I write this blog from a lot of perspectives… follower of Jesus, warrior, martial trainer, etc. Today I write as a spiritual leader of a faith community but it applies to most of these areas as well.
I spoke this last weekend on dealing with those different than us… you can hear the podcast here. Specifically, as a community of faith, I addressed two of the biggest areas where we tend to get a little heterophobic (afraid of people different than us)… people who are different religiously and sexually. The Kingdom gospel of Jesus is about inclusion… making a seat at the table for everyone. Jesus walked into a religious environment of closed doors and barred access… the Jewish faith of his day drew a lot of lines! What got Jesus in trouble was that he said EVERYONE gets a seat at the table.
That doesn’t mean that just because someone gets a seat at the table that they are living rightly. People don’t have to be living rightly before they can be part of the community… that just doesn’t make sense, and we don’t see Jesus asking that. People who desire to follow Jesus are invited into community as they work out their journey, and stumble/fumble with the rest of us. There is a place where those committed to following Jesus agree to hold each other accountable to the Jesus-life… but that is relationally based and mutually agreed upon and not bestowed by an outside entity. An entirely different animal all together.
As part of our community’s discussion time this last weekend, I was asked if I would let someone become a member of our community with a particular activity in their lives. My response was twofold: first… inclusion is inclusion. Anyone can come and learn, serve, live, and love with our community no matter where they are in life or what they struggle with. Who they are judged to be is God’s business not mine (John 21v20-22). My acceptance of a person does not mean I endorse everything in their lives… or who could truly love anyone? Of course this point is lost completely on anyone religious enough to think they they HAVE arrived already.
But the second part of my answer rocked the person a bit (they are pretty new to The Ridge). We do not have members here. And our reasons go along with the things stated above.
Jesus was about inclusion. All are welcome into the gospel as Jesus defined it… The Kingdom of God has arrived. So what does membership in a community mean? For a lot of places there are legal/business reasons for having members… and if that is the reason, then great – just own that fact up front. But I have run into more than my share of people who wear the label Christian who thinks it separates people into groups… the becoming and the arrived. Or the mature and the immature. I don’t know… something like that.
A couple of thoughts… I don’t see membership in a local gathering/church anywhere in scripture. I see the actions of becoming THE CHURCH, the group of followers spread around the globe. But nothing about membership in this particular gathering or that one. And it is harder to become a member of a lot of local churches than it is to follow Jesus! That’s just wrong – I don’t care how you dress that up. And the only separation that I see in scripture when it comes to a community of Jesus followers is those responsible for leading/teaching and those not. There IS a higher calling and accountability for the leaders, and that should be followed (we use the same tests as for eldership here at The Ridge).
I know some have said that offering membership inspires people to greater devotion, followship, etc. Apparently if the call of Jesus to devote all of who we are to following isn’t enough, than the title of “church member” bestowed by a group of (normally) men in governance of a local church will do the trick? Maybe this is why churches across this culture are waking up to discover that after years of doing consumer-focused ‘ministry’ our churches do not look like communities of Jesus followers, but more like shopping clubs: filled with people wanting to be fed, watered, entertained, placated, and pampered (just to tell you how I see it). The call to live sacrificially, to give up MY wants (even in ‘church programming’!!!) as central to the life of a follower, seems to be an almost foreign concept. Maybe this is why people both young and old are running from the church in droves, at a rate that puts the church as we know it in danger of losing its voice in a generation or less.
Membership is about exclusion. About an “us” and a “them”. The Jesus I see in the scriptures only drew lines around religious people claiming to be the “us” when they were really the “them”! I wonder if he wouldn’t say the same things today…