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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

"I Am a Church Member" (Thom S. Rainer)

TITLE: I Am a Church Member: Discovering the Attitude that Makes the Difference
AUTHOR: Thom S. Rainer
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: B and H Publishing, 2013, (96 pages).

I know of a lot of people who would like to read more, but cannot seem to find the time to read. Moreover, many of the books out there in the market are either too tedious to finish, or too brief to make any significant mark. Thom Rainer, President of Lifeway Christian Resources, an entity of the Southern Baptist Convention, has a gift of cutting through the masses of information to bring out the profound truth in simple ways. While there are many books on Christian living and for Christian leadership, not many cover the area of what it means to be a Church member. Simply put, it is the attitude that makes the difference when we think about Church membership. Membership is a privilege. Beginning with the story of two Church members, Michael and Liam being great buddies who meet on a weekly basis. One day, Liam drops a bombshell about him and his wife leaving the Church. The reasons for leaving will sound very familiar to many of us.

“Lana and I went to the church to learn deep truths about the Bible, but Pastor Robert is just not feeding us. We’re not getting anything out of his messages. Sitting in the service on Sunday morning is just a waste of our time.”

It is a familiar chorus of people seeing Church as a means to their spiritual ends. Sometimes, Church leaders blame the declining Church membership on the secular culture, or negative perceptions of Church members. The truth is, the leadership can only do so much. What is equally important is for Church members to see membership as a privilege rather than a right; to see the Church as a place to give, more than a reserviour of resources they constantly take. See the Church as a spiritual depository with all members doing their part to enrich it for the kingdom of God. Be the Church member that we are ought to be, and then see how God works. In six brief chapters, Rainer drives home how we can be a responsible and respectful Church member.

First, one begins with a change of perspective, that members are not there to be served but to serve, to give more than receive. It means recognizing that each of us has a role to play, according to our gifts and talents. It means understanding that while we are all different, we can still work together, for we all have the same goal. Whatever we say or do is based on the foundation of God's love.  The biblical model of church membership is to "give abundantly and serve without hesitation." In fact, biblical church membership gives without qualifications and serves without hesitation. Pledge to give and to serve, willingly.

Second, unity is the core aim of Church membership. What makes a Church special is not because of some special people with super abilities or skills. What makes even the most average Church with most average people special is simply because they have learned to work together. Suppress all gossip or negative talk. Practice forgiveness regularly. Pledge to be a unifying force in the Church community.

Third, Church is not about me or my needs, or my personal preferences or desires. It is about servanthood. Truth is, when we join a Church, the biblical mandate is that we give up our preferences when we join. Like Jesus' teachings in Mark 9:35, that we who want to be first, must learn to be last among all, and to be a servant to all. With the words "servant" and "serve" appearing 57 and 58 times in the New Testament, we will soon learn that being a Church member is more about serving one another. In a survey, Rainer highlights ten key traits of largely self-serving church members, from worship wars to program driven; from petty budgets to crazy demands for pastoral care; and so on. Thus, the third pledge is about committing to set aside our petty preferences and to wear the apron of servanthood.

Four, being a Church member means we pray for our Church leaders regularly. It is no secret that the pastoral work is hard. That is primarily because it deals with relationships and people. Pray for his preaching and his handling of relationships. Pray for his family. Pray that the Lord protects him from temptation. Pray for his physical and mental health. Even if it is a few minutes a day, being a responsible Church member means to pray for leaders, not just the person with the title of "pastor."

Five, being a Church member means leading one's family members to be part of the Church life. Going to Church is not about taking and receiving, but more about serving and giving. Expanding the first pledge of serving and giving, Rainer applies it to the immediate family circle. We learn to be good spiritual fathers to our family, that we can be good servants in the Church community. Using the example of Bob, Rainer highlights a model of a responsible Church member who leads his own family to be responsible Church members. In doing so, there is a growing overlap between Church as family as well as one's organic family.

Six, remember that membership is a gift, not a right. This mentality is critical because it defines how we live as Church members. If we see Church as some kind of a club membership, we will begin to demand that our rights are exercised and our perceived needs be met. Biblically speaking, Church is not a club for us to insist upon our ways. Church is a body of Christ where every member needs to play their part, simply because they are a part of the body. Not wanting to be involved is a bad way to start. It stems from an erroneous understanding of what Church membership is all about.  It is because membership is a gift, we need to approach membership with gratitude and appreciation, rather than personal entitlements or expectations.

So What?

Every Church member needs to read this book. Being a responsible Church member has at least these six implications, and it all stems from the understanding that to be a Christian means to follow Christ. To be Christlike means to follow what Christ has done, ie, to serve instead of being served. In giving and serving, we start to understand like Rick Warren had said, "It is not about you." It is about God and our neighbours. In serving, we prefer the apron instead of demanding a napkin. We need to be united as one body. We need to share our gifts of family, from our family to the Church family. We need to be constantly praying for our leaders. We need to remember all the time that membership is a gift, a privilege given to us. In all of these, I think the most important is about recognizing we are all servants learning to serve one another.

The word "servant" is the underlying theme throughout the book. It undergirds all the six ways that Rainer has mentioned. That is indeed following Christ. Perhaps, we can all do a personal survey on our own churches. The more we see people adopting a heart of service, the less we see of people constantly complaining about their needs not met.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5


This book is provided to me free by B and H Publishing and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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