobbly legs of fledgling faith.”
- Who Leads?
- Conclusion: You Don’t Get the Church You Want, but Something Better
“You don’t need to be an extrovert to be a faithful church member. Some people have a lot of emotional energy to spend, some only have a little. We’re just saying, spend what you have. Be faithful with whatever resources God has given you to love and be loved by your church.”
“…no one gets the church they want. But everyone gets the church they need. We all need churches that call us to something greater than ourselves. We need churches that call us finally to God. When we follow the example of Jesus, we get the church we need.”
“The church doesn’t erase our personalities. It enhances them by connecting us to the Creator who made us as we are and to others who call forth love and strength we never knew we had. You may not get the church you wanted. But you get the church you never knew you needed.”
“(We have never) seen people rediscover church and get what they want from the community unless they consistently show up and ask others how they can help. Remember, you are the body of Christ. You might be a hand, an ear, or an eye. Whatever the appendage, you are essential. The body doesn’t function properly without you. And you need the body of Christ. So show up and ask around. Other Christians need you more than you can realize. One day you’ll understand how much you needed them, too.”
Don’t count on my excerpts here as a substitute for reading this excellent book. Get your copy, read it, and rediscover your church.