Brief Thoughts on Church Membership (altogether incomplete)

I have been reflecting on the subject of church membership for the last few weeks. This stems from planting a church and having folks join who are members of existing churches. This also stems from folks who joined our church plant and have moved their membership–both issues had to do with distance to our new location and a desire to be involved in a more specific way to those who attend another church for purposes of ministry (both great reasons!).

My thoughts haven’t just been a result of circumstances. Rather, they come from a desire to think theologically about this issue.

First, I want to make clear that membership in a local church is the primary means of discipleship in the Christian journey. We make commitments to others to love and serve and be loved and be served by others. It is a beautiful and necessary commitment that we take way too lightly.

BUT too often pastors and church leaders speak about church membership in very unhelpful terms. We speak about it being like a marriage. It most certainly is not. It is not a covenant either. Scripture speaks about our membership in the Body of Christ. The local congregation is a physical manifestation of that reality. Everything we do is in the context of local–geographically and temporally. My fear is that church bodies can begin to assume that members of a local congregation cannot leave. Much like the Hotel California, people are often guilted in staying. People are made to think they are being less committed to the mission of the Church (yes, that’s a large C, signifying the Church Universal).

We have a membership class coming up for Redeemer in a few weeks. I take great pains to help people see that our congregation is one among many faithful churches in time and space. We do not have a corner on the market of faithfulness. We are one very small player on the great stage of history. The more we recite this truth, the more humble and grateful we will become. Every time we say this, we are reminded that God’s purposes are much larger than us. We are reminded that we have certain proclivities and characteristics that may set us apart by way of trends and passions. We are reminded that there are many other brothers and sisters seeking to do the same thing as us–take up our crosses daily and follow Jesus (individually and corporately).

One of the things I make sure to tell people is that if they want to make a commitment to be a member of Redeemer, it ought to be based on it mission and vision. We try to keep it very simple, as you’ll see from our website. How we go about accomplishing these things are called our Core Values. That’s how we seek to accomplish the vision right now in 2018.

But the Church is an organization, but it is also a living organism. As with all organisms, change is inevitable. Indeed, it is desired. As human beings we necessarily grow and change if we are alive. It is inherent to the very definition of life. Change is beautiful. Inevitably, our church will grow as people are added to our congregation. This is beautiful because it enables and empowers people to contribute their gifts and passions to the whole, and for the whole to shape the particular person.

Over time, there may be people who have changes of convictions for how “to do” church. That is, they may disagree with our emphasis on church planting, mission, and mercy. They may disagree with our commitment to simplicity. At the end of the day, as a pastor I want people to be freed to serve and be served by others. If they are staying at Redeemer just because they made a commitment in 2018, that is not healthy. Rather, my desire is that they be involved. Intimately involved in the growth and development of our church. If they cannot do so, it is healthier that they find a congregation where they can faithfully live out their convictions.

This doesn’t have to be an ugly thing. Rather, it can be a very beautiful thing where we are again reminded and remind each other that we do no have a corner on the market of biblical fidelity. Jesus promised to build his Church. I get to be a small observer in that construction project–stone upon stone.

We want people to be a part of Redeemer who believe in the vision and mission and who want to play an integral part in seeing that vision become a reality in our small corner of the universe. So when folks leave, we don’t need to guilt them. Sure, we will miss folks as they leave, but may we depart to meet again.

Get Woke

It seems like this is the phrase these days that all the cool kids say. It means to be aware of social situations we currently find ourselves in. You’re welcome. Now you can use it on your socials and impress everyone that you are, indeed, socially conscious. On a larger scale, though, it is clear that our current cultural milieu finds us still asleep. Still lulled by the hyper-activity of all the social events we are to remain current on to be a caring citizen. Every month seems to be a month dedicated to another socially-important thing you are to buy or tweet about. Yet, we find that with all the clambering, our souls are still unsettled. We are clambering because our souls are restless. We desperately want people to care…about us. We want people to know that we care and, therefore, we matter.

My call to you, my reader, is that you wake up. That you open your eyes. Breathe in the air that surrounds you. Taste the meal. Instead of taking a pic to show you matter.

Embrace the moment you find yourself in right now. Friend. You matter. You are valuable. You are priceless and do not need to prove yourself by making sure everyone knows you know what you’re supposed to know.

We find ourselves in a sea of information that has become mere white noise and it has put us to sleep. We have become overwhelmed and incapable of parsing the right from the wrong. The moral from the spin. The apology from the victim.

Wake up! Get. Woke.

<300: Anything You Want - Derek Sivers

I came across Derek Sivers (@sivers) through Tim Ferriss’ podcast. Very rarely do I get hooked on someone from an interview, but the way which Derek answered questions and his life story made me pause. I had to get more of his thoughts into my thoughts. A man who donates the majority of his company for the benefit of others got me. My interactions with him have been refreshing and I am so thankful that he is accessible and really seeks to help others.

Here’s his book, Anything You Want, in less than 300 words. Best $11 I’ve spent this year!

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Be yourself. Stop kowtowing to the perceived expectations of others. There is no easy way to grow in life. It takes work and focus. Most growth happens through failure, so get ready for it.

