One of the most difficult yet rewarding disciplines I have learned over the past few years is the art of reading. Reading takes patience, persistence, and must be done with purpose. Each year, I make a list of what I’m going to read with a goal of at least 12 books.
In 2016, things changed. I was accepted into the Emmaus Pastoral Residency, and one of the requirements is to read the entire Bible each year. Ashamedly, I had never accomplished this feat. I grew up in church, went to a Christian school, went to a Christian college, was a youth pastor at two different churches and yet had never tackled these 66 books. That year, I was finally able to read the Bible from cover to cover!
Through these past two years, it has been a great joy to see so many passages and verses that I know and have memorized, fit together perfectly as a whole. It has been incredible to see the gospel drenched on every page and to see God’s glory as most supreme. It also has allowed me to see beauty in passages I usually just skimmed or had completely ignored. (I also discovered that 2nd Hesitations is not an actual book of the Bible.)
But it has also been overwhelming to see the sin of idolatry repeated over and over and over again. To see countless men and woman chase after the creation rather than the creator. To see the continued cry to go back to the bondage of Egypt rather than to the freedom God freely offers. It has been gut-wrenching to think I too could fall for the same sins, and have. It has been shocking to see stories of sin, rape, deception, child sacrifice, failure, unfaithfulness, sorrow, shame and death.
Yet despite the despair, these pages that are filled with the hope and love of a God who does not forget his people, but is faithful. A God who has made a promise to bruise his own son and crush the dragon. A God who does not give people the death, hell and eternal torment that they deserve but saves them in His mercy and grace. A God who adopts children into his family calling them sons and daughters of the King.
Reading the Bible in a year can seem like a trying task, but the journey will be worth it! Instead of giving you a bunch of theological reasons why you should read your Bible, which are many, I want to you my five “must-haves” for completing the task ahead in 2018.
There is no way I nor you can accomplish this sacred task without God’s grace. His consistent strength in my life has caused my heart of stone to be softened into a heart of flesh. My heart at times would rather do other things. My heart wonders into the lies of the enemy instead of trusting and resting on God’s promises. Grace is needed for daily reading and for daily heart change.
I need the Spirit to open my eyes to truth and am usually in prayer while I’m reading the text. I usually start my morning Bible reading by praying Psalm 119:18, “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law.” I hope that anytime you pick up the Bible to read it that you trust not in your own abilities to understand but that you press into the Spirit’s power for clarity.
Attempting to read the Bible in a year with no plan is like going on vacation to Colorado with no map. You may end up there but you will probably be late and frustrated. Of course, there are hundreds of reading plans you can find online, but let me suggest to you what I have used the past two years. I use a plan of reading the Bible in 300 days.
GASP! You mean you didn’t read the Bible every day? Yes. Life happens. Sickness happens. Early shifts or late nights at work happens. I’m not proud that I went some days with never picking up my Bible. Trust me, those days when I missed my Bible reading were some of the worst. I attempted to tackle the day on my own power and strength and didn’t bother to renew my mind with gospel truth. One of the great advantages of a 300-day schedule is the cushion and flexibility you have when you do miss. Here is where I got my reading plan from.
A Good Study Bible
This is a must, especially if you are new to the Bible. Get something you will like and will want to read. Go ahead, spend the money on a good Bible because you will be using it all year long and hopefully for years to come. I prefer the ESV Study Bible. It has great study notes, easy reference help, and a fantastic color pictures and maps throughout. It runs for about $50.
If you prefer digital, there are plenty of options for you as well. YouVersion, Logos or Bible Gateway are great places to start when choosing what is best for you. I prefer paper over a screen for many reasons, but especially my final reason.
Highlighters & Pens
I am a very visual learner. My Bible looks like a coloring book. This may not be for you, but I really enjoy connecting ideas through color and taking notes. For example, I highlight all verses about God’s glory or power in orange and draw a red cross next to any verse that points to Jesus in the Old Testament. I also have a specific pen I use which is great for Bibles with tiny spaces. Even if you don’t want to write in your Bible, I recommend getting a journal and taking some notes in there. My favorite journal to use is Moleskine.
I hope these are helpful for you in your journey through the Bible. Happy reading!
