"Membership 101: The Benefits of Belonging"
Luke 14:25-35, Romans 12:4-5, I Corinthians 12:27
Main Idea: The benefits of belonging to a local church canít be found anywhere else.
Introduction: Daniel Grady is the youngest son of Rick and Paula Grady who along with their oldest son Ryan have been a member of First Baptist Church, Jonesboro, for almost 18 years. Daniel is a freshman at Henderson State University and my oldest daughter Jenniferís romantic interest for the last three years. Daniel is the kind of guy you ,as a dad of a daughter, love to have aroundóhe takes care of my daughter, loves the Lord deeply, plays the guitar and appreciates Bob Dylan .
However, my affection for Daniel was only increased when he chose to spend his spring break on a road trip. I recognize this can be a little scary but rather than make his destination the flesh pots of the beaches of the gulf shores of Florida, he chose instead the grease vats of the Krispy Kreme doughnut locations of the mid-south. So beginning in Memphis he and some other faithful pilgrims went as far west as Knoxville north into Kentucky visiting all the Krispy Kremeís along the way before returning to Jonesboro. They sampled the different varieties from maple glazed to lemon filled to Devilís food but continued to extol the virtues of your basic standard glazed. They recorded their experiences in a journal and took pictures from each place.
Why did they do that? Primarily because when you are 18 it just doesnít get any better than that. Yet also what you get at a Krispy Kreme you canít get anywhere else. I was at one time a skeptic that a doughnut is as a doughnut until I tasted an original glazed Krispy Kreme. Please, unless you have tried one you canít understand, you just canít understand, that what you get at a Krispy Kreme you canít get anywhere else.
There arenít that many things in our culture that are distinctly unique that you canít get everywhere. It seems everything gets "franchised" and we assume that one place is no different than the rest. What you get one place you can get anywhere. Yet when it comes to thinking about being a member of a local church, the statement is true that what you get here you canít get anywhere else.
Over the next several weeks both in Sunday School and in our worship services we are going to talk about what it means to be a member of a local church but particularly what it means to be a member of First Baptist Church, Jonesboro. This congregation is privileged to have people who have been members more than 80 years. There was a generation that understood that living out their faith effectively they must be a member of a local church. When Dr. Ken Beadles and his family moved to Jonesboro in the sixties they moved here on Friday and joined this church on Sunday. Membership was once valued and prioritized.
Now a different generation sees being an actual member of a church no longer has the same value that it once had. Many see church as more of a mall where I can get one thing from one place and something else from another. The sense of urgency is just not there to "sign up", believing that to urge membership is elitist or exclusive. Others would say that the church as an institution is no longer viable: bound by its forms rather than living for its functions, confuses its machinery with its mission and is known more for its resistance than its acceptance. If that is your perception then I apologize and take my share of the blame.
However, more people, especially younger people, are looking for something in a church that they canít get anywhere else. They are looking to experience what it is to be a spiritual person, to participate, not observe, in forming their faith. They are anxious to see spiritual truth as well as hear it and most of all they want to be connected to a community of other Christians. Why? Because what they desire in church is something they canít get anywhere else.
For those of you who are unsure abut this whole concept of membership here or anywhere and for those of us who have always just joined without thinking, letís look at what Jesus and Paul had to say that applies to this issue. First, as Jesus began to make his way to Jerusalem for the events of his death and resurrection he began to make a distinction between the crowds of people and the disciples who followed him. Luke records in 14:25 that as great multitudes sought to follow he laid down the radical criterion thatís required to be his disciple. He told them they would need to make a choice about who held their deepest affections (v. 26), to whom they gave their greatest responsibility (v. 27) and to be willing to give up any restrictions to their commitment to him (v. 33). Jesus sought to distinguish devoted disciples from the casual entertainment sought by the crowds. Jesus wasnít shy about declaring that discipleship was expressed by their commitments.
When Paul sought to distinguish those who belonged to a local congregation in his letter to the Romans and the Corinthians he used the term "member." He was not speaking organizationally but organically. He used a word for a limb or body part. He points out that each person who is a believer is organically linked to that local group of Christians but also they are organically linked to the person of Jesus Christ. (Romans 12:4-5, I Cor. 12:27). There was a link, tie or bond that those who are identified as members of those churches had nowhere else! They were recognized as members/disciples both in organization and spiritually identified with the Body of Christ expressed locally in those churches.
So what are the benefits of belonging to a local congregation of believers? What can you get here that you can get no where else? Let me give you six very simple benefits for belonging that apply to those who have been here for decades or those of you contemplating this in recent days. Now let me say that while these are true it is not to say that this church 100% of the time fulfills all of these for 100% of its membership. This is a human organization and isnít perfect. Yet these things are the things we are committed to providing because in al honesty you canít get them anywhere else.
I. The first benefit to belonging to a local church is that by being a member Iím identified as a believer in Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 2:19)
Paul said in Ephesians 2:19, "You are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of Godís holy people. You are members of Godís family." There is a distinction that follows those who are disciples and believers in Jesus Christ. There are people who are not followers of Jesus Christ and there are these who are. Everyone is not a believer or a Christian. The question is how do you know who is and who is not. A personís words and lifestyle will give you some clue but one way that is clear is by their commitment to a local group of Christians called a church.
This is especially true in the Baptist church. We believe that a person canít be a member of the local church until they have personally confessed their faith in Jesus Christ. They are then immersed in water to express publicly and openly that they are identifying themselves as a believer in Jesus Christ. When you are a member here you are saying, "I want everyone to know Iím a follower, a believer in Jesus Christ." The primary way that the world will identify you as a believer in Him is by being a member of a local congregation. Your membership says, "Iím serious about my faith and I am not ashamed to claim Christ as my Lord."
