Why Become a Church Member?

Church steeple with clouds

Church steeple with clouds (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Occasionally, I will receive a Facebook or email question that I believe would be helpful to answer in a public forum. Such is the case with a question sent to me this week. The question came from a young lady who is visiting our church, enjoying the church, and making great connections with people in her small group. As a matter of fact in many ways they seem like a natural fit for this ministry. However her husband is reluctant to “join”. They both come from a Catholic background and joining a protestant church could raise some unneeded problems in their family. Besides – what’s wrong with just attending a church, why does one have to join?

I think that is an excellent question. To my knowledge there is nothing explicit in scripture that commands a church to even have a membership roll. Some denominations like the Church of God (Anderson, IN) avoid membership rolls all together. So why do I stand and invite people at the end of every service, not only to trust Christ and obey His scriptures, but also to join with our family of faith? Here are my reasons:

1. Analogies Employed by Biblical Writers – There are a variety of analogies employed by biblical writers related to the visible church. We are called a body, a family, a flock, these are all measurable organisms. A shepherd knows his sheep, a person knows his or her body, and we are quite certain of the people that constitute our family. For this reason I think it’s very helpful to know who exactly is a member of our church.

2. The Principle of Accountability – We are given a multitude of “one another” commands in the scriptures. We are told to, “spur one another on to love and good deeds”. We are told to restore the fallen brother. We are told not to even eat with a brother who is sexually immoral or covetous. In the most vile of cases we are even told to remove those who persist in sin from our congregation. These and dozens of other scriptures can only be obeyed when we know WHO constitutes our church family.

3. Someone counted – We must recognize that the biblical writers were very careful to record the numbers of people who constituted key events and gatherings. For example we know there were 12 Apostles of our Lord, 120 disciples in the Jerusalem church in Acts chapter one, 3000 were added on the day of Pentecost. I mention these examples simply to point out that the early church was very careful to know who constituted the local church. The historical precedent for this was the nation of Israel who carefully recorded the names and numbers of various tribes and families. Even a book of the bible was called, “Numbers”. Not because numbers are all that important, but because the souls they represent are very important.

4. Public Identification – There is something about ceremonially uniting with a community of people who are committed to the Gospel. When someone becomes a citizen of our country they must stand and publicly take an oath of citizenship, the same is true when one holds public office. Suppose your spouse refused to publicly commit to you in an official marriage ceremony, but rather wanted to enjoy the benefits of your relationship without the commitment. Eventually, you would have to question whether or not their love was genuine. Publicly, uniting with a church family is a way of voicing your commitment to live, love, serve, with a group of people who are united by their common faith in Jesus Christ.

5. Identifying and Equipping Leaders – We believe that God has invested spiritual gifts in every christian for the sake of serving the church and advancing the Gospel. It should be the goal of every believer to identify his or her particular gift mix and to maximize their potential usefulness in the Kingdom. Membership rolls helps us to track spiritual maturity and progress of a person in that endeavor when they make the commitment of church membership. It is nearly impossible to manage that which we cannot measure – we cannot properly lead the church if we do not know the difference between a member and an attender.

6. Heaven has a Roll – According to Revelation 21 there will be a book opened in heaven that carefully records all of those who had faith in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is called, “The Lamb’s Book of Life”. Let me carefully state that whether or not your name is on a church roll is far less important than if your name is in the Lamb’s Book of Life.

In summery, Josh Harris said it well in his book, “Stop Dating the Church” when he wrote:

Putting in their hour or two on the weekend, many Christians take the rest of the week off, neglecting the church and her needs. It’s not a serious relationship. Some shop around, looking for a church that suits their lifestyle. It’s dating, with no assurances, no obligations. Christians are called to stop playing the field and commit, just as Christ is committed to us, His bride. God has designed us to build our lives around a local church; we cannot be indifferent or uninvolved. Rather, we must be in love with and committed to God’s plan and purpose through the church. Are you dating the church, or are you committed?

Vacation for Motivation

As our family prepares to enjoy a few days of vacation I have been reflecting on the what I hope to accomplish during the break. You may be thinking, “Accomplish? Isn’t the point that we don’t accomplish anything?” Not exactly – vacations should have a goal, how else will we evaluate whether they have accomplished their purpose or not? As I look back over the years I am convinced that the best vacations are those which serve to motivate and propel us into greater service for our Lord. Think about it, on vacation we do the things that would be considered lazy, sluggish to the point of sin any other week out of the year. We lay around, eat, play – that’s about it. But remember, even our Lord called his disciples to “come apart and rest a while” (Mark 6:31). So these seasons, from our Lord’s perspective – are necessary.

Vance Havner said of this command of Jesus, “f we don’t ‘come apart’ we will certainly come apart”.

So the idea is that if we set aside a few days for rest, relaxation and reflection – we will ultimately be more productive than if we did not. So consider this truth as you plan your vacation. The goal is to return at full capacity, focused, motivated and ready to tackle the 51 other weeks with renewed passion.

