Meaningful Church Membership at Emmaus

Meaningful Church Membership at Emmaus

Becoming a member of Emmaus was a foreign experience compared to the church context I grew up in. Before coming to Kansas City and Emmaus, I was previously a member of three different churches, and at all three becoming a member worked exactly the same way. On a Sunday morning, I walked down the aisle and said I wanted to join the church. The pastor asked me if I was a believer and if I had been baptized. If the answer was yes, then I was presented as a member of the church. Not a ton of hassle.

Emmaus was different. Becoming a member of Emmaus is a process. At the time, membership applicants had to attend six new members’ classes held on Sunday after the service. Then (as is still the case) new members had to have interviews with the pastors (our interview was at Panera Bread, which made up for the six membership classes). Finally, after going through both the classes and the interview, we were allowed to sign the church covenant, making us official members of Emmaus!

The process of becoming a member of Emmaus was surreal, but that is only the start. What is truly foreign to my church context is what was expected of us after we became members. When I signed the Emmaus Church Covenant, I was covenanting to a myriad of responsibilities. I was covenanting to be at church, to be a member of a community group, to love and serve the church, and to love and pray for my pastors. I was promising to abstain from sin, and to pursue holiness, and lead my wife well. Church members covenanting to responsibilities on the front end is a far cry from the membership that I grew up accustomed to.

Many of my fellow Emmaus members can identify with how strange that process can feel. This is because many of us grew up in churches that did not practice meaningful church membership.

Meaningful Membership vs. Casual Membership

The term “meaningful church membership” is, to an extent, biblically redundant. It’s like saying “a Christian who loves Christ,” or, “a non-believer who is not a believer.” Of course a Christian loves Christ, and of course a non-believer is not a believer. The same is true of a church with meaningful membership: of course membership in a local church is meaningful and committed.

The distinction is needed, though, because many churches do not practice meaningful membership. Instead, they practice a “casual membership.” Across America, church membership rolls are littered with the names of people who joined the church on a whim and never returned, or who have long since moved across the country, or who died in 1987. They are filled with the names of people who are only casually associated with that church. They are not membership rolls so much as guest books, signed by whomever decides that walking down in front of a crowd is not too large a price.

We Americans are particularly prone to casual membership. Church becomes a place that is frequented as we see fit, not a place (and a people) that demands priority in our lives. It becomes a place where we are entertained. It becomes a place that makes us feel good. It becomes a place that primarily exists to be our social club, or daycare, or self-help seminar. It is a place where we want all of the benefits – or what we think are the benefits – without any of the hassle, and in so doing we misconstrue the true benefits of membership.

That is not the portrait of membership the Bible paints.

A Portrait of Meaningful Membership

How does “meaningful membership” differ with “casual membership?” In short, meaningful membership means accepting equally both the responsibilities and the benefits of church membership.

To understand what these responsibilities and benefits are, we must look at how the Bible describes membership. So, what does meaningful membership look like in the Bible?

1. Meaningful membership places a priority on church. Believe it or not, Christians are actually commanded to go to church. In Hebrews 10:23-24, the author says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Church members are not merely given good advice to go to church, or told to go to church when they can, but are instructed to not neglect meeting together.

Unfortunately, our generation has swung the pendulum from a legalistic, “go to church or the devil may get you” mindset that was pervasive during our grandparents’ generation to a “church is optional” mindset. However, we must remember that going to church is not only mandated by Scripture, but it reaps unimaginable benefits for the church member. Paul says that Christ is present with us in a special way when we gather together (1 Cor. 5:4), Again in 1 Cor., Paul says that unbelievers will recognize God’s presence in an assembled church worshipping (1 Cor. 14:24-25), and as we will discuss shortly, gathered church members are able to bring spiritual maturity (Christlikeness) in a unique way – but only if they first gather.

Of course, nowhere does the Bible say how much absence constitutes “neglecting to meet together,” but the point is not that we know just how much we can skip before we sin, but that church should take priority in our lives and schedules. I knew families growing up that missed most church services due to travel ball (spoiler: none of those kids even made it to play in college). I know couples that seem to be out of town half of the weekends of the year for one reason or another. How do these members navigate around the command to not neglect the church? They can’t. They run their ships right smack dab into that iceberg. Not going to church isn’t necessarily a sin, but it absolutely can be.

