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5 Reasons Membership Matters
By Dan Martella

The New Testament tells us about the local church and the universal church, and almost always the spotlight is on the local church. The local churches in the first century were places where Christians gathered for worship, fellowship, and evangelism. They were led by pastors, elders, deacons, and deaconesses. They were filled with men and women, boys and girls who belonged. Membership mattered to them.
So why should membership in a local church matter to us today? Five reasons –
1 – The Local Church is a Great Place to Grow
Our growth in Christ constitutes the very raison d'être for the church. When the apostle Paul talks about gifts and ministries, people and relationships in the church – he quickly moves to the bottom line when he tells us that our shared life is essential to our spiritual growth. “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.[1]
Now there is a personal side to spiritual growth – a personal commitment to Jesus, personal time with Jesus through daily Bible study and prayer, and the personal journey with Jesus through the day.
There is also a communal side to all this. It’s like the BBQ on my back patio – I load it up with coals, squirt lighter fluid over the whole thing, and light a fire. The whole thing radiates with heat. I put the burgers, hot dogs, and veges on the grill to cook. Now let’s suppose one of those coals decides to wander off on its own. What’s going to happen? It’s going to go cold. It’s fire is going to go out.
So it is in the spiritual life. If you are going to stay red-hot for Jesus, you can’t wander off all by yourself. You’ve got to be part of a local church family. The local church is essential to your spiritual health.
2 – The Local Church Will Give You Friends for the Journey
The story is told of a woman who decided to make the trip from Alberta to the Yukon – all by herself in a beat-up old Honda Civic. After a full day of driving she pulled into a small hotel for the night. When she woke up the next morning, the whole place was socked in with fog.
Wandering down to the motel diner for breakfast, she fell into conversation with a couple of truckers. When they found out she was traveling to White Horse all by herself in a beat-up old Civic, they grinned and told her that they would hug her through. The alarmed woman told them they could just keep their hands to themselves. It was then they explained that they would put a truck in front of her and another truck behind her and hug her all the way through the foggy mountain passes.
I think that is the kind of thing the apostle to the Hebrews had in mind when he said, “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”[2]
If you want your life to journey well, if you want to safely reach your heavenly destination, then you will need the encouraging hugs of a church family!
3 – The Local Church Will Take Care of You
The Bible uses a number of metaphors to describe the church. One of my favorites is a flock of sheep. I suppose that is one of the reasons why I enjoyed visiting my great grandmother and great uncle in Oregon every summer in my boyhood – they raised sheep! The sheep had to be taken care of. Fed and watered. Groomed and protected.
The same holds true in God’s flock today – the sheep have to be taken care. That is why God gives us local churches. That is why God gives us pastors, elders, deacons, deaconesses, Sabbath School teachers, and all the rest. That is why the apostle to the Hebrews tells us to “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.”[3]
At first glance, this may seem like an onerous injunction – after all, who wants to obey their leaders and submit to their authority? Who needs a cranky pastor or elder jerking them around all the time?
That is not what this passage is about. Leadership that abuses power is not what this passage is about – It’s about church leaders that take care of their church family. Church leaders that will feed the flock, listen to their stories, share their tears, celebrate their victories, and pray with them. Church leaders that will journey with their people every step of the way. Church leaders who will love their people, and be loved by their people.
4 – The Local Church is the Place to Exercise Your Spiritual Gifts
In 1 Corinthians 12 the church is described as the body of Christ. Now in our bodies there is a great deal of diversity – our skin and teeth and eyes, our hands and feet, our stomachs and livers and spleens are all very different – but together they still form one body.
So it is in the church. We are all different in our perspectives, experiences, and giftedness – and yet we are one body. No one of us is going to make it on our own. Eye balls are not going to make it on their own. Neither will our hands. And a kidney out there all by itself is not going to survive. The point is that anyone who thinks they can thrive all on their own is simply kidding themselves. Each of us needs the body, and the body needs each of us.
It is in this context that we exercise our spiritual gifts for ministry. Ministry is like a football team – it takes everyone playing together to win the game. Ministry is like a symphony orchestra – it takes everyone playing together to perform the concert. Ministry is like an academy choir – it takes everyone singing together to fill the hall with beautiful music. Ministry is like doing disaster relief in the wake of an earthquake, tsunami, or war – it takes ware house managers, pilots, doctors, nurses, volunteers on the streets, and government agencies all doing their part.
Running the ball, playing the tuba, singing alto, or running a forklift in Tacloban or Port-au-Prince all by yourself isn’t any fun. Nor does it accomplish very much. If you want your life and gifts to count for something, put it to work in the life of the local church.
5 – The Local Church Enables Us to Accomplish Our Mission
The last thing Jesus did before leaving this earth and returning to Heaven was to give us a mission – “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”[4]
Jesus has given His disciples, then and now, a job to do – to make disciples of people everywhere. It’s a big job, far bigger than anyone of us can do all by ourselves. It’s a job we’ve got to do together. A job that belongs to the entire church.
Sure, you can share your faith all by yourself – you can light a candle and let it shine. But when you join your light with the light of fellow believers, the collective light will shine so much brighter, so much warmer than it ever could all on its own.
Coming Together
In God’s design fish swim in schools and whales in pods. Frogs form knots, alligators gather in congregations, grasshoppers swarm, and bees buzz in their hives. Birds flock, hawks kettle, humming birds charm, quail covey, and geese gaggle. Kittens kindle, baboons congress, hippopotamuses bloat, horses team, badgers cete, lions pride, and cattle herd.
And what do people do when they come together to grow in Christ, share the journey of life, care for each other, team up for ministry, and unite in mission? In a word, they church!
That is why membership matters. It matters a lot!
Dan Martella is managing editor of Best Practices for Adventist Ministry, and pastor of the Healdsburg and Cloverdale, CA Churches
[1] Ephesians 4:11-13
[2] Hebrews 10:24,25
[3] Hebrews 13:17
[4] Matthew 28:19,20