Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Membership Privileges

"Membership has it's privileges."  So says American Express and such is usually the case.  Being a member carries a sense of belonging and acceptance into the group if nothing else.  In fact, some groups get members by way of the privileges.  AmEx, AAA, country clubs, and timeshares convince us to pay a fee just to receive the privileges that membership provides.  Other groups are composed of people who join up to support a cause and the benefits are just a consequence of that, they are not the reason people join.  Still others are more like fan groups, the group come together to extol the virtues of a particular person or thing.  For these, membership is about shared love.  Membership might lead to a shared cause if the object of adoration champions a particular effort but this is a secondary item; certain group members might take it up while others do not.

Not so long ago in the U.S., church membership carried a certain amount of the first kind of membership.  To be accepted in the social community and the business community, a person needed to be a member of a local church.  In those circumstances, some (many?) joined the church in order to enjoy the privileges.  Sadly, many people today view most, if not all, Christians as having joined for the privileges and those same folks view the church as an exclusive, insider club.  Even sadder is the fact that many of us who follow Jesus and are active in church have contributed to this understanding by our own actions.  I think this has been unintentional but we need to be intentional about fixing it.

Minimally, church is a group with a mutual object of affection.  Jesus has encountered us and offered us acceptance into His family.  We "joined up" because of our love for Jesus.  I really mean something more than fandom here but you see the similarities.  There is nothing wrong with this, as far as it goes, but it is a starting point not an ending point.

Jesus is a man on a mission.  To join His family is to join His mission.  If you are a part of His family, you ought to be part of a local church and that local church should be the people who come together to support the mission.  Among other things that means we ought to echo President Kennedy in asking what we can do for our church (or, better, what can we do to further the mission) rather than what our church does for us.  If you are a follower of Jesus, this is part of the expectations of your life.  Get busy following!

Maybe you're not a follower of Jesus and have not been too impressed by the privileges the church provides.  May I suggest that you may have misunderstood what we're about?  As I said above, we who are inside the church have aided (even caused!) this misunderstanding.  I'd like to encourage you to think about it differently.  Most folks respect the life and teachings of Jesus whether they are impressed by His followers or not.  Jesus is not after respect.  He is about reconciling people to Himself.  It is the greatest cause of which you could benefit and in which you could participate.

Like all great causes, the work is hard and the life will be marked by sacrifice.  The privileges are great but if you "spend in" the work and sacrifice to get the privileges, you're only trying to buy into a group with a currency other than money.  The work and sacrifice are worth it because the relationship and the mission are worth it.  Any other attitude is less than what we're shooting for.  I, at least, need to get busy reflecting that in my attitude and actions.

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