What does it mean to be a member of our church?
Everyone is welcome to come along to our Sunday Services. We really mean that! Whoever you are, whatever you believe, whatever your lifestyle, you’re really welcome to come along, listen and find out more about what God says to you from his Word the Bible. We will warmly welcome you and will not assume that just because you come along you agree with everything you hear or would even call yourself a Christian.
At the same time we recognise that belonging to a church is an important part of being a Christian and that serving in church is central to living the Christian life. So to help us protect that “open to everyone” feel while at the same time helping Christians make our church their spiritual home, we run a system of church membership. Below are 5 key features of that membership system.
Membership is for baptised Christians
In reality we join the church not through any system or interview process, but through becoming a Christian. In other words, when we put our trust in the Lord Jesus, turning from our sin to live with him as Lord and Saviour, we join in membership with all those people in every other place who have done the same. This belonging to the Church worldwide is then expressed by belonging to a local community of Christians in a local church.
This kind of belonging to the Christian church has traditionally been expressed by baptism, where in the symbolic action of plunging beneath water an individual expresses their personal faith that Jesus has washed them of their sins and given them a new life, and the local church (in administering that baptism) recognises that faith in Christ and welcomes them into the church as fellow Christians.
These principles are then the bedrock of our membership system at Aigburth Community Church. If you are a Christian, and have been baptised by a Christian church, then you are welcome to join in membership. If you are a Christian, but have not yet been baptised, then we will happily baptise you into membership of the church. If you’re not yet a Christian, then you’re really welcome to keep coming along but membership is not for you, not because we want to keep you away but because faith in Jesus is what membership is all about.
Members care for one another
The primary role of a church member is to care for other church members. The Bible is full of this kind of “one another” language, reminding Christians that living as a Christian is not a lonely project you go about on your own but something we do together in a church community. This care is not less than practical, but it is more! Members provide each other with spiritual care that “encourages one another as long as it is called “today”” (Hebrews 3:13) and that warns one another when spiritual danger is ahead (eg. Galatians 6:1).
In practice this means at Aigburth Community Church that admission to church membership is done by a vote of the members. So when someone asks one of the leaders to join in membership of the church, that individual is interviewed about how they became a Christian and asked to sign up to the Statement of Faith of the church. Then at a members meeting, the application is raised by one of the leaders and the membership vote to approve the application. It also works the other way too, that when someone wants to resign their church membership the members are asked to vote on that as well.
In our age of low commitment this might seem a little strange, too formal even, but the point is that we want members to take seriously this responsibility that God gives us towards one another, and we want to know who we’re taking this responsibility for. That means that our members directory is not just a list of people who come to church from time to time, but a list of people who before the Lord we have agreed to care for together, who we will pray for and encourage, and when needed warn, so that we might all keep persevering in Christ until we meet him.
Members do the ministry of the church
Often times people assume that church ministry is done by the “minister”. Of course that’s understandable, it’s in the name after all! But the New Testament has a slightly different view of things, when in Ephesians 4 the Pastor/Teachers in the church prepare the rest of the church for the “works of ministry” (Ephesians 4:12). The Apostle Paul’s point is that every member is doing the ministry and the “minister” or “pastor” helps them do that ministry well by training them and teaching them from the word of God.
In practice that means that members not only serve the church by caring for other members but also by growing in their knowledge of the Lord Jesus through listening to the Bible being preached and then going on to own the work of the church in lots of practical ways too.
Often times church leaders have tried to get new people to commit to church life by giving them a role or a job to do, thinking that serving in church is the route to commitment. We think that’s putting it the wrong way round. We ask people to commit to the church first and then to express that commitment in serving. So if you want to help in the music ministry, or on the Sunday School rota, or making coffee on a Sunday then the first step is to join as a church member. More than that if you join in church membership you get to be part of the church members meetings when the life of the church is discussed and the plans for the future are forged together.
Members recognise leaders
Leadership in the life of the church is meant to follow the pattern of the Lord Jesus who laid down his life for the church on the cross. Leadership is not then about status or a right to tell everyone what to do, but a calling to love, to care and to lay down your life in service of others. Leaders like that in the church are called variously by the New Testament: pastors, elders, presbyters, bishops (in the context they are always referring to the same role rather than multiple roles or any kind of denominational hierarchy which is simple not in the Bible).
Interestingly in the New Testament both the local church is held responsible for their leaders and the leaders are held responsible for their churches. That means that not only will leaders have to give an account to the Lord Jesus for how they have served (Hebrews 13:17) but also church members will be held to account for who they recognised as leaders, whose teaching they listened to and how they cared for them (1 Timothy 6:17). Together that means that one of the most serious responsibilities for our church members is the job of recognising elders which we must do in line with the lists of qualifications in 1 Timothy and Titus.
In Aigburth Community Church we use the word “recognition” rather than “appoint” to emphasise that in voting in a new elder the church is not making someone any different but rather seeing what they are doing and recognising it, no one becomes a godly leader by a vote(!) rather a vote can recognise someone who IS a godly leader.
As a church we understand the New Testament to teach that the role of elder in the church is to be taken on by rightly qualified men and not women. That is not because there are not women in the church who are highly skilled brilliant leaders, or women in the church with things to teach the men. Rather the Bible sees the local church as a renewal of Eden and a restoration of the order which God set out there, where the elders are to behave like faithful fathers in the church laying down their lives in service of the whole that we all might flourish. Obviously this is very counter cultural and cannot be explained in a sentence or two so please do ask and we’ll happily talk more about this.
As well as elders we also have men and women serving as church deacons. Deacons in the New Testament take on particular practical responsibility for an area of church life such as the money or the practical care, or the music, or Sunday set up. You can find a list of our current deacons here.
Members support the finances of the church
You don’t have to know much about church history to know that money in the life of the church can be a massively corrupting influence. Church leaders driven by greed have done untold damage to the physical and spiritual lives of others and made a mess of the witness of the church to a saviour Jesus who gave up riches and power to save.
With that in mind it seems as you read the New Testament that the church as a whole is meant to control the money of the church, rather than handing it over to one individual or leader. It doesn’t seem either that the church is to be mostly supported from outside, or from just one or two wealthy people, but rather that as members give regularly and cheerfully the financial needs of the church are met. Finally it’s clear that local churches are to be generous outside of themselves to the needs of people around the world, especially in the worldwide church.
At Aigburth Community Church that’s how we try to run our church finances. So the needs of the church are met by the financial contributions of the members, who both take responsibility for paying for the costs of the church and are also then given the opportunity to decide together how that money is spent and where it is given to. Helping us practically with that is a Treasurer (who is one of the Deacons), a remuneration panel (made up of members who decide what staff are paid) and an independent organisation called Stewardship who help run our payroll and GiftAid giving.