The next two Wednesdays I will be teaching a church membership class. We will talk about what our church believes and how we operate. I won’t teach the secret handshake (we don’t have one) or give out decoder rings to the Central Church pyramid scheme (umm… we don’t have those either). Generally, at the start of the class I say something like, “I’m the least membership oriented pastor you will ever have.” The reason for that admission is that one’s “Nazareneness” or lack thereof will not be a part of the entrance exam into heaven (there’s an entrance exam?). St Peter (or whoever is the gatekeeper, actually I don’t think there is a gatekeeper) will not ask to see your Central Membership Card prior to entry (we don’t give out membership cards. We are a church not Costco). You also won’t have to give your favorite Nazarene Potluck casserole recipe, name any of the general superintendents or tell how many Sunday afternoon Nazarene Naps you have taken.
Having written all of that, I still believe church membership matters. Here’s why:
1) Church Membership doesn’t say, “Yippee! I have finally found the perfect church.” Central isn’t perfect. We have humans (including me) making decisions and we aren’t perfect (especially me).
2) Church Membership doesn’t say, “We have everything figured out.” We clearly don’t have everything figured out. Every four years the Church of the Nazarene has a gathering where the elected delegates (I was one last summer in Indy) change our by-laws and re-work them. Some stuff gets taken out and other stuff is added. The Manual of the Church of the Nazarene is a working, changing document. All this to say, we don’t think we have a corner on the truth.
3) Church membership says, “These are my people.” We can’t pick our biological family, you are stuck with them (even the crazy ones). But a church family– you get to choose. You say, in effect, these people are my people, even the crazy ones. They are not perfect. Some of them didn’t vote the way I voted. Some of them don’t like my kind of music and are very bad at social media interaction. They are not always refined, but I will stick by their side, in good times and bad. I will support and love them and receive support and love from them. They are mine and I am theirs. I belong here.”
Here’s the bottom line on church membership. I think there is something refreshing in an era when commitment to anything seems to be at all-time low and when more and more people are identifying as a “none” when it comes to church affiliation, for people to stand in front of a church and say: “These people can count on me to love, serve and join with them to see God’s Kingdom built in Flint (in our case) as it is in Heaven.” I love when people band together and say, “We are better together and God is up to something good in this place because of it.”