Jonathan St.Clair, is currently a year three Pastoral Resident and serves on the worship team at Emmaus. He and his wife Tracy have three children, Bear, Fletcher, and Tennessee. They live in Raytown, MO where he hopes to plant a church someday.
“Oh, you’re Baptist? You guys are probably too conservative for me. I’m more liberal.” These were the words of a woman I spoke with during Emmaus’s canvas day. The brief conversation was not confrontational by any means, it was quite sweet. She meant no disrespect, she simply had some assumptions about what Baptists believe. It was a gospel-filled conversation where I told her about our church, what we believe, and how we would love to see her again. Her house was the first that I went to, and it was a great way to start the day of canvasing!
But that conversation sparked a conversation in my mind about the nature of being Baptist. I grew up Baptist – it is really all I have ever known. But that woman I spoke with could not have had a more different story. I have attended Baptist churches my whole life. After graduating from a secular university for my undergrad, I even attended a Baptist seminary!
Since Emmaus Church is a Baptist church, I would like to provide a little clarity on what Baptists believe. There are many reasons why Emmaus has chosen to associate with our particular convention, and I would like to highlight three of them:
The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) is a network of autonomous, cooperating churches that exists to elicit, combine, and direct the energies of Baptist Christians, for the propagation of the Gospel.
The SBC might be the largest protestant convention in America, but it is still often misunderstood or caricatured. The SBC is not a denomination, it is a convention. Contrary to what a quick Wikipedia search will tell you, “the SBC cannot and does not unite local congregations into a single ‘church’ or denominational body.” Churches, like Emmaus, voluntarily associate with the SBC. Here are three reasons why we associate with the SBC.
When I say that ‘theology’ is a reason why Emmaus is an SBC church, I am not vaguely referencing Emmaus’s entire body of doctrinal belief. Rather I am referring to a few theological concepts that Emmaus holds to that are specifically Baptist. Allow me to share 3 examples of this:
First, Scripture. It would be inappropriate to begin a discussion on the theology of the SBC and not start with Scripture. Southern Baptists are a people that have a high view of Scripture and seek to understand their Bibles. There has historically been an overwhelming sense in which Baptists cling to Scripture over tradition. While that might sound counter to any present notion you might have of Baptists in general, by and large it is true. Southern Baptists are a Bible people.
The Bible is God’s holy, undefiled, perfect word to us. It is our authority and guide. Scripture tells us how and when to act. It is a two-edged sword that pierces to the heart of men. Scripture is the unbreakable breath of God in human language. A key theological tenant held by Southern Baptists is called inerrancy. We believe that the Bible is inerrant. This means that the Bible, in its authorial language and wording, is perfectly error free.
Second, Baptism. An aspect of Scripture that is prominent and discussed often in Southern Baptist circles is Baptism. Southern Baptists are a baptizing people. Because we have such a high view of God and his literal Word to us, we believe that God has given his people instruction on how they are to be obedient to him, and baptism is one-way that we demonstrate our obedience.
Baptism is the complete immersion of a professing follower of Christ in water. It is done in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. This act represents our death to sin in Christ, and announces our newness of life in Christ. Baptism is a strictly Christian endeavor. Those who have not professed faith in Christ are not to be baptized or counted as members of the church, God’s community, or Christianity more broadly.
Third, Church Government. Emmaus holds to a form of church government that is similar to many SBC churches. Southern Baptists are a voting people. Our elders have winsomely referred to our ecclesiology as Elder-Ruled Congregationalism. Meaning, our elders have the authority to make all decisions for the church where the church has not been given explicit authority. Our elders seek our members approval on new members, new elders, church discipline, and doctrinal changes. We believe this model most appropriately demonstrates a biblical ecclesiology, it gives the elders their rule that we see in the Pastoral Epistles, and it gives the church the rule to discipline that we see in the Gospel of Matthew.
SBC churches like Emmaus are autonomous, in that they are not necessarily dependent on any other church or power, that is, besides the Lord. This allows for churches to partner together. For example, Emmaus has received aid from multiple churches across the country and even the SBC. We have multiple partner churches. One of the beauties of the SBC is how well SBC churches cooperate. The SBC breeds a culture of cooperation that is genuinely infectious. As Pastor Josh has written, “we are part of the SBC because we greatly value cooperation in the advancement of the gospel and no one collectively cooperates through giving for the training, sending, and supporting of pastors and missionaries like the SBC.”
