Over the years, churches have often spoken about "belonging" to a congregation in terms of member or membership. We should be reminded that the word membership is of Christian origin with roots in the early church. However, as generations have come and gone, its intended meaning has been eroded by an ever-evolving culture. Now more than ever, the term membership is understood by many as a synonym for exclusiveness. That exclusiveness finds reinforcement when organizations with members require: dues to be paid, qualifications to be met, allegiances demanded, rules to be followed.
With that said, the church should go back to its roots and reclaim the wonderful imagery membership represents. The Apostle Paul speaks so eloquently (I Corinthians 12:12-27) about the body and its many members living interdependently with one another. It remains a vital and rich metaphor we need to experience lived-out within the Christian community. And yet, another metaphor may speak to us today at an even deeper level when we reflect on what it means to belong to a church.
Implicit in our understanding of membership today is the sense of one being the recipient of a service(s) rendered. "I've paid my monthly dues. Now, what am I going to get in return?" What a contradiction this is to the attitude of Christ-likeness we are "called" to embrace as the church! And yet, it is an attitude that remains entrenched in the hearts of too many. Being a part of a church is about people serving sacrificially in a joyful partnership committed to forwarding the Cause of Christ—at all costs. For too long, church membership has been "spectator-driven" and "personal satisfaction-based."
Well, Christians do want to be fed. We want to be nurtured. And yes, we want to be needed. We want to be inspired and we want to serve. We want to be a community. We want to contribute. We want to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. We want to be a family. Does our understanding of membership today adequately convey those yearnings?
A while back, we threw out a word: partnership. We are excited about this term. We're excited because, first of all, we find in the concept of partnership that metaphor which better identifies churched Christians as "people of action" versus that of "passive participants" often implied in our experience/understanding of membership.
With this in mind, we here at Church on the Journey, want to call ourselves—first and foremost—partners in the Cause of Christ. We don't want to be merely members of this church, but partners in God's work at Journey. Call it semantics, but our focus is clear: God has called us to be a people yoked together, committed to share our time, abilities and resources to the end of proclaiming the love and healing power of Jesus Christ to the world—through spoken word and lifestyle. It's as simple as that. It is as overwhelming as that! Partnership is a lot to ask.
Being a partner in Christ is hard work. But is there a more honorable job than to share the love of Jesus Christ with one another and with the world?