It is easy to get overwhelmed in the sea of multi-million dollar marketing. Instead of setting your goal to make more money, seek to serve more people. In serving, money follows. If you want to have enough, want less. Stop focusing on being bigger and better. Oftentimes purposefully being deaf to the siren call of more frees you to remain true to your purpose.

In having such laser focus in your dreams, you will disappoint a lot of people. If you seek to be everyone’s Messiah, you will fail them and yourself.

At root, the call to serve others requires you to do the hard work of knowing yourself. Know your likes and dislikes. Choose what you like to do and stop saying the ugly stuff that you are swamped in is just part of owning your own business. You can delegate. And you ought to delegate. Don’t abdicate. Be involved. Set parameters for those you empower before you almost get fired by them!

People are not commodities to be traded. Pinching pennies is punching your customers in the face, give a full refund. Period. Stop justifying greed with survival verbiage. Take the bruises, not those you seek to serve.

Stop all your strategy. Do. Take one step toward your goal rather mapping out the whole path. Inevitably, your path will be re-directed. If you plan out every step you will veritably be disappointed, stifled, and probably stop. Failure is part of the journey. You can’t mitigate it. Expect bad things to happen and embrace them as part of your personal growth.

Morality & Obedience

I just read this article on parenting your strong-willed child. My wife and I have a strong-willed household. I will confess that I am the culprit behind the majority of this. I am working through this–trying to sift the wheat from the chaff.

As it pertains to parenting your image bearers, the author brings up a helpful distinction between raising moral children versus obedient children.

A little background, my wife and I cut our parenting teeth on a variety of parenting that was all about obedience. That is, this phenomenon in evangelical circles called “first-time obedience.” Indubitably we were way too strict and militant with our first child (hey! I have been told this is typical. . .but typical does not make right). We expected her to jump when we told her to. There did not have to be good rationale as to why she ought to jump. Simply the fact that her dictators, er, parents told her to. After all, God had placed us as authorities in her life and we had the jurisdiction and the prerogative to expect said obedience.

Dr. Markham’s article challenged me on one primary level in my parenting that I wanted to pass on along to you, dear reader. She writes (brace yourself!):

 Of course you want to raise a responsible, considerate, cooperative child who does the right thing, even when it’s hard. But that doesn’t imply obedience. That implies doing the right thing because the child WANTS to. As H.L. Mencken famously observed, morality is doing what’s right, no matter what you’re told. Obedience is doing what you’re told, no matter what’s right.

So of course you want your child to do what you say.  But not because she’s obedient, meaning that she always does what someone in authority tells her to do.  After all, that someone in authority might be a mean girl in the 8th grade, or a high school coach who makes a habit of molesting kids. No, you want her to do what you say because she trusts YOU, because she’s learned that even though you can’t always say yes to what she wants, you have her best interests at heart.  You want to raise a child who has self-discipline, takes responsibility, and is considerate — and most important, has the discernment to figure out who to trust and when to be influenced by someone else. That discernment only comes when kids are taught to think for themselves, rather than simply obeying authority.

Implied within this is the fact that your child trusts you. I have found it intellectually lazy to merely tell a child that they ought to listen to Mommy and Daddy because God has placed us as an authority in her life. It is lazy because, although true at a most basic level, we have not done the hard work of appealing to the child’s motivation itself. That is, if I were to be told by my boss that I ought to do something because God has placed her in authority over me, which is also true!, I don’t think my reaction would be the same as what I am seeking from my child. Think Golden Rule here, for simplicity’s sake.

I am taking these two paragraphs as a challenge to be the kind of parent that is trustworthy. This begins with me first deeply caring about my child as a person. Not merely because she is my flesh and blood, but because she is a human being firstnot to mention the implications of this worldview of affecting how we treat our neighbors.

What is more, this is going to take a little more thoughtfulness on my part–remember the charge of intellectual laziness? I need to pause long enough to consider whether what my call to obedience is motivated by–sloth or righteousness? I am afraid to say that more often than  not, the former is the motivation for why I want my child to pick up that sock.

It is true that I want my child to pick up after herself, but because of the virtue of being clean and responsibility and some other reasons I am sure–you can be creative I am sure. But, I have found that most of my struggles for obedience have been the result of barking terse orders rather than getting on my hands and knees and picking up (my own) socks. What’s the harm in serving my child in picking up her socks. I have imported a lot of good reasons to not serve her–“Well, I want her to learn to do this!” Or “I told her to do it and she ought to obey me!” What a slothful despot I have been.

I must be reminded of the Latin origins of our word for “parent.” It essentially means to bring forth. Assuredly this refers to the actual birthing of a child. Yet, a father does not birth. So I must take it  a little more loosely. My task is to bring my child forth into a moral, Christ-loving adult–emphasis on the latter, for from it stems the former.

May us bringers forth never forget that labor is not for a day or two but a lifetime. Yes, a lifetime–not just until 18 years. I lean on my dad for wisdom even still. . . because I trust him, not quintessentially because God placed him as an authority in my life.

May we all gain a full-orbed vision of bringing forth. May we not lead with the authority card. When that happens, you can be assured that their is no trust.