Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Protect the Flock By Excluding Visitors

Elders are called to protect the church from people who would do them spiritual harm (wolves among the sheep). One of the ways we try to do that in our church is by not allowing people to get very involved in the life of the congregation until they are members. 
So in our church, non-members are welcome to attend and participate in the public services of the church.  We are happy to have them in our Sunday morning gathering, our Sunday evening gathering, and our fellowship meals.
But we don't let people attend small groups or serve among the children or lead music until they are members.  In order to join the church, a person must be examined by the elders and approved by the congregation.  Once a person has been through that process, we feel reasonably comfortable that they are safe (that is to say, not a wolf). 
But until the point, we don't want to encourage people in the church to look to that person as a leader by putting them up in front of the congregation to lead singing.  We don't want them teaching the children of the church.  We don't want people to completely let their guard down and trust them in the way we ask members to trust each other in small groups.
People who are "regular attenders" but who haven't joined the church sometimes feel like our policy is exclusive.  But ultimately my responsibility is to the flock over which the Spirit has made me an overseer.  And besides, they are welcome to pursue church membership at any time.
I agree with this Michael McKinley. I do not think non-members, those unwilling to commit to the body fully by an act of joining should be teaching, training, or toying with God's people.

What is your opinion?

Why do you think people become time attenders, even financial supporters, and consider themselves apart of the church and yet will not become official members?

Do you think a body of Elders can affectively shepherd,
 equip, and even discipline non-members. 

Why? or Why not?


Seams Inspired said...

Ooh, Gregg. I suspect this post will touch a nerve for many people. While your point has been well-validated and I can certainly understand it, the emotional side of me disagrees with it...mainly because I've been in this position.

I attended a church for many years, though I did not officially join. Why? Because we had elderly family members who were much opposed to us 'officially' being connected to a church other than theirs. This might seem silly to many; however, ethnic clans place much value on respecting their elders. Rather than upset the balance of our family, we chose to participate and worship with a church even though we were not members. So, there are many reasons why people attend yet don't join.

Yes, Elders can effectively shepherd and equip non-members, though (IMHO) to discipline is more difficult as the options are limited. How does the church discipline a non-member? What choice is there other than to ban a non-member?

As for agreeing with the whole "you've got to be a member to participate" subject, I kindly disagree. In the grand scheme of things, a piece of paper touting that I belong to this church or that church is not important to me. While I believe it is necessary to corporately worship with fellow Christians, I don't need my name on a list to do that. Were I to visit a church that adhered those requirements, I would be a one-time visitor.

Great topic! I look forward to the dialogue and commentary, as I'm sure there are many who disagree with me. :o) Happy Wednesday!

Michelle said...

Tough subject, Gregg!

I understand his reasoning very much...and while we did join our church weighed on our minds "What really is the point of 'joining' a church?" Why can't you belong to a local body of believers without membership? Is "membership" a biblical thing? Why can't you be held "accountable" by the elders without membership? I believe the elders in my chuch could and would do just as well of a job whether we were members or not. Then we get into the whole excommunication thing. ??? So, I say. I'm not answering any of your questions...only asking more. :D

welcome to my world of poetry said...

You have touched an issue here which I don't know the answer,
Where I go to church Elders are church members and some help with people's problems whether spiritual or otherwise.

Thanks for calling by and the lovely comment, it made my day.

Persis said...

I agree with your post, Gregg. How can elders discipline those who have not committed to submit to their leadership?

In our church, membership is viewed as a covenant to submit to the spiritual authority in the church and to covenant with the local body of believers. It's not a matter of numbers but of covenant.

Cathy M. said...

I firmly believe the above model is faithful to the biblical record. Even with a careful shepherd, there will be good fish in the net with the bad, wheat/ tares, sheep/ goats; but, without a some limitation, a fellowship will fill with "sleeper-cells" poised to detonate.

Time and truth inevitably intersect.

Gregg said...

For Michelle - It is a tough subject. I think there really is a point in church membership. First, in Acts 2, those who gladly received the word, followed it up with baptism, joined the existing fellowship without hesitation. Local church membership is a picture, just as marriage pictures Christ's marriage to the church, that pictures the universal body of Christ. As a matter of fact in the early church you couldn't attend a service if you weren't a member due to persecution and such.

The point is demonstrating your willingness to submit to the leadership and to the membership in a covenant of love, support, and mutual encouragement by the operation of your spiritual gifts. Ask Costco, or Sam's Club, or health clubs why you can't belong to their club without membership. Membership provides some benefits, protections, and opportunities that non-membership does not provide or extend. Membership is a biblical thing, not a numbers issue, but an accountability issue, a submission issue, it is a spiritual issue.

