James and Joan have been attending their church for over two years. If you ask them they will tell you they love their church, especially their preacher. They say he is the best they have ever heard. James and Joan represent the largest group of church people in America, the “regular attenders.”
They attend their church, but they are not members of their church. They have a kind of loose affiliation with what Charles Spurgeon called, “The dearest place on earth.”
When I approached James about why he had not joined his church, he asked me why I thought that kind of commitment was important. I thought his question was a good question and one worth elaborating on. I answered his question by asking him some questions:
Are you a member of anything?
I asked James if he worked out and he said that he did. He goes to the local health club three times a week. I asked him if he bought a membership at his health club, to which he said he had to in order to workout. He was glad to do it because he saw the value in being a member.
Later in the conversation I asked him if he had a job and he said he had been working at ACME Inc. for the past fifteen years. He added that he did not particularly enjoy his job because it was boring. He did say that he continues there because of his desire to support his family and to live a preferred lifestyle. What was interesting in this situation, as opposed to his gym membership, is that James was willing to subject himself to something he did not enjoy because the practical benefit was greater than his lack of personal fulfillment.
The problem with James was not his lack of understanding the importance of membership. He understood and embraced the idea, even in a job situation that was not particularly rewarding to him. But when it came to his church, he was unwilling to be a member and did not have a good reason as to why he should not. There was something else going on that was deeper than personal joy or personal dissatisfaction that motivated him not to join his church.
What was driving James to miss the value of being a member of his local church? Truthfully, I do not know the answer to this question. I would have to spend more time with James and Joan in order to find out. I would want to know the following:
- Does he have a robust view of Ecclesiology? (A “high view” of the Doctrine of the Church)
- Does the church have a high view of Ecclesiology?
- Has the church communicated to their people a high view of the local church?
- What is the real reason he does not want to lead his family into joining?
It seems self-evident, from a Biblical perspective, that people would be humble enough to fully commit to a local church once they were properly envisioned to do so. James is willing to fully commit to a job that he hates. James is also willing to fully commit to his local gym according to their rules and procedures. James is not opposed to the idea of complete commitment or membership. However, when it comes to his local church he is not motivated to fully commit in the ways his leadership presents as their way of caring for them. This seems odd to me.
The Job – Church Analogy
The Board of Directors at ACME Inc. has laid out a certain methodology that every employee must sign-off on in order to be an employee of their company. The Board of Directors holds the President and Leadership Team fully responsible for how they run ACME Inc. Many shareholders are very interested in how the company is managed. Therefore, the Board of Directors had to come up with a way to run the company. It might not be the way LOGOS Intl. runs their business, but they were responsible for coming up with a way and that is what they did. They knew they could not run their business haphazardly.
Every viable business in the world understands this. Though no business has an identical “employee handbook,” they understand the necessity having a business plan. If a potential employee does not agree with the way they run their business, they have the option to find another job at another company that they can fully commit. In one sense, it is not as important which company they work for as it is important that they fully commit to a company.
The church is very similar to my “job analogy” above. The Board of Directors in the illustration above would be the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They hold the church leadership accountable for how they run the affairs of the church. This is the teaching of Hebrews 13:17.
There is no perfect church
All pastors understand that their “business model” has flaws. They understand that there are things they should do better. They know they do not have the perfect church. However, they are acutely aware that they do have to have some kind of a “shepherding plan” and that God will hold them accountable for how they care for their people. They have a sober awareness of the seriousness of their responsibility.
Each church attender should decide whether they can fully commit to the “imperfect model” their church holds out to them. Yes, their way is imperfect, but it is the way they have decided to shepherd souls. Just like the business analogy above, if an attender cannot fully commit to a local church, then they have the option to find another church where they can fully sign-off on.
It is challenging for any pastor or group of pastors to care for people who do not commit to the church. Personally, I would not want to be held accountable by God for people who were not willing to commit. If it were a work environment, many church attenders would be fired due to their lack of commitment.
Here are some question to think about as it pertains to you and your local church:
- Are you fully committed to your local church?
- This means, are you fully committed and involved, as appropriate, in the ministries your church provides?
- Are you aware that God will call your pastor(s) into account for how he/they provide care for you?
- Are you aware that the contexts your church provides are the way they have decided to bring care to you?
- Dad, you are modeling your value for the local church to your family. What are your family members observing?
- Is your lack of commitment due to hiding the truth of who you really are from the leaders in your church who are charged to care for you?