2. Church members are to live for one another. The phrase “one another” appears over 100 times in the New Testament for dozens of reasons. Church members are to be united to one another (Phil. 2:2, 1 Pt. 3:8, 1 Cor. 1:10), they are to love one another (Rom. 13:8, 1 Thes. 3:12, 1 Pt. 1:22), they are to bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2), they are to encourage one another (1 Thes. 5:11), and they are to stir one another up in faith and good works (Heb. 10:24). There are so many examples to give, but the point is this: Church members live with the well-being of the whole church in mind. They don’t show up to church when it is convenient. They don’t expect to be catered to every waking second. They don’t suck the life out of others but instead pour themselves out for one another.

This is impossible when membership is reduced to an individual selfishly looking for what they can get out of church. If members live on the peripherals of the church rather than throwing themselves headfirst into the church, then it is impossible to fully obey the “one-another” commands of the New Testament, and equally impossible to receive the benefits of those commands!

3. Church members share in the responsibility of maintaining the holiness of the church. Along with the pastors, the church members are called to protect the holiness of the church from the poison of sin. Hebrews 12:15 states, “See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” Hebrews 10:23-24 again says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” It is the responsibility of the church members, then, to help pull up any weed of dissention and to stir one another to faith and good works (i.e, holiness) so that “no one misses the grace of God.”

Not only do the church members actively press each other to faith and good works, but they are also tasked with pushing out unholiness. It is the church members who are tasked with enacting discipline on members who have fallen into sin (Matt. 18:17, 1 Cor. 5:12-13). The idea of a church actively punishing sin seems harsh, but as F. F. Bruce argues, “If some incipient sin manifests itself in [the church’s] midst, it must be eradicated at once; if it is tolerated, this is a sure way of falling short of God’s grace, for the whole community will then be contaminated.” Church discipline is necessary to protect and remedy the members from the poison of sin.

How does it benefit church members to have a church body keep watch over each other’s souls and enact discipline when necessary? After all, the thought of dozens of other believers having a vested interest in your spiritual life could set anyone’s teeth on edge. But the church is not your 11th grade civics teacher who hides behind corners to see if he can catch you with gum in your mouth. The church functions as a parent, helping to guide, correct, push, and sometimes discipline us so that we may purse Christ and holiness. The goal of watchful care and discipline is for the church member to grow in Christlikeness.

With casual membership, how does the church keep up with “members” enough to know the state of their spiritual life? How can a church discipline a member in sin (with the goal of repentance and grace) if that member only shows up to church every so often? On a more personal note, how can you help your brother and sisters in Christ be more Christlike if you don’t even know their last name? How can the church help you to be more Christlike if you are not willing to help the church be Christlike?

4. Church Members are to care for their pastors. Lastly for our list, the church members have a special responsibility to care for and honor their pastors. Paul instructs church members to respect their leaders and hold them to high esteem (1 Thess. 5:12-13), to be slow to bring charges against elders (1 Tim. 5:19), to imitate the faith of their elders (Heb. 13:7), to provide material support for their elders (1 Cor. 9:14, Gal. 6:6), to pray for their pastors (Eph. 6:19, Col. 3:4), and to obey and submit to their authority (Heb. 13:17). Church members do not just sacrificially love and serve other church members, but they love and serve the pastors whom God has appointed to shepherd over them (1 Pet. 5:2).

Again, how can a shepherd care for a sheep that refuses to actually be a part of the flock? If the members of the church are only casually associated with the church as a whole, who is standing in the gap for our pastors? Who is providing for our pastors as they set about the ministry of the world? How will we be fed with the gospel if we do not listen to our pastors? How will we be pushed into holiness if we recoil at any guidance from our pastors? Casual church members must be convinced that they are sheep who need no shepherd, since they are not committed to loving and being loved by the undershepherd that God has appointed to protect us until he returns or calls us home.

Meaningful Membership at Emmaus

This is the portrait that the Bible paints of Biblical, meaningful church membership. It is our conviction at Emmaus that we are to carefully hang this portrait in our own house, taking the principles that the Bible requires of members and applying it to our own context.

So, what does meaningful membership look like at Emmaus?

1. Emmaus members are expected to come to church. We take serious the charge to not neglect meeting together. When new members sign our church covenant, they sign to commit to “pursue spiritual growth…through worship gatherings.” Obviously we do not have a running ledger of who comes how many times, but if it is noticed that a member has missed either several weeks in a row or regularly over a noticeable length of time, the church will reach out to them to find out if there are needs that need to be met, or sin to be dealt with.