The SBC has a massive fund that most associated churches contribute to called the Cooperative Program (CP). It is a program that helps fund the out-workings of the convention. From disaster relief and missions to theological training and church planting, the CP helps fund many SBC initiatives in a mighty way.
This program helps fund the International Mission Board, and the North America Mission Board; two SBC entities dedicated to planting churches and spreading the Gospel in America and around the world. The CP also helps the six SBC seminaries keep their doors open, so that they can continue to train men and women to advance the gospel. It gives aid to the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the SBC so that cultural engagement can go forth. On and on I could go.
Through the CP and the overall generosity of Southern Baptists, churches are able to partner together to see the good news of Christ spread around the world. Though each church is autonomous, and no two SBC churches perfectly agree on everything – we agree on the gospel. So, we cooperate to see God glorified and the lost saved.
Southern Baptists are a people who constantly check themselves against Scripture. Starting in the ‘80’s, the SBC saw a resurgence of conservative theology that moved away from the moderate theology that had overtaken the convention. The resurgence succeeded by planting its feet on God’s Word. The theology of the conservative resurgence has much to do with Emmaus’s theology today. After all, we hold many Baptist Beliefs, including the SBC’s faith document, the Baptist Faith and Message. We have much to thank our conservative predecessors for. The SBC’s recent resurgence points to the dedication of the SBC to sound doctrine, and shows how bright the future for the SBC really is.
This renewal of conservative theology is not the only bright spot in the future ahead of the SBC. As seen in recent history, Southern Baptists are a people who are constantly reforming themselves, and conforming their lives to Scripture. Southern Baptists are striving for unity. This vigor for God’s word has ignited much passion for pursuing another type of resurgence, racial reconciliation.
Over the past two SBC members meetings, the SBC has passed amendments condemning white supremacy and the Confederate flag. Neither of these moves will end racism. But decrying racist groups and symbols is a start toward loving our neighbor well. One undeniable SBC trait is the visible heart to try and reconcile its present existence from its bloody, racist past. Voices like Fred Luter, Russell Moore, and Dwight McKissic are helping to see the SBC further conform to the reconciling decree of Scripture.
As the conservative resurgence leads us to the current movement towards racial reconciliation in the SBC, it is our privilege as a church to associate with the SBC. No denomination, or in our case, convention, is perfect – the slavery fueled past of the SBC is a testament to this. But by God’s grace we move forward, and we will continue to strive and advocate for reconciliation within the SBC. The future of the SBC is bright, and as the years pass, the convention will become more diverse.
Emmaus is an SBC church not because of tradition, but rather conviction. James Sullivan wrote that “[Southern Baptists] point to a perfect Christ, have complete faith in the inerrant revelation of God through the Bible, and seek to exalt Him everywhere to the best of their ability.” As a Southern Baptist church, we cling to our Bibles knowing that Christ will instruct us in all things, including baptism, governance, cooperation, and reconciliation.
I wrote this post to give a few examples as to why Emmaus finds home in the SBC. Hopefully you have caught a glimpse of the joy we take in being Southern Baptist.
Colton Strother is an MDiv graduate from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Currently he lives in Kansas City where he serves as a pastoral resident at Emmaus Church.
This January, Keri and I are moving to Seattle to help plant a church. This is going to be a big year for us because we are also expecting our first child this October, Jack Tyler Higgins. One might think that this is an inconvenient time for us to move, especially so far from all the familiarities we have in the Midwest like family, jobs and a church family we love. So why move across the country and forsake all of this?
Because the glory of God and the souls of the lost compel us.
As we look at what really matters in this life it is easy to boil it down to these two things: the glory of God and the mission of God. So then how do these two great truths run together compelling Christ followers to forsake ease and comfort to launch into unfamiliar places?
The answer is the Gospel.
