“Partners” vs. “Members” of the Church? (Part 1)

(also see: part 2 and part 3)

As we prepare to plant a church in L.A., I’ve wrestled with whether to use “member” or “partner” or some other term to connote the idea of biblical accountability in the local church context under qualified and called leadership.  I’ll blog later on in the week about 6 reasons why Christians should formally commit to a church (call it membership, partnership, or whatever you like).

I recently read a blog post that advocated “partnership” over against “membership.”  I have some issues with the nomenclature (the names used) and with the way it seems that this “partnership” is going to be practiced.  The post said:

Why Partners not Members? Some churches do members classes; we have a Partners Class. There are some really good members classes out there, but there are also a lot of jacked up ideas of what it means to be a member of a church, especially for de-churched or unchurched people. So, we decided to go with “Partners class” to clearly communicate that the church is a partnership of Spirit-led disciples who follow Jesus. The church isn’t a country club bound by exclusive membership; it’s a missional community bound together by the gospel. Everyone is invited to be a partner. It’s about responsible partnership, not exclusive relationships.

Upon completion of the class we will not issue certificates. We will ask that your City Group Leader indicate your participation in the life and mission of your community. Your participation is evidence that you are, indeed, a partner in our mission.

Now I certainly agree that there are a lot of jacked up ideas of what it means to be a “member” of a church.  Maybe member is not the best term because it is easily misunderstood.  I want to be careful to not argue simply for a title, but there is something to the words used.  Is membership exclusive?  Sort of.  Does it convey a country club sort of membership?  Probably to most.  I certainly agree that the church is a “missional community bound together by the gospel.”  I just think that when you talk about community, you talk about members who are in that community vs. people who are not “members” of that community.  If you aren’t a member or partner included in that community than you are excluded.  If you’re not a partner you are excluded from partnership.  That’s not only responsible partnership, it’s “exclusive relationships.”

I’ll write more in another post on thoughts regarding the two terms (member vs. partner).  But for now let me close with a thought on this church’s practice from the second paragraph quoted above.  Now I’m not into certificates either on the completion of a class, but for participation to be evidence that you are a partner on mission, does that mean that you will now be held accountable in love or does that mean you are a partner only as long as you participate on mission?  And when you stop participating, can you quietly leave your partnership at that church?  This paragraph doesn’t answer the question, but there does need to be some sort of accountability to “partners” who give themselves to sin without repentance like Jesus, the leader of the mission, tells us in Matthew 18:15-17 and one of his apostles tells us in 1 Corinthians 5 (and this church may indeed do this).  If that doesn’t necessitate drawing a line as regards to who’s a partner and who’s not, then these passages will be disregarded and Jesus Christ will be disobeyed.  If there is a line drawn in regard to who’s a partner and who’s not, well, then there is some degree of exclusivity.  And that is unavoidable, no matter what you call these people.

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About pjtibayan

I love Jesus Christ and live to share life and share Jesus together with First Southern Baptist Church of Bellflower primarily to Southeast Los Angeles County.
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7 Responses to “Partners” vs. “Members” of the Church? (Part 1)

  1. alberttsao says:

    I like the word/concept of “partnership” more than I do “membership.” I think faithful believers who use either term are attempting to do the right thing, which is promote an active “one anothering” amongst believers. However, I think the word “member” has completely lost its meaning in most contexts.

    I like new words sometimes just for the sake of new words. Membership is almost meaningless right now, much like “church” or “evangelical.” Why do we use it? Most of the time, it’s “just because.” Assuming a post-Christendom world, we assume our audience understands what these old terms mean, but they don’t. Not even close. So, why bother using them at all. New words, especially words that “no one” understands necessitate explanation and explanation is a good thing. We should assume our audience understands nothing to very little.

    As for why I like partnership versus membership, I think “partnering” conveys an active concept and not a passive one. It reminds me of Phil. 1 and “striving together for the gospel.” We’re partnering together for the mission. We’re doing this together. Mission is a communal thing. It’s happening right now. It’s active. It’s something that all believers should desire. (I think there are deeper issues why they don’t, but that’s another story another time.)

    I don’t think any faithful church leader desire their congregants to be merely spectators at a “show” on Sunday mornings with membership simply being the ticket in. But unfortunately sometimes, our systems/words promote such thinking and activity.

    If it’s not explicitly mandated by scripture, let’s just scrap these old, antiquated words/ideas that don’t work and are ineffective.

  2. alberttsao says:

    In addition, when thinking along missional lines, the goal of church is no longer simply gathering individuals to form a local congregation of believers. It’s not simply to gather folks so that they now fall into “biblical accountability in the local church context under qualified and called leadership,” The “sending out” process is an active one, continually moving and being promoted. We’re always “gathering” and always “sending.” It never ends. Somehow, the word/concept used also needs to convey these ideas. Whether the one “gathered” is an older believer or a new believer, the idea impressed upon the individual should always be that the task at hand is not complete.

    What word/concept of membership would convey this?

    That’s why I like the word missionary so much and the idea that as church leaders, we’re always training and releasing/sending missionaries. Missional partner. Missional member. I don’t know. Something like that.

  3. pjtibayan says:

    Albert,

    Thanks for your thoughts. I do agree that Christians should be on mission. The mission is to exalt God, seek and save the lost, and nurture and strengthen them to do the same (exaltation, evangelism, and edification). That’s all in the mission. And you’re right, mission is inseparable from community.

    I’ll blog on the use of member vs. partner today. I do think it is misunderstood by the world, but, well you’ll see in my next post.

  4. jdodson says:

    Thanks for your thoughtful post and interaction with my post, PJ. A few follow up thoughts:

    1. Word choice is not prescribed by Scripture, though church discipline and accountability are.
    2. Our missional communities include partners and non-partners, believers and non-believers, so the conclusion you made does not fit with the constitution of a truly missional community. For us, you can be in the community, on mission, and even be being discipled and not be a partner. Partnership reflects a double conversion—conversion to Christ and conversion to the church.
    3. By having City Group leaders sign off on partner participation, we actually increase not decrease pastoral attention and church accountability. It avoids the complete the class, arrive at church mentality while also leading to better shepherding.

  5. pjtibayan says:

    Jonathan,

    I certainly agree that word choice is not prescribed. I also see how having the City group leaders sign off can increase pastoral attention and accountability through the city groups. I’m not quite sure what to think about your 2nd follow up thought. Non-believers can also be on mission? I think that they can’t be on your mission, which according to your church website is to “redemptively engage peoples and cultures.” I’m not sure how unbelievers can do that in any biblically redemptive way without being redeemed themselves. I’m sort of new to missional thinking and I’ve come from a conservative reformed baptistic mindset, so please be patient with me. I don’t have a category for non-believers redemptively engaging peoples and cultures along with the people of God. Am I missing something big? If so, help create that category for me to understand please.

  6. Hey PJ

    You are right to point out that they can’t “redemptively engage” in the gospel sense, but they can participate redemptively in a social sense. They serve the homeless with us as a part of our community, but not ultimately because they have been made new creatures in Christ.

  7. Equipping the Church for an Eternal Harvest says:

    Excuse me…how can non-believers be new creatures in Christ if they are not redeemed? They may be social workers displaying good works but I think that’s all.

    Sorry, I was following the flow of several posts by PJ (very good posts on being formally committed to a church) and came to this page…

    By the way, PJ, is there part 3? Thanks for your posts on D A Carson. Been thoroughly blessed.

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