2. Emmaus members are expected to live sacrificially for one another. At Emmaus, one of the primary ways that we serve one another is the context of a community group. By joining a community group, members are able to pray for one another, serve one another, bear one another’s burdens, and fulfill many of the other “one another” commands in small, intimate settings which serve as microcosms of the whole church.

Another way that members serve one another is by volunteering. Every member of Emmaus is expected to serve on a team that helps to make our Sunday morning gatherings successful, whether it’s in the band, as a barista, or serving in the kids ministry.

3. Emmaus members are expected to watch out for one another. Unlike the church contexts that many of us grew up in, members of Emmaus are expected to take a vested interest in the lives of their fellow church members – especially in the lives of their small group members. Emmaus members are expected to pray for one another, confess sin to one another, love one another, and, if needed, correct one another. Correcting one another is often awkward and painful, but the end result is so beautiful that it makes the awkwardness and pain worth the while, because there is a special beauty in a believer becoming aware of sin, repenting of that sin, and enjoying anew the grace of Jesus.

4. Emmaus members are expected to be easy sheep to shepherd. New Emmaus members also covenant to obey and submit to our elders. Again, this may seem weird or scary, but it’s important to remember that our pastors are ordained by God to care for us until Jesus returns. We are commanded to honor, respect, care for, and pray for them while being easy sheep to shepherded – and lest the idea of being an easy sheep seems daunting, if you are committed to coming to church, loving your fellow church members, watching out over your fellow church members, and loving and obeying your pastors then rest assured, you will be an easy sheep.

At Emmaus we wish to cultivate an understanding of membership that does justice to both the actual benefits and the responsibilities that are inherent with church membership. Membership is neither casual nor selfish, but is instead an intentional, selfless giving of oneself to a church family. May we consider membership to Emmaus with the same consideration that Christ considers Emmaus, and the whole church, when he gave himself up for her.

Jake Rainwater is the Director of Membership and a pastoral resident at Emmaus. He attends Midwestern Seminary where he is pursuing a Master of Divinity in Biblical Languages. Jake is married to his high school sweet heart, Tabitha. They have a Great Dane named Scotland. Follow him on Twitter at @JakeRainwater

In He Is Me – Our Glorious Union with Christ

In He Is Me – Our Glorious Union with Christ

“Jesus saved me.”

“God is with you.”

“You must be born again.”

“God loves you.”

“Jesus died on the cross for your sins.”

These sentences contain massive truths. When we read them, they leave us simultaneously giving an affirmative “yes!” (or maybe just a nod) – while wishing, somehow, for someone to say it in a different way. Not because we think that particular truth is lame or going out-of-style, but actually because of the opposite. We want to see these truths for what they really are. We know each truth is glorious and pregnant with gospel-centered implications for our lives. But its massiveness is getting seemingly downsized; its clarity, clouded… by familiarity

C.S. Lewis wrote about this idea, saying that the familiarity of many Christian truths often robs them of their “real potency.” This is why Lewis wrote fantasy stories – because he wanted to cast common ideas of Christianity in an unfamiliar light, thus sneaking past, what he called, the “watchful dragons” of the mind.

These same watchful dragons often paralyze us from seeing glorious, gospel-soaked truths about Jesus Christ. But sometimes God, in His sovereign kindness, grants us with blind-raising moments, allowing us to gaze into His character with a fresh light. Sometimes God sneaks past even the most watchful of dragons, bringing to our hearts and minds a fresh platter of the savory truth of Himself.

This happened to me – one evening a few weeks ago.

I had heard about the doctrine of union with Christ for years. I could have pointed you to John 15 to talk about how we are one with Christ. I could have likely even told you that Jesus wraps us up within Himself – so much so that when God sees us, He sees the perfect obedience of Christ. But that night something changed.

I often lift up to God a sleepy prayer, as I open the Scriptures in the morning: “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law” (Psalm 119:18). Friends, he hears our sleepy prayers.

One excerpt I read that night was by Michael Reeves. As he puts it, Christ looks at His Church and says, “All that I am I give to you. All that I have I share with you. And so gives to her the status of royalty and all that is his. And she turns to him and says: All that I am I give to you. All that I have I share with you. And so the poor sinner shares with King Jesus all her sin, all her death, all her damnation.”

ALL that He is! For ALL that we are! How incredible that the God of the universe would unite Himself with a wretch like me – a union through which everything Christ has done is given to me. And the Father looks at me now – right now, and sees all that Christ has done as credited to me. I’m no longer His enemy, but the apple of his eye, because I’m in Christ!

