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.