Who wants to be a member?

You will be assimilated

That’s the Borg Cube from Star Trek. Remember them? They are the ones who cruise the galaxy and ‘assimilate’ everyone so they are no longer who they were, but who the Borg are. No one wants to be one, except those already in. When we talk about becoming ‘a member of the church’ people look at us like we are the Borg invading their otherwise happy universe. In fact, even of our ‘regulars’ at Jacob’s Well (who invest generous amounts of time, passion, expertise and money in the community) react like, “You’re kidding, aren’t you? We aren’t going to do that ‘membership thing’ are we?”

Yet as David Stark taught me some years ago, the problem isn’t that people won’t commit anymore, people commit to all sorts of things all the time. Got a cell phone contract? I rest my case. The question people ask is “Is it worth my investment of time, money, energy, etc to make the commitment?’ Likewise, when I talk about what happens when we do commit to something and understand the truth of our relationship to the growing, developing organism that we call Jacob’s Well they think it is great. When I ask them to think of being a member not as having their names in the book, but like my arm is a member of my body – the arm is lifeless and both are incomplete without each other – then they get it.

Clearly committing to a movement and a community they believe in isn’t the problem. The language is. “Member” triggers an allergic reaction that says, “Oh oh, they are just like all those other churches. They really are just an institution and want us to keep them alive.”

I believe committing to a local church in a very concrete covenanting way isn’t only a good thing, I think it is an essential part of committing to a life of following Christ. The local church is the manifestation of Christ’s body in a specific location. It is the means through which God can touch the lives of people in all fullness. We are looking at ways to talk about and do it.

Before I say what we are thinking of doing I would like to hear your thoughts, reactions and experiences.

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10 responses to “Who wants to be a member?

  1. Renaissance Guy (RG)

    People in my church pushed membership on me for a long time, and I mean pushed. The only reason I finally did it was that there were positions I was not allowed to hold in the church until I did so. I was just as faithful and committed as anyone else.

    Now that I am older, I can see the value of church membership. However, I still have my qualms about it, because it seems extrabiblical. The only membership I read about in the Bible is membership in the Body of Christ, which isn’t identical, as I see it, to being a formal member of a particular congregation or denomination.

  2. That is so funny because every time asks me what I do at Jacob’s Well I always say “I hang out and help sometimes”. But when they ask if I am a member I am like “ummm I wouldn’t go that far”. I do have a church membership phobia from something that happened almost 2o years ago and I still choke to say I am a member of a community that I love and am totally dedicated to helping to grow and flourish even just with being there. Knowing what I know now that there are many people that feel the way that I do, it puts the incident in perspective and quite frankly makes what happened to me when I was younger seem insignificant and irrelevant as to the specifics. What it means is that I am here now and where I want to call it membership or dedication or community builder I would say the question is am I willing to let go of a man made hurt from the past and commit to this community and stand up and say it out loud. (You will have to pardon the stutter though, at least the first couple of times I say it)

    D-

  3. Well, here are two of you who are saying that commitment to the Body of Christ is a vital part of life, but full of landmines in terms of language and possible hidden motivations. Thanks for sharing your stories, and D., for sharing your willingness to step across the line. Your story is important for other people to hear.

  4. Even though I have grown up in the Church, and haven’t had many “bad” experiences to speak of, I still cringe at the sound of that word–MEMBERSHIP…AHHHHHHHHHH!

    It really does seem like something from Star Trek, or the Necromancers from “The Chronicles of Riddick”.

    But what we offer isn’t some alien-being forcing you to commit to their way of life–or die. We have access to the most life-changing Truth that the world has ever known, but we just don’t know how to talk about it. I want to be a part of the revolution that Christ started nearly 2000 years ago–the love of God for anyone who’s interested.

  5. But don’t you think that the typical “suspicious of institutions and organized religion” person would wonder what having access to that movement has to do with becoming a member at St So-and-So’s Church?

  6. SHOOT, I wonder some times…it seems like I need to be re-convinced every day, and I have been…

    For others, though, I guess there is a need to convey these “benefits” in a way (language/experience) that they can understand and relate to. One way to do it, I think, is keep giving them opportunities to sense it (taste, touch, smell, see, perceive, etc.) and how fulfilling it can be. WE need to be the Church that doesn’t just talk about being part of God’s hope of salvation in the world, but actually participates actively in it (willingly or not). God has a few VERY important things to say to US, and in community is where we hear them, although St. Francis might disagree with me…but what did he know?!:)

  7. I think the issue is that there is a wall of fear around people and when dealing with individual fears and anxieties it can be hard to get through. Nate you have been eating this wonderful cake for a long time and you want to share it with people and keep inviting them to your table. But some of us ate cake as a little kid and we got really sick. Now no matter what you say we will not trust you and we will not sit at the table, the more you push it the more we will run. Everybody has a reason for not wanting to sit at the table, the only thing you can do is keep the invitation open until they are ready to eat. It is hard and exhausting, especially when you are just trying to share something great ;-)! Patience MixMasta is the hardest of all things I think.

  8. Or you can forget YOUR table, go where they look for sustenance and serve them something that has all the goodness of the cake you like, but that won’t remind them of the bad cake they got before.

    Donna., your image reminds me of a certain fast-food chain that I won’t name. I got food poisoning there about 10 years ago, and still can’t go back. It has nothing to do with my logic, just can’t go back. Something for the church to take seriously.

    For us at Jacob’s Well it means inviting people to a new faith community and experience that doesn’t ring the old bells. Letting them see the value and relevance of what we are about – which allows them to unlearn what they learned before – and then to offer them something that will take what they are benefiting from to a new level.

    I’ll post my first effort of inviting people into this new dimension of relationship with God through our local outpost of the Body of Christ on the site. I’d love reactions, critiques and suggestions. Whatever they may be.

  9. Hmm….I have to agree with RG…sounds “extrabiblical” to me. Membership has left a bad taste in my mouth as well, still lingering to this day. My husband and I joined a church in the Twin Cities 10 years ago; we couldn’t have our son baptized unless we were members. We stopped attending for various and maybe obvious reasons (gee, we probably joined for the wrong reasons!) but because our names are on that membership role we continue to receive an over abundance of correspondence from the church…pledge cards, offering envelopes, as well as continuous requests to support the next fund drive. Blah. Bad taste. The other members didn’t miss our presence…they have yet to notice we have been gone for 10 years.

    I do understand the value in the idea of membership…I am more committed when I commit publicly but I want to know that membership at JW means something more than having my name on a list so people can call me and ask me to volunteer my time and treasure.

    I look forward to seeing your invitation.

  10. Pingback: Building the Well « Precarious Pastor

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