Membership To Discipleship

Talk about a conversation that is resonating everywhere we go.

When we bring up this subject, Christ-followers who have been around for a while express great relief that they have permission to acknowledge the shifts occurring around church membership. Their energy rises when they discover the openness and opportunity to consider other metaphors for describing one’s relationship with God’s church.

It’s not that the words “church member” are bad or unhealthy. It’s just that this phrase has been co-opted by organizations. When we use the word “member” to describes one’s relationship with a group of people at this point in history, most of us start thinking in organizational terms…..”the rights and privileges of membership.” For most people age 50 or below, this kind of metaphor and language to describe one’s relationship with God’s Church immediately deflates spiritual momentum. Rather than take up more space deconstructing the phrase “church member” here, simply ask people to react when you mention this phrase.

My evolution regarding church membership has progressed to a point…I try to never use those words, but instead have moved to the word “disciple” to describe Christ-followers. I’m enjoying this shift; finding it far more life-giving. On the other hand, the word “disciple” does not describe the relationship of an individual disciple to a local body of Christ.

I found great help to further my understanding in our Pinnacle Team Meeting this week. Doug Cushing, one of our Associates, was up for his turn in the coaching part of our meeting. Doug is starting a new congregation in Wilmington, NC (The Bridge Presbyterian Church), and they are ready to launch this week. Their leadership team is steering away from the idea of having “charter members,” seeing this as an organizational metaphor which has accumulated too much baggage. Now they are searching for a new metaphor for those who want to throw their lives in with this bunch of Christ-followers. We brainstormed what we are trying to describe….

a covenant relationship with a local body of Christ
a commitment to support, nurture, and hold each other accountable as they pursue Christian discipleship
a way to indicate to self and the church that one is “all in” with this bunch

Out of this conversation rose metaphors like: Covenant Partners, Missional Partners, Partners. These seemed to capture the essence of the relationship of individual disciples to the larger local body of Christ. I especially liked that these are more movement and action- oriented than the passive metaphor of church member.

This conversation needs to continue. This is a work in progress. This dialogue gives life, increases energy, and explores the Spirit’s leading. Please join us in the dialogue, sharing your insights. I’m very curious what useful and life-giving metaphors are rising, and shall rise up for God’s Church as the evolving story unfolds.

Mark Tidsworth, President, PLA