This truth went from commonplace to captivating, from familiar to fascinating. Old truth felt like new truth. That night I wasn’t reaching for coffee, but reaching for words. Words to describe to newfound beauty of my Jesus.

Below are a few words I wrote that night.

My, my, my, what can I say,
My protons got rearranged today,
I’m grasping for words, and gasping for air,
How kind of Him to answer my prayer

That He would open my eyes to behold Christ more,
And more and more and more and more,
He has raised the blinds for me to see,
The amazing truth – in He is me.

These two words now so clearly summarize,
My comfort, my confidence, my position, my prize.
IN CHRIST! Wow! The joy is hard to contain,
That in Him, future realities are true today.

A personal relationship, is what they always said,
I guess the repetition made me dead,
To the matchless, marvelous, mystery,
The simple truth – in He is me

But at last! This simple truth, I’m coming to know,
Holy Spirit – 1, watchful dragons – 0,
It seems that all I can do now is sing!
About this new facet in the diamond of our beautiful king,

How can it be, that Christ with me,
United together since eternity,
Literally giddy as I read,
The glorious truth – in He is me.

My prayer for us, Church, is that God would so kindly grace us with 10,000 blind-raising moments in our lives, pulling back the curtain of familiarity and showing us more and more of His beauty found in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

And Christian, I pray that you would see, too –

that in He is you.

 

Matt Neidig is a first-year pastoral resident at Emmaus from Round Rock, TX. He graduated from Baylor University and is pursuing his MDiv at Midwestern Seminary, hoping to pastor a local church in the future.

 

 

Beautiful reminders from a terrible weekend

Beautiful reminders from a terrible weekend

This post was written by Michael Kinion, one of our pastoral Residents. It originally appeared here. 

Around 12:30 AM on Saturday, August 6th, I was awoken by a call from my mother telling me that my niece was sick and my sister was taking her to the emergency room to have her looked at. Just a few minutes later I received another call letting me know things had taken a turn for the worst and they were starting to do compressions on my niece. After this call I went to another room and just fell down on the rug and started praying incoherent prayers. I could not collect a thought and for sure could not verbalize a thought so I just begged God to spare my niece’s life. After a short period of time, I received another call, this time from my sister.

I answered and asked what was going on but I already knew what this call meant.  I dropped the phone and experienced the most sudden and intense grief I ever had. At 6 years old, my beautiful niece had passed away.

My wife and I, along with her parents who were visiting for the weekend, left around 1:30 AM to make the three and a half hour drive back to my hometown. During this drive my wife and I experienced an incredible dose of God’s grace as we reflected on the incredible, blessing-filled life of my niece. When we arrived at my sister’s house around 5:00 AM we expected to walk in to a devastating scene of family grieving. Luckily for us, most people were asleep or exhausted by this point so things were calm and quiet. So shortly after we arrived we laid down on the couch to get an hour and a half of sleep before waking up to the next day that would bring many questions and issues to deal with.

Now that I have set the scene for the weekend I will turn my focus to reflect on the beautiful things I saw and experienced during this terrible weekend. My hope is that one would read this and be able to find God’s glory in even the most tragic of events.

1. God Provides: The morning after arriving, I was woken up by my family discussing how we were going to pay for the costs of the funeral. This obviously wasn’t something that my sister and her husband were expecting, so they didn’t have money set aside to take care of expense like this. But within a few hours, the large majority of the costs and most of the plans were taken care of as a result of God’s provision and people’s kind generosity. We saw this trend continue throughout the next couple days as all of the planning and events went smoothly and without issue. But the most significant sign of God’s provision throughout this time was undoubtedly the sense of peace and comfort that God blessed our family with. It was a time full of grief and sorrow, but God made Himself known and provided comfort to a group of people in desperate need of it. Because of this, we were able to see God as the loving and comforting Father that He is and were spared from the false feeling of God being unjust for taking away someone that we loved.

2. Community is of Utter Importance: One of the best parts of the weekend was getting to see how family, friends and church family stepped in and served with love. Every minute of the day, someone was there visiting with the family or bringing food for everyone to eat. We truly got to see community in action. It made me reflect on the consistent effort of many churches to cultivate community. Sometimes cultivating community can feel forced or repetitive. But we’re not gathering together in small groups to just talk about a sermon or hangout. We are gathering together to build bonds that will help one another know each other and care for them in their darkest moments. The role the community surrounding our family played during this time is of insurmountable importance and helped constantly point us to God and His glory.

