We are automatically members of the Body of Messiah by the work of God. We are joined to God the Father and God the Son by the Holy Spirit. We are also members of one another. All of the sons and daughters of God are members of the same universal community that belongs to the Lord.
But, in our situation, we need that reality formalized by membership. Just as faith alone will save you, baptism is a kind of public declaration of your faith and identification with Messiah; so membership in the Body of Messiah is essential, but we need public declaration of membership in Congregation Shema Yisrael.
We are not in the same situation as were first-century congregations. Then there was one community in a city. Everyone believed the same things. The leadership was unified. Now the Body of Messiah has been divided in fragments with different beliefs. We need to know who belongs to us and if they agree with us, are committed to us, are part of us, and are submitted to us.
Membership in our congregation is like a covenant. There are many examples of individuals and groups making agreements with each other to achieve various purposes. We are a covenant community who has come together around the Holy Scriptures and the salvation and lordship of Messiah Yeshua working together to fulfill God’s will. It is permissible to ask people to formally enter into our covenant.
We want people to make formal commitments to become part of our covenant community. There is a difference between attenders and members. It’s like the difference between couples who just “live together” and those who get married. Those who get married are committed to each other and a common agenda, and publicly formalize that commitment. They make a covenant with each other.
Membership defines who can be counted on. Pastor Germando Jordan noted: Every team has a roster. Every school has an enrollment. Every business has a payroll. Every army has an enlistment. Even our country takes a census and requires voter registration. Membership identifies our synagogue family. People who come to Shema should know what we believe and why we believe it. They should share our goals. Then they should openly declare their allegiance to the congregation so we know they can be counted on. This is done through membership.
Membership helps with accountability. The leaders of our congregation need to know who are committed to our leadership. We know who we are responsible for and who have submitted themselves to our care. “Obey your leaders and submit to them; for they keep watch over your souls, as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy, and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you” (Hebrews 13:17). Membership helps with your accountability to your leaders and the accountability of your leaders to God.
The New Testament places a major emphasis on the need for the Lord’s children to be accountable to each other and to submit to one another. Be subject to one another in the fear of Messiah (Ephesians 5:21). 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, sing to each other, submit to each other, and be devoted to each other. All of these commands are what membership in a local body of believers is all about. These are the responsibilities of membership. You can’t be accountable when you’re not committed to any specific congregation.
It’s good that you come because you like or respect me or Rabbi Glenn. It’s good that you come because you like the teaching because it is sound. But those reasons are not enough! There may be times when you don’t like me or Rabbi Glenn. You also need to come because God is calling you to be here and asking you to be part of our community and accountable to our leadership as God’s authority figures in your life.
Membership creates commitment that is an antidote to our uncommitted society. We live in an age where very few want to be committed to anything – a job, a marriage, our country, a congregation. This attitude has produced a kind of “consumer religion.” People go from congregation to congregation shopping for what suits their tastes. If one group feels a little old or stale, it’s time to move on to the next. Membership combats that lack of commitment.
Membership creates commitment that creates interest. It is like ownership of a home. You take more of an interest when you have a commitment to it.
Commitment builds character. Being an attender and not a member requires no commitment. When things are going well, it is easy to be an attender who comes and shares in the blessings. But when things are going badly, it is also easy to leave. Membership helps with commitment.
Membership creates commitment that produces endurance. If I say or do something non-members don’t like, there is no commitment to stay. It’s easy for those who are not members to stand on the sidelines, point fingers and throw rocks, and say things like “He’s not my pastor/rabbi. I am not accountable to him. I don’t have to agree with him or listen to him.” If you are a member, you stay and work through the problems – which builds character. You stick it out. You endure. You see it through.
Membership helps with congregational discipline. Congregations are communities. They are extended families. They need to order themselves. When someone is out of order, he or she needs to be corrected. When correction is needed, members are more committed to go through the disciplinary process. Those who are not members leave us in a position that makes it difficult to bring correction.
Membership protects us. We are a distinct community with our own history, vision, bylaws, finances, and goals. Let’s say we had our annual business meeting, and 400 members from a church turned up and voted to disband us and give our assets to their church.
Membership fulfills our legal requirements. Our bylaws specify that we need members.
Benefits of membership to you. Members have a higher priority in our time and resources than non-members. We listen to members more than non-members when they offer advice. Those who are not members have little or no voice in the decision making. It’s like a visitor coming into your home and telling you how you should run it.
For all of these reasons, the elders feel strongly about the need for those who are regularly coming to this congregation but have not become members to consider us to be their congregation and become members.
Clarification: Not everyone is called to be a member of Congregation Shema Yisrael. There are those who are part of a church but like to visit us and help out, and that’s fine. We welcome them! This appeal to become a member at Shema is directed toward those who come to Shema and consider us to be their congregation but have not become members.