This review will be in an upcoming issue of the Biblical Recorder.
I Am a Church Member: Discovering the Attitude that Makes the Difference
by Thom Rainer (B&H Books, 2013)
It seems there have been few, if any, recent studies that have reached positive conclusions on the overall health of churches. By and large they have painted a bleak outlook on the direction of God’s chosen vessel of the Great Commission. Thom Rainer paints a different picture of what might be in I Am a Church Member.
Working from the obvious premise that overall church health is a byproduct of the health of its members, the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources presents six commitments that church members must make if they are to function as biblically focused church members. These are not simple doctrinal affirmations or even the written statements provided at the end of each chapter. For most they would require a deep and lasting change of heart and mind. They constitute a change in belief and action.
Rainer’s first pledge is: I will be a functioning church member. For Rainer, biblical church members “give abundantly and serve without hesitation.” These two commitments come from the idea that church members have the love of Christ dwelling within them and it guides their life. It is a natural reaction to the knowledge that as members of a church we are part of a body. We are brought together to function as one in Christ, even with our distinct gifts and characteristics.
The second pledge is: I will be a unifying church member. No church can claim vitality without unity. Church members must put to death gossip and other negative talk. These have no benefit for the mission of the believer. These are replaced with forgiveness. Forgiveness breeds unity. Rainer writes, “church unity is torn apart when members refuse to forgive, when any member is too prideful to grant forgiveness.”
The third pledge is: I will not let my church be about my preferences and desires. I often tell folks in my church that God does not really care what they think. He definitely does not care about the preferences of their pastor. Much of the disputes and upheaval in the local church begins with the phrase “I want” or “I think.” These are a poor substitute for “thus says the Lord.” Rainer encourages us to take on the roll of a servant, making our minds and attitude that of Christ’s. In the end, church is not about us, and all about Him.
Rainer’s fourth exhortation is: I will pray for my church leaders. I have worked in churches where I was the only minister. There have been other times when I worked with a team of folks serving together. However, in both situations I have still found plenty of time to be lonely. Serving as God’s under-shepherd requires long hours, precious time away from family, and caring the burdens (often alone) of many of the people in your care. Pastors need prayer. Rainer encourages his readers to pray for pastors and their families, pray for their protection, and pray for their mental and physical health. I do not know how often I have been to the breaking point only to find someone praying for me. Just the knowledge that they have taken my name before our Heavenly Father has reenergized my outlook.
Part of being a biblical church member is leading others to do the same. Rainer considers this with his fifth pledge: I will lead my family to be healthy church members. The family and the church are really inseparable. Therefore, we must pray together, worship together, and fall deeply in live with Christ together. Rainer writes, “as I grow more deeply in love with my church, I will do all I can in God’s power to bring my family with me. We will pray for our church leaders together, we will worship together. And we will serve together.”
In many ways the sixth pledge serves to tie the others together: I will treasure church membership as a gift. So often we treat church membership as something we are entitled to because of our goodness or lineage. However, being a member of the church of the living God is a wonderful and marvelous gift – a gift that demands a response. Rainer writes, “when we receive a gift with true appreciation, we naturally want to respond to the Giver. We, therefore, see service to God as a natural outflow of the joy of our salvation and the consequent joy of our church membership. We consider it a privilege to serve the King, so we look for those opportunities at the church where we serve.”
I have served six Baptist churches in various ministry capacities since I was 17 years old. They each have had different struggles. They have each had struggles common to all churches. After reading I Am a Church Member, I have concluded that the struggles of each congregation were tied up to a commitment problem in one or more of these areas that Rainer lays out before us. If we are to love and treasure the church of the Living God in a similar fashion to Christ – He gave Himself for her – we must all make the commitment: I Am a Church Member.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Micheal Pardue is pastor of First Baptist Icard in Connelly Springs.)