On the one hand, the gospel seems to mandate a rather inclusive attitude about belonging to the church. Jesus' circle was drawn with the wideness of God's mercy, encompassing many people who the offical religious leaders of his day rejected. On the other hand, what sort of group is it that expects and asks nothing of its members? That doesn't comport with the gospel either. Jesus talked about laying down one's life to follow him.
As I was thinking about all this, I uncovered a piece of paper while doing some archeological research in an old basement file cabinet. It is a list of the steps down the aisle that were once part of my home church's membership process, way back in the day when I first got married and Debra and I joined the church together. The document is entitled "Joining (CHURCH NAME HERE): Steps toward Assimilation."
It includes a checklist with the following items:
- Attend membership inquiry class (three sessions)
- Attend council meeting (the governing board of the church)
- Attend committee meeting
- Attend fellowship event
- Meet with the pastor
- Meet with district council member
It also provides some well-written rationale for these requirements (to be introduced to a broader segment of the church than you could come to know during worship services alone; to find ways to use your unique abilities within our congregation), and encourages potential members to see the "requirements for membership not as hurdles to be jumped, but as steps toward fuller participation in the life of the church."
I wonder what the membership process is like these days at my home church.
Or at yours.
And I wonder whether the requirements -- if there are any -- have more to do with the perpetuation and health of the institution, or with the steps individuals and groups need to take to become more Christlike. And whether those two things should seem like such radically different categories.
"I wouldn't belong to any club that would have me as a member" -- Groucho Marx