I respectfully disagree, how can the Elders discipline you if they do not have jurisdiction over you. Unfortunately we have to live in a secular world, such as a state, and the church and Elders could be sued if they disciplined someone who was not a member and had never agreed to submit to the biblically based covenant of the church. Of course most churches don't discipline today anyways, so what the heck.

Discipline is a serious thing, so is putting someone out of the church along with refusing all benefits and blessings of the local church, very serious. If an individual refuses to repent and cease their sin, then the responsibility of the church is to place the sinning member outside of the church and refuse all benefits and blessings. How does a body of Elders place someone outside of the church if they are not members, they have no "authority" to do so. If we didn't live in a litigious society the authority of Scripture would be enough.

I certainly realize not everyone is going to agree and I don't mind disagreement and more questions. I am simply trying to answer yours.

My main issue however is that I think McKinney was saying, and I agree, that I would not permit someone to teach, lead, or have a position within the church who were not willing to submit to the leadership and covenant membership by joining.
My question would be why would someone want to refuse to identify with the very entity that Christ died for, is calling out, loves, and is returning for?

I think it is similar to couples who want all the benefits of a covenant marriage and yet refuse to enter into a covenant marriage because they think they are married by their standards not by a piece of paper or government standard.

In Love and Humility,


IanH said...

Gregg, this is a very interesting topic. I like the reasoning behind it. I see too many people that come Sunday after Sunday, but are not members. To me, it seems that there is a lack of commitment on their part. The warning of wolves amongst the sheep is strong and clear in scripture. However, the act of becoming a member doesn't wholly negate this possibility from still happening.

JD Curtis said...

The following was related to me by someone personally known to me for years and he swears it is true.

Years ago, my friend attended a large church in NYC. One weekend they had a retreat outside the city for church members. They hired a famous lady Bible teacher to speak at the retreat.

As the congregants were seated listening to the teacher's lesson, she began talking about how the spirit of Satan can work inside a church with the intent of destroying it.

She then narrowed her eyes and fixed her gaze upon two young ladies, sisters actually, who had been with the church about a year or so and she said (paraphrasing) "..and the spirit of Satan is at work here in your church as well.."

The people were stunned. Both young ladies just lowered their heads, got up and walked out of the class. They drove back home and never attended that church again.

Afterward, upon reflection, the people seemed to agree that the 2 sisters seemed quite catty and gossipy. They also agreed that they would usually wear hemlines that were a bit too high and necklines a bit too low than church-going modesty would usually permit.

But imagine that, they didnt even try to argue over it or deny it in any way

The guy that told me this is trustworthy. Honest.

Mike said...
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Mike said...

Gregg, Gregg, Gregg, I think this is an unbiblical stance, bro!

If you'll take a very very careful look at scripture, you'll find NO model of "church membership" anywhere! Instead, believers are ALL members of one body...the Body of Christ.

You mentioned in a follow-up comment that the elders couldn't discipline without "jurisdiction" over someone. Sure they can! My good friend can discipline me in my openness to him because he is a member of the body of Christ. Elders have jurisdiction when people walk in the doors. To say they do not otherwise have jurisdiction assumes "members" are willing to open their lives simply because they sign on the dotted line. The fault is in Christians not getting to know each other in order to allow for godly discipline.

I emailed you a letter I gave to 2 elders at the church I attend. I hope you'll consider is well-researched.

And yes, I will say Dever is WRONG on this issue. I love Dr. Dever and think him a brilliant pastor. But I still think he's wrong on the membership position (Yes, I read "9 Marks of a Healthy Chruch" and still still think so.)


Why do I think people become time attenders, even financial supporters, and consider themselves apart of the church and yet will not become official members?

1. Since the "non denominational" "no church membership" movement started in the 1960s by Chuck Smith, millions of "church goers" Have been taught that membership is unimportant.

2. Many people that have had a "bad church experience" in the past are hesitant to join another one.

By the way, I've met many non church members that are much more sportive, productive and involved in church activities and programs than most of the church members. Although I do agree they should not have teaching or leadership rolls.

Good post and excellent comments.


Trisha said...

At the root of so much dislike for church membership is the desire to NOT want to be accountable. Great post, Gregg, and even though I've found church relationships to be some of the most difficult, God has used that greatly to teach me to love the church and the people in it, and work out conflict Biblically instead of just avoiding it.

Have you read DeYoung's Why We Love the Church? It's a good read.

Pat Donovan said...

I agree nonmembers should not be teaching. membership in the body of Christ starts at rebirth. The Pastor and the elders still rule under Christ and who he adds who are we to question. however they will know we are christians by our love for one another, and there are sertain fruits of the spirit we should be able to identify to know who is and who isn't. having said that I think membership is still important after we have dicerned if there conversion is real or not. I have not joined at coal creak yet because i was unchurched for 8-10 years and I beleive in along period of reindoctrination to protect myself and the church.