Let me take a moment to explain what I mean. We believe we can forsake comfort and join into the mission of God because God has made his story our story. In the history of redemption, despite man’s sinfulness, God sent Jesus the Christ to save sinners through his life, death and resurrection. After this, God sent the Spirit as a unique gift to believers to guide them in carrying the gospel into the whole world. When God reached us with the Gospel, he performed a Copernican Revolution. In our sin, we wrongly assumed ourselves the center of the universe. When Christ broke in and opened our eyes to behold his goodness, there was a glorious flip that occurred. Suddenly, we saw that God was at the center and we were free to live as servants of the King. Even more than that, we were made sons and heirs of the Kingdom. As sons, Christ has given us the mission to proclaim his goodness near and far.
Thus, long before church planting became our mission or Emmaus’ mission, it was the mission of God — the salvation of sinners to demonstrate his glory. In the gospel, God joined us to his story of redemption and uses us to magnify his name. By church planting, we are convinced that we are not actually doing something new or hip, but instead we are doing something old. We will obey Jesus’ words to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” with the sweet affirmation that Jesus is really with us, even to the end (Matt 28). Utilizing the means God has given us, we understand that one of the ways to do this is through church planting—that is, to start a church where there is no church & to live out the biblical vision of a church.
Ultimately, our vision is to see a New Testament church rooted in downtown Seattle filled with lives transformed by the power of the Gospel. In following the redemptive narrative as laid out in scripture, one can see the New Covenant church grow from the fertile soil of God’s work in the Gospel. So it is that the Gospel is what ultimately drives the mission of God which leads to the glory of God.
God has not called all of his children to church planting, but he has called them all to his mission. As Keri and I consider our own callings and distinctive equipping, we feel we can best steward these gifts through the avenue of church planting. Through much prayer and conversations with fellow saints, it has been confirmed that God has called us to steward these gifts in Seattle. Seattle is a city in great need of the gospel! With a downtown population of 700,000 (4.5 million metro area population), it is imperative that the first Southern Baptist church is planted in the core of the city.
How Can You Get Involved?
Partner Through Prayer
We have a deep held conviction that God uses the prayers of his people to advance his kingdom. Prayer by its very nature postures our dependence on God and acknowledges that without his help we will fail miserably at any attempt to faithfully carry out his mission. Thus, we ask that you pray for us as we look to pick up the lives we have established here in Kansas City to move away from friends and family into an unknown city. Especially in light of the fact that we are expecting our first child this October, pray that God would help us to love him more than our own comforts, and that he would provide a family and community through the church. Next, pray that God would continue to enflame our affections towards the people of Seattle. God is at work in Seattle, and the harvest is plentiful. Pray that God would give us opportunity to share the gospel with those who have never heard it. Next, pray that God would actually save sinners through our ministry. The gospels are full of imagery related to salvation: the blind see, the deaf hear, and the dead rise. Pray that God would work his unique miracle of giving a heart of flesh to those who have a heart of stone. Lastly, pray that Keri and I receive provision. We already have and will continue to seek out partners to join us in prayer and in financial support, and in light of this we ask you pray that God would generously bring people to us who want to help.
We have come to understand that God works through the normal means of relationships to help his people. We only have a few contacts in Seattle at this point, but if you know of anyone or even any ministry that could benefit us as we look to plant a church in downtown Seattle, we would love to meet them. Maybe you know people in other churches who would be interested in joining us in this endeavor—please find a way to get us in touch with them, as we would love to meet them.
Finally, we have great hope that you would support us financially. God has called us, but accompanying this calling is a need to be sent. God calls all people to his mission of advancing the Gospel and some, by virtue of their training and calling, move to those in need and others, by virtue of their circumstances and gifts, send them. This idea of financially supporting others to advance the gospel is deeply biblical. This is highlighted in the book of Philippians when Paul speaks about his partnership in the Gospel with the Philippian church. William Carey, the father of modern missions, famously said to a missions board: “I will go down, if you will hold the rope.” Thus, we are seeking you out to ask if you are willing to help support us financially through monthly giving for at least three years. If you would like to support us financially Please visit the link below.
If you have any further questions related to the church plant or our plans, please reach out to me via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (816) 260-9104.
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Glen Higgins is a graduate of Midwestern Seminary with his Masters of Divinity. He has served for the last three years as a pastoral resident at Emmaus Church. Glen and his wife Keri have been married for four years and are expecting their first child this October. Follow him on Twitter at @HigginsGlen.
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
“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.