Here are a few ideas to consider as you plan a summer getaway:

  1. Plan to complete a book – Typically, I will draw from my vacation read throughout the year or even years to come.
  2. Plan to sleep late – Most highly engaged Christians find it necessary to rise early. For this reason we are often operating at a deficit. Make up for it during your time away.
  3. Distance yourself from email, cell phone, etc. I believe the enemy hates the fact that you will be recharged and motivated as a result of a vacation, so he will do anything he can to get your mind engaged in work and stress from home.
  4. Consider looking ahead to see if there is a gym in the area where you can get a week long membership. Good physical exercise can release endorphins that serve to stimulate your mentally and physically.
  5. Make the trip there and back enjoyable – often hours in the car with kids can add to our stress significantly. Plan some games, movies, music that will keep everyone occupied or having and enjoyable conversation.
  6. Pack well – plan to dress comfortably for every part of your trip.
  7. Enjoy times of prayer at your destination – Have you ever considered that some of the greatest moments in scripture happened on a beach or in the mountains. I think there is something about those atmospheres that can expand our soul to consider the greatness and nearness of God. Don’t miss these opportunities for time with the Lord. Do not vacation from God, vacation for God.

7 Ways to Get the Most Out of a Sermon

Preachers spend hours getting ready for Sunday. Here are a few things you can do to prepare as well:

  1. Read ahead – Typically I preaching through books of the Bible. So there is little doubt as to where I will be preaching on the next Sunday. Acquaint yourself with the text. It is a good idea to read the entire book through a few times before we begin to preach through it. You will recognize the flow of thought, logic, gospel emphasis and metaphors that run through the entire text. Other preachers will preach thematically or topically. Most have no problem with you asking where they are going so that you can better prepare.
  2. Sleep well – Make sure you are well rested and alert on Sunday morning. Get a good nights sleep on Saturday night. Have a cup of coffee when you get to church. Make every effort to insure that your mind is ready to deal with a 2000 year old text.
  3. Don’t take notes – One of the things that the puritans were known for was forbidding their congregation from note taking. They believed that because the word of God was living and active that God was doing a work as the text was being preached. Try it, sit down the paper and pen, then listen with your mind and your heart. Keep in mind this sermon will be available on the podcast in a couple of days you can take notes then.
  4. Affirm – I have to confess, I like a good “Amen” I don’t know a preacher who doesn’t. It’s a biblical practice of affirming truth. Head nods are good, but amens are better. Try it.
  5. Spiritually Prepare – Spend some time in bible reading, confession, singing prior to hearing the sermon. Preach the Gospel to yourself before your Pastor does. It plows the heart for the seed of the Word.
  6. Reteach – Get in the habit of discussing the truth with your spouse, children, small group, even lost friends. Every truth is Gospel truth and can lead them closer to Christ. It’s also a good idea to communicate the truths you capture on social media. I have no problem with people tweeting during the service so long as they tweet truth.
  7. Spit out the bones – Remember, only the text in infallible – the sermon is not. Chew the meat, spit out the bones. Check everything by scripture. There are times when we  as preachers will make comments off the cuff that we would LOVE to take back. There are illustrations and jokes that are unprofitable. If you want to get the most out of a sermon don’t stumble over the bones.

God Works in Mysterious Ways

Most of the time we never know the mysterious ways God is causing all things to work together for good (Rom. 8:28). Occasionally, God will lift the veil and give us a glimpse in order to remind us that He is always up to something. Today my small group leader, Tyler Carter arranged for our class to help provide a Christmas party for a local homeless shelter. It was a joy and a privilege to practically show the Gospel to the children of those who partake in the shelter’s services.

One 12-year-old young man at our table was named, Nigei. He was very bright and articulate. He had plans to practice dentistry when he grows up. I committed to be his first patient if he opens a practice in our area. We talked about the true meaning of Christmas, the birth of Jesus and the events that surrounded the nativity. From there we talked about the death of Christ and the full meaning of the Gospel. It was a story he was quite familiar with from the ministry at the mission and the church his family had been attending.

Recounting these things and encouraging Nigie in the Gospel seemed like a worthy investment in and of themselves. But it wasn’t long until a lady from channel 31 News tapped Nigie on the shoulder and asked him if she could interview him for the evening news. He agreed as she proceeded to set up the camera.

Her first question was a simple, “Are you having fun?” Nigie smiled and replied, “yes”. Her follow-up opened an incredible door, “What is this all about?”, to which Nigie boldly replied, “This is about God sending Jesus to be born and die on the cross for our sins!”

The gravity of what he had just done did not register with Nigie. This 12-year-old boy in a homeless shelter was able to declare the Gospel of the Kingdom of Christ to the entire Tennessee Valley. I could hardly choke back the tears of joy. This young man preached in a moment to more people than will gather at my church on Sunday morning.

It was as if God was allowing me to see that no conversation is insignificant. No person is unimportant. And you never know what part you will play in the grand narrative of His story unfolding all around us.

Keep the Gospel in front of people, you never know when they will be catapulted into the spotlight.

