Posted by: morgan1965 | May 14, 2009

The Meaning of Membership

The United Methodist Church at its 2008 General Conference tweaked its understanding of membership in the United Methodist Church. We discussed the matter of “membership” at my two spring retreats with pastors. These discussions were vibrant, instructive and constructive.

When a person unites with a local church as a professing member, he/she professes “their faith in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth; in Jesus Christ his only Son, and in the Holy Spirit.” The intention is to live one’s life as a disciple of Jesus Christ. Such persons covenant with God and the members of the local church to keep their vows as members of the church.

In the former vow, a new member would express commitment to uphold the United Methodist Church. A significant and meaningful change is couched in the new language of commitment “to be loyal to Christ through the United Methodist Church” and do all in their power to strengthen its ministries.” The United Methodist Church, then, is the arena in which a church member can live out their faith in Jesus Christ. What will be the characteristics of a member’s participation in the life of a local church?

The membership vow says that new members and current members of The United Methodist Church will “faithfully participate in its ministries by their prayers, their presence, their gifts, their service, and their witness.” The new dynamic is “witness.” We live out our faith in the arenas of prayer, presence, gifts, service and witness. We tell the stories of Jesus in our lives. These stories reveal how Jesus is active in our lives, bringing about transformation.

These vows are based on the premise that faithful membership in one’s local church is essential for personal spiritual growth. Personal spiritual growth leads to more faithful membership over time.

What does church membership mean to you? How should the local church nurture its members? What about the matter of the retention of current members of a local church? To be sure, membership is a serious matter and it is a matter of faith.

My conversations with pastors suggest that there is a need to greatly strengthen membership training/preparation for new members. It is essential that we spend more time and effort on further training current members of the local church.

The local pastor must assume the awesome responsibility of preparing people for local church membership. The congregation, in partnership with the pastor, must seize the opportunity for nurturing the members of the church. Spiritually transformed pastors and laity will be able to serve as persuasive witnesses to the Good News.

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