3. God is Good: Throughout the entirety of this weekend, my most consistent thought was that all theological discussions and attempts to correctly understand God’s word seem like they are drills preparing us for these moments. When all sense of peace seems to be lost, people are forced into the corner of bitterness OR God’s glory. This is why understanding the gospel is so important. When we experience tragedy we must be able to understand the gospel so that we can cling to the cross and know that God is good and that He defeated death so that we may live. A firm comprehension of the gospel also allows us to understand that God is holy and that His perfect will, will be done. Humans have a tendency to try and put themselves at the center of all things (especially during times of tragedy) but a solid understanding of the gospel helps us to step back and take a look at the big picture and realize that God is in control and we are here to see Him glorified, even if that means our ideas of what is good are stomped into the ground. When we process these realities, we are able to find rest in God’s comfort and celebrate a believer being delivered to glory.

This weekend was beyond question one of the most terrible weekends of my life up to this point. But God used a terrible event to show us his beauty, grace and glory. He took a broken situation and used it to remind us that He is beautiful and that He is faithful to us even when it does not look the way we want it to. I will forever mourn the loss of my beautiful niece, but will always be able to look back at this weekend and remember how God was faithful to me and my family.

Self-control, food and ministry.

Self-control, food and ministry.

This post is written by one of our Pastoral Residents, Austin Burgard.

It is said that whenever Christians gather you know there will be food. Ask any Southern Baptist about their after-service potluck and you’ll hear stories about how they ate so much of Miss May’s sweet apple pie that they thought they were going to explode. Are these kinds of food wrong? Sinful? By no means! But, as Christians, I believe that we have taken advantage of the freedom we have in Christ to enjoy all things, including all foods (1 Timothy 6:17; Mark 7:19). And in doing so, we’ve been desensitized to our lack of self-control in regard to food.

Now before you pick up your stones, think with me for a second. Over my first semester at seminary, I saw my overall well-being get worse. Once I stopped working out and started eating out more the quality of my sleep deteriorated, which meant that I was tired throughout the day and my ability to get work well dropped off. It was within the realm of possibility for me to workout but I didn’t. I could have eaten foods that were more nutritious but I opted for the quick meal out. All of this negatively affected my spiritual life. As I lacked self-control and discipline (a four letter word in evangelicalism for some reason) in terms of eating and working out, so went my spiritual discipline.

Now there isn’t necessarily a correlation between nutritious eating, exercise, and spiritual disciplines. But what if there is? If I had been working out and eating well, I would’ve gotten better sleep, which would’ve allowed me to wake up early in the mornings like I like to do. If I would’ve been in the Word and prayer in the mornings, I would’ve been more effective, humanly speaking, at killing sin. If I had been killing sin, my communion with Christ would’ve intensified. If I would’ve gotten better sleep and eaten better, I would’ve had more energy throughout my days. On and on the cycle goes.

Do you see what I mean? Lack of self-control in little things rolls on up to lack of self-control in bigger things. It is a sin that pervades most of our lives and it has dire consequences.

 

Christians need (yes, need to) to practice self-control in all things. I have had the privilege of watching my three bi-vocational pastors with families pursue healthy lifestyles. They may not do it perfectly but they are seeking to practice self-control with what they eat and how they spend their time because they recognize that their self-control, or lack thereof, has consequences. We need to stop giving in to every desire for food. Our Christian subculture has grown desensitized to its sinful effects. Is not God to be desired more than food? When we give ourselves over to sloth and gluttony, we look like the world, not like Christ.

Something Christians need not do is demonize certain foods. God did give us all foods to enjoy. So, Christian, enjoy food and God’s good gifts. But your life is more than food and your stomach is not your god (1 Timothy 6:17; Matthew 6:25; Philippians 3:19; 1 Corinthians 6:13).

This may not be a popular idea within evangelicalism because we love food. But I believe that self-controlled eating and a pursuit of overall health will be for our good and will only serve to strengthen our communion with Christ.

A word of warning for those in ministry: it isn’t cool to spend more time in the gym than on sermon prep or with your family. If your biceps are stronger than your exegesis, you’re doing it wrong. Pastors don’t need to be the fittest people because if they are it is probably at the expense of another crucial aspect of their ministry. We don’t need pastor-bodybuilders but pastor-theologians. But to do the work of ministry, to have the energy to do so, we must practice self-control in all things, including food.

A version of this post was originally published here.

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