The first question that might come to mind when we talk about what makes a member of the church is, why does it even matter? There is an argument to be made that the services of the church, which represent the love and grace of Christ, should be free to everyone, whether the commitment in their heart is 'legitimate' or not. And certainly, the simplest way for us to figure out who's 'in' and who's 'out' is just to say...everyone's in.
To start to talk about how the church cannot give away all of its services for 'free' is to imply that the church is some kind of business, that it has a financial bottom line to maintain, that grace is somehow unsustainable without a price tag on it. And of course, that's quite sticky. On one hand, churches aren't free but on the other hand, grace is.
So what does it matter if the church marries everyone who walks through her doors or buries everyone who's carried in? Why do we have to talk about renting out our buildings or hiring out our services or the like? Why are we talking at all about what a 'member' of the church is, unless we're just keeping score somewhere (and Jesus, we have to say, doesn't like us keeping score).
Quite simply: because the primary business of the church is not weddings or funerals. Or even memberships.
The primary business of the church is discipleship.
The primary business of the church is the transformation of hearts and lives. It's the preaching of the Gospel and the calling to follow. It's the anointing into service and the blessing of the sacred life. It's the fellowship of the saints and the community of believers. It's the serving of our neighbors, the extension of grace, the offer of mercy, and our loving one another.
When we are asked, then, why we even think about charging for our building or our services, why we can't just marry everyone or bury everyone or host every birthday party or retirement celebration or Saturday pick-up basketball game, it's because these things are not the function of the church. They are part of the kind of community that we are building, but we cannot let ourselves get so buried in the wrong things that we forget that the stone has been rolled away from the tomb.
We cannot let our churches become mere social centers. We cannot let them be used and taken advantage of for the civic services they provide. We cannot let our communities see our churches as nothing more than a free-for-all...because we know that a high price was paid on Calvary.
We cannot let the world come to think of the church as a service. Not when it has always been a sanctuary.
That's why these questions matter. That's why we have to think about who we marry and bury and celebrate and all that other stuff. Because if we don't, we risk losing sight of - and we risk losing the ability to speak of - our primary purpose, which is the making of disciples and the glorifying of the Lord.
We like to say that because we know we do everything we do in the name of Jesus, we don't have to say it all the time, but the truth is that the majority of persons who enjoy our bonfires and movie nights and community carnivals never hear the name of Jesus on our lips and do not associate our having fun with them as an act of faith. They come to our events and walk away without realizing that Jesus was the center of them, even if He was the center of it all for us. That's the kind of failure I'm talking about.
And listen, I get it - no one wants to 'harp' about Jesus all the time. But that's who we are. That's who the church is called to be. Disciples making disciples. And how can we ever make disciples if we never say to the lost, "Come, follow Him?"
So that's why we talk about members and services. To make sure that our service is first and foremost the service of Jesus Christ. To make sure that everyone who walks through our doors understands what is most fundamentally true about us - Jesus. To make sure that we don't lose sight of who we are in favor of all the things that we do.
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