II. A second benefit of belonging is that when I belong to a church Iím provided encouragement as I live for Christ. (Heb. 10:24-26)
The writer of Hebrews 10:24-25 says "Think of ways to encourage one another to outbursts of love and good deeds. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage and warn each other, especially now that the day of his coming back again is drawing near." He identifies the role of a church to be a place that helps you live life daily, not in just getting by but getting as much out of it as possible. The two words translated here as encouragement mean, on the one hand, to sort of prod someone into action and to come alongside of someone whose down. Sometimes we need a hand to pull us up and other times we need an arm around us to help us to keep going.
My question is can you get that anywhere else. Our conviction here at FBC is that when you are wanting to give up that this place says, "Keep going," that when you want to drop out that this place says, "Stay with it," that when you want to let go that this place says, "Hold on." The purpose of this place is that over time you are encouraged to face life stronger than ever before!
III. A third benefit of belonging is that when I belong to a local church I have a place to learn about my uniqueness in Christ. (I Cor. 12:4-7)
In I Corinthians 12:4-7 Paul describes the uniqueness of every Christian by saying that God has given each of us different gifts. Then he says in 12:7, "A spiritual gift is given to each of us as a means of helping the entire church." As amazing as it may sound, God has given to each believer who is a member of this congregation a gift that is necessary for helping the entire church. If there is anything that is the great equalizer of people it is that the gifts of God spiritually and more important than a degree, salary or social standing. It is here in this place where you get the chance to be uniquely you in Godís kingdom.
Does that happen overnight? No, sometimes it takes time. Kathy Holler, our minister leading our Celebrate recovery program shared this with me form a meeting this week with the CR team. She writes, "Last night at our support team meeting we were just talking about how we thought CR was going on the big scale. A few comments were made - then Katherine Eades just said, ĎEven if we don't see how we are helping people in the community yet - I have for the first time since I came to this church found a place where I am at home - I feel connected to a group of people through this ministry and I have never felt that before - ever in my life."
Now, where else can that happen? Everywhere else you are evaluated by your grades, income, awards, friends or skills, but here it matters what God has chosen to give you. Here you get the chance to learn how to use what youíve been given! I say to you there is no place else that is going to give you that chance other than a congregation of believers.
IV. A fourth benefit of belonging is that because I belong to a local congregation Iím offered spiritual protection from those who oppose Christ. (Heb. 13:17).
Hebrews 17:17 says that the role of spiritual leadership is clear. He says, "Their work is to watch over your souls and they are accountable to God." Now this may sound strange or odd to us but "soul watching" is part of why we are here. No one else is going to care as the leadership of a church does about your soul, about that spiritual dimension of your life. This tells us that when leadership fails to care about your soul and its health that we are answerable to God for that failure.
The leadership that is identified with this place, whether vocational or volunteer is here to provide a spiritual shield in your defense from those who oppose Christ. This means that there is a sense of someone else is watching out for me as the world and Satan are against me. There is no other place whose primary task it is to care about your soul.
IV. A fifth benefit of belonging is that when I belong to a local congregation Iím with others who will nurture me to be like Christ. (Eph. 4:16)
Paul said, "As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts growÖ." That marvelous statement indicates that when each member of the body of Christ does what they are gifted to do then the whole body or church achieves effectiveness and spiritual health. Let me illustrate it this way: I go as often as I can to two Sunday School classes each Sunday. I go to the Adult 7 (our oldest adults) and the Bed Baby room. In the Bed Baby room I see the brand new babies of our church family brought in and wrapped up in the arms and love of men and women in that room. There they care about whether you are wet or dry, fed or fussy, content or crying. They do a whole lot of teaching by rocking, holding, feeding, patting and loving. In the Adult 7 room I see the faces of saintsómen and womenówho fought to keep this church viable, our communities strong and our nation free. There they care about who may have cancer, a broken hip, who is becoming more forgetful or fearful because one who was there is no longer.
Now I ask you one simple question: Where else will someone care that you make it through all of life? Who will nurture your faith as well as your life? What you get here you get nowhere else.
VI. A final benefit of belonging to a local congregation is that by belonging Iím challenged to be accountable to grow in Christ. (Col. 3:16)
Paul said, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom." That word "admonish" is a little outdated for us but it means more than just "pretty please"; it is more like "get it together!" We all need to be encouraged, protected and nurtured but we also need others to be "in our face" spiritually to help us make it.
For that reason we are saying by setting aside these next six weeks for Membership 101 that it is not o.k. for you to be a member of First Baptist Church, Jonesboro, and not have a clue why we are who we are. We are saying that if you want to join here, here is the standard and where you are accountable. We are taking seriously the words of Jesus that being a disciple is more than being part of the crowd; itís becoming identified with those who are committed to following him. Believe me, thatís something you will not get anywhere else.
Conclusion: When you belong somewhere you find acceptance, relationships, worth and benefit. Belonging to a local church identifies believers, provides encouragement, a place to learn, offers protection, nurtures you through life and creates accountability for growth. Thatís why we are here and thatís why we are making a commitment that those are the things you canít get anywhere else!
Ann Lamott tells the story heard from her pastor of when they were about seven their best friend became lost one dayÖ.
Sunday, March 25, 2001
Dr. Bruce Tippit, Pastor
First Baptist Church