When we're called to follow Christ; we're also called to belong to the Body of Christ.
When Jesus walked the earth, God worked through the physical body of Christ; today he uses his spiritual body. The church is God's instrument on earth. We are his hands, his feet, his eyes and his heart. He works through us in the world. We each have a contribution to make.
The Apostle Paul tells us, "He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing" (Ephesians 2:10, Msg).
Yet one of the biggest hurdles we face as pastors is convincing attenders that they need to commit themselves to the church family and become members. Today's culture of independent individualism has created many spiritual orphans who move from one church to another without any identity, accountability or commitment.
Here are several biblical reasons we can teach to our congregations on why every believer needs to be committed and active in a local fellowship --
A church family identifies us as genuine believers.
I can't claim to be following Christ if I'm not committed to any specific group of disciples. Jesus said, "Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples" (John 13:35, NLT).
When we come together in love as a church family from different backgrounds, race and social status, it is a witness to the world. No one believer can be the Body of Christ on his own. We need others in order to fully express the shape God has given us. It is when we are together, not when we're separated, that we are his Body.
A church family moves us out of self-centered isolation.
The local church is the classroom for learning how to get along in God's family. It is a lab for practicing unselfish, sympathetic love. As a participating member you learn to care about others and share the experiences of others: "If one part of the body suffers, all the other parts suffer with it. Or if one part of our body is honored, all the other parts share its honor" (1 Corinthians 12:26, NCV). Only in regular contact with ordinary, imperfect believers can we learn real fellowship and experience the New Testament truth of being connected and dependent on each other.
Biblical fellowship is being as committed to each other as we are to Jesus Christ. God expects us to give our lives for each other. Many Christians who know John 3:16 are unaware of 1 John 3:16 (NIV): "Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers." This is the kind of sacrificial love God expects you to show other believers -- a willingness to love them in the same way Jesus loves you.
A church family helps us develop spiritual muscle.
No one will ever grow to maturity just by attending worship services and being a passive spectator. Only participation in the full life of a local church builds spiritual muscle. The Bible says, "As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love" (Ephesians 4:16, NLT).
Over fifty times in the New Testament the phrases "one another" or "each other" are used. We are commanded to love each other, pray for each other, encourage each other, admonish each other, greet each other, serve each other, teach each other, accept each other, honor each other, bear each other's burdens, forgive each other, submit to each other, be devoted to each other and many other mutual tasks.
This is biblical membership! These are the "family responsibilities" that God expects every believer to fulfill through a local fellowship. We need to ask those who attend our services, "Who are you doing these with?"
The Body of Christ needs every one of us.
God has a unique role for every believer to play in his family. This is called your "ministry," and God has gifted you for this assignment: "A spiritual gift is given to each of us as a means of helping the entire church" (1 Corinthians 12:7, NLT).
The local fellowship is the place God designed for his children to discover, develop and use their gifts. Even those with a wider ministry need to understand that their first responsibility is to the local Body. Jesus has not promised to build anyone's ministry; he has promised to build his Church.
A church family helps us stay focused on doing what is right.
None of us are immune to temptation. Given the right situation, you and I are capable of any sin. God knows this, so he has assigned us as individuals the responsibility of keeping each other on track. The Bible says, "Encourage one another daily ... so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness" (Hebrews 3:13, NIV).
We are called and commanded to be involved in each other's lives. If you know someone who is wavering spiritually right now, it is your responsibility to go after them and bring them back into the fellowship. James tells us, "If you know people who have wandered off from God's truth, don't write them off. Go after them. Get them back" (James 5:19, Msg).
Satan loves detached believers -- unplugged from the life of the Body, isolated from God's family and unaccountable to spiritual leaders -- because he knows they are defenseless and powerless against his tactics.
The Christian life is more than just commitment to Christ; it includes a commitment to other Christians. The Christians in Macedonia understood this. Paul said, "First they gave themselves to the Lord; and then, by God's will, they gave themselves to us as well" (2 Corinthians 8:5, TEV).
We must remind those who fill our buildings each Sunday that joining the membership of a local church is the natural next step once they become a child of God. You become a Christian by committing yourself to Christ, but you become a church member by committing yourself to a specific group of believers. The first decision brings salvation; the second brings fellowship.