Membership vs. Mission

I just read a great article called No Members, Just Missionaries in the Catalyst Monthly that arrives in my inbox every 4 weeks or so. (I also shared some thoughts along these lines at the church picnic a few weeks ago.) Just thought I’d post a couple quotes from the article:

One of the surest ways of becoming suspect to mainline evangelicalism is to actually reorient the church around the mission of Christ.

The article then talks about how for a long time, the American church has sent out missionaries to far away places to fulfill the mission of the church there – while settling for adherence to ritual here at home. But the globe-trekking ‘missionaries’ have grown up into leadership in the church and are now calling the church to join the mission they should have been on all along.

Their calling isn’t to pastor churches that focus on the happiness of its
members, but to mobilize the church for the purpose of fulfilling God’s mission of reconciling the world to Himself. We used to send our missionaries out, and it kept the mission a safe distance from us. Some how they broke back in and decided they were not going without us.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. The idea of “membership” is focused on self. What can I get out of it? If I pay my dues and follow the rules, what do I gain? Frankly, there’s no place for that attitude in the church. The attitude of Christ led him to leave the comforts of heaven – the privileges and perks that come with being the Creator of the Universe – and become one of us in order to reconcile us to His Father. Where is that attitude in the church today? Thankfully, it flickers in places, but the world needs to be able to see a church that is bright with the light that’s created when we humbly set aside all claim to what we think we deserve – in order to pass to someone else what we know they need.

Why do we even need church membership anymore? (That is not the same question as “Why do we need the church?”) Is it only a way of ‘keeping score’ between different teams? I know this slaps the face of institutional church practice, but I wonder if membership and mission can even coexist? And if they cannot, how many more churches will have the guts to say “we have no members here…but here’s our mission”?

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