At the church where I serve as an elder, Kelowna’s Trinity Baptist Church, we’ve re-opened the conversation surrounding the place of membership in the 21st century church.
In one of our discussions I was asked about when I became a member. Although I had received what we call in our circles, “the hand of fellowship” some 22 years ago, I shared instead about the day about five years later when I fully embraced the concept.
It was a Sunday morning, in the “milling about” time between our church’s two services. I was among just a handful of people still in the auditorium, when a 60-something year old gentleman, who had been talking with our music pastor, suddenly collapsed. Paramedics were called, but nothing could be done. He passed away from a massive heart attack right at the front of our auditorium.
I didn’t know the gentleman, but learned at the time from talking with the music pastor that this fellow was the only Christ follower in his family. His wife and grown children tolerated his weekly visits to our church, but they had no interest in his faith.
Someone found his contact information in his wallet and called his wife. The paramedics took his lifeless body to the hospital. The worship team prepared for the now-delayed second service. And I climbed into my car to drive home.
Two blocks away a series of thoughts suddenly gripped me:
- In a few minutes his shocked and grief-stricken widow would arrive at the hospital.
- She would have known that he passed away at our church.
- With our pastors now fully engaged in our 2nd service, there would be no one at the hospital when she arrived.
“Someone from our church needs to be there for her,” I said to myself.
And I knew that the “someone” would likely have to be me. I wasn’t a pastor. I wasn’t on our church’s “visitation committee”. But none of that mattered.
I swung my car around, headed for the hospital, and found the widow sobbing alone next to the lifeless body of her husband. As she lifted her head and saw me standing there, the next words out of my mouth defined my place in the life of my local church.
“My name is Scott. I’m from Trinity.”
Is membership, in the traditional sense, an out-dated concept? Perhaps. But what I discovered that day is that there comes a moment in the life of every person connected to a local group of believers when a line is crossed. It’s the moment when you realize that you don’t simply attend the same services, share the same beliefs, or even serve on the same ministry teams. It’s the moment when you realize that you are a full participating minister, sharing in the responsibility for all that God seeks to accomplish through that local group of believers.
For me, that moment arrived in a hospital room with a grieving widow.
Let the conversation continue.
What does church membership mean to you?