How Do We Build a Healthy Church? (Membership Class #3)

In this third of the five-part membership class we reflect on the horizontal axis that defines the Church as the “body of believers” with various kinds of horizontal relationships. The Church is a community of “members.” In order to build a community that fulfills God’s design for the Church we need to have healthy participation in the various relationships that make up a church. For review the notes from Class #1 are here and the notes from Class #2 are here.

Biblical governance (standards, order, officers)

Every organization needs structure, including the Church. While it is fashionable today to decry “organized religion,” such complaint does not solve any problems. We certainly do not need to look very hard for organizational corruptions, including the religious organizations. But throwing away organization and structure and opting instead for chaos and anarchy clearly goes against God’s revealed will for his Church.

Below are some examples of the different kinds of relationships that make up a local congregation. Each of these relationships are governed by God’s word, for Scripture both defines where such relationships may or may not exist, and if such relationships exist, how we participate in these relationships. Indeed, when we make a commitment to Jesus, we are making commitments to all of these relationships.

Shepherd–Flock (1 Timothy 3:1–7, 5:17–25; 1 Peter 5:1-5; Heb 13:7, 17; Galatians 6:6–10).

Jesus Christ is the head of the Church. He exercises his authority through his Word and Spirit, which some people in the Church are called to serve as ministers. Think about what the word “minister” means. A “minister” is a servant. This has been the traditional way of talking about pastors in the Protestant churches in recognition of the fact that Christ is the Chief Shepherd, and pastors and elders serve as under-shepherds. The New Testament uses the words like “pastors,” “elders,” and “overseers” interchangeably. Some elders are particularly called to minister God’s Word (Teaching Elders in PCA parlance). But the pastor along with other elders (Ruling Elders) have joint responsibility to spiritually instruct, nurture, and exercise discipline.

Upon making membership vows, the shepherds and flock enter into a mutual commitment. The elders make a vow before God to discharge their duties faithfully for God’s glory and the spiritual good of the believer. The members in turn make a vow before God to submit to their elders and to support their ministry through prayer, participation, and giving.

We expect our elders to intimately know our church members, to pray for them without ceasing, to make home visitations, and otherwise be involved in the lives of the members. We expect our members to avail themselves to the elders’ ministry, to regularly invite your elders to your homes, and with all appropriate deference to the office of elders to hold their elders in high esteem.

Parent–Child (Acts 2:39; Eph 6:1-4).

Obviously this relationship does not concern all members. But in a normal (i.e conforming to the norm of Scripture) setting, when God calls a man/woman to himself, he calls his/her family as well. God cares deeply for the children of the believers.

The Christian household is the primary place of Christian discipleship. The number of hours a child spends in the church is typically limited. Therefore, if the parents are not obeying God’s call to spiritually instruct and nurture their children, Scripture gives us no reason to hope that children raised in such a home will come to possess living faith. Of course, God is able to save even from unbelieving families. But when believing parents neglect their calling, they have no reason to expect a blessing from God.

We therefore expect all believing parents to take seriously their spiritual responsibility to the family. Both parents are responsible. But the father/husband is the head of the household. The initiative therefore lies with him to engage his family spiritually. We expect all parents to instill in their children a love of the Bible, catechize in order to form biblical and mature thoughts about God, and pray earnestly for every grace.

Member–Member (Rom 12:3-8, 13:8-10; 1 Pet 4:7-11).

Membership in Christ’s Church necessarily means being a part of a community of believers. If we take seriously the Scripture’s teachings, then we are members one of another, called and equipped to serve the body of believers. We are as Christians called not only to seek the welfare of our own families, but also the welfare of the members of the church.

Every believer is called to serve the body in some way. But their role and function are not identical. Some will have more visible roles; others less so. Regardless, we are to look for ways to love, encourage, and serve those with whom we worship.

How do we serve? Sadly, we can very easily turn even serving others to be about us. Thus we may think about serving the body in terms of our giftedness (rightly/wrongly perceived). Thus we may only show interest in settings where we think we can offer our “expertise.” But if God gives spiritual gifts not for our own benefit, but for the benefit of others, then a better way is to try to notice the needs of the body, and ask why the Lord has given us awareness of such needs. Has the Lord shown us areas of needs so we may boast of our perceptiveness? to complain? or to pray and do what we can to meet the needs? Here is where the servant’s heart shows itself in humble service. Have you noticed any needs or weakness of this particular body? Then ask the Lord to show you what to do.

Church–World (Matt 28:18-20; 2 Thess 3:1-2).

The Church’s primary calling is to worship. Worship is not a means to some other end. Worship is a sacred meeting between the Lord and his covenant people. Thus it is something close to blasphemy to turn worship into something that caters to unbelievers. In our worship we “cater” only to God.

However, this worship–focused faith will make us more zealous for evangelism, not less. If we indeed worship a great God, if indeed we believe he is worthy of worship, it should disturb us greatly that many tongues do not confess Jesus as Lord and many knees do not bow before him. Our zeal for personal evangelism is directly proportional to our esteem for God. If he is highly exalted in our hearts, we will be zealous to call unbelievers to know and worship him. But if God ultimately exists to please us, then we will be content with spiritually being fed in the Church without regard for evangelism.

We call and encourage all believers to befriend unbelievers, love them, and invite them to church. May the Lord use us for the sake of his glory!