Knowledge, Conviction, Affection

There is a clear progression in the way a person’s world view develops which, if rightly understood, can serve greatly in their development. This is how the progression works.

  1. Knowledge – A person is presented with a truth claim. It may or may not be accurate, but the person accepts it as accurate and begins to function as if it is accurate.
  2. Conviction – Over time as the person lives his or her life with that certain truth claim as a basic foundation, the truth claim becomes a conviction. I use the word conviction to mean something a person feels inwardly compelled to believe or act upon.
  3. Affection – As a person operates with a certain truth claim over the long haul, they begin to associate themselves with such a claim, thus developing affections for the truth claim.

As a Christian this was my experience with the Gospel (The redemptive plan and person of Jesus Christ) and any number of biblical teachings. At first it was knowledge that previously I had not been exposed to, or did not fully comprehend. Over time it became a conviction as I believed it deeply to be true. Ultimately, it became a sincere affection. So now, the Gospel is something I choose to believe, I am convicted it true and I love and exult in it’s reality.

Understanding this progression will help you to track yourself on a very clear spiritual progression. When you consider the great truths of the bible, can you discern whether you hold them as knowledge, convictions or affections?
This will also help you as you discern how far your children have gone in their understanding of truth. Do they believe? Are they convicted inwardly? Do they love the truth?
As you look at others who hold to a faulty truth claim, it helps to recognize how far they have progressed in such a claim. Do they see it as knowledge (flawed as it may be)? Do they hold it as conviction? Or do they rejoice in it as an affection? Knowing where they fall in these categories will reveal how much work you may have to do to deliver them and reorient their understanding.

A Gospel Expression of Forgiveness

Learning how to express forgiveness to others begins with the ability to understand the forgiveness we have experienced. The chart below details the forgiveness that one who is in Christ understands.

God saturated forgiveness is then expressed to those who sin against us with the same paradigm.

Ask yourself if you have truly passed on the same forgiveness that God has shown to you. If not, take some time to pursue peace with those who have sinned against you, thus living the Gospel. The sermon associated with this content will be available later this week on the Maximum Life Podcast. 

How Can a Dad Lead His Family at Christmas?

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I am of the firm conviction that the father (when present) is the Pastor/Teacher/Shepherd of the home. One of the things that we Pastors must do is leverage opportunities to teach our people and further the cause of the Gospel. Holidays are a great opportunities to capture that momentum. With Christmas approaching here are a few ideas for Dads consider.


  • Lead in making memories – Consider what your family will be a part of that they will not soon forget. Include a few traditions as well as a few new experiences. We always attend our Church’s Christmas Eve service and eat Chinese afterwards with friends from Church. We do the walk or drive through at our local Botanical garden’s galaxy of lights.
  • Recognize God’s Providential Hand and roll with it – Last year our electricity went out a couple of nights before Christmas. We lit every candle in the house and read the Christmas story together. Last week our oldest daughter said, “I hope the electricity goes out again this year”. It was one of those moments you can’t easily recreate – but you have to be ready when they arrive. Don’t get crazy when things don’t go according to plan, recognize God may have other plans.
  • Remember to give – Dad you take the lead in making sure your family does not forget the less fortunate this season. We always participate in the Samaritan’s Purse Shoebox gifts through our Church. We give at the Salvation Army and St. Jude drives. We also try to give generously to missions through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering at Capshaw. Remember that some people need more than money, they need friendship, love, time. Consider people who might need to be invited to join you for your celebrations.
  • Budget well – Christmas is a time when we many tend to go into debt. And it will take months to dig out. Dad, take the lead and make sure you family is prepared for an enjoyable Christmas. Draw lines when necessary but make it fun.
  • Help Mom – Keep in mind that our wives are carrying a heavy load of stress this season. Help to keep the home looking nice, help with the kids. Use paper plates and cut down on the washing during this season.
  • Connect with extended family – Make every effort to reconnect with extended family during this season. Call your siblings, cousins, grandparents often.
  • Keep the focus on Christ – Remember that scripture never tells us to remember the birth of Christ, but we are commanded to regularly remember His atoning death. Dad, this is your responsibility in the home as it is mine in the church. You initiate the conversation about the person and work of Jesus Christ throughout the year but especially this season.


These are a few ideas. Perhaps you can add a few as well. Feel free to leave them as comments!

The Day of My Salvation

I was saved 2000 years ago, for that is when my sin debt was paid by Messiah.  

Messiah came at a time when sin and Satan held dominion over this planet in a most powerful way. The nation of people where Godliness should have abounded was lying helpless in the clutches of a dark ruler to the point that they did not recognize their own Messiah when he walked among them. Not only were they ignorant of Messiah’s presence, they rejected that which was good as if it was evil. Messiah came unto His own and His own received Him not. Their rejection was not passive, but quite aggressive in that the greatest leaders among them initiated Messiah’s death.

A simple death was not sufficient. With the help of the Romans they lifted Messiah high into the air as one cursed by God. There Messiah hung between Heaven and Earth as if He were not fit for either. Rusty nails pierced His flesh and drove shards of skin into the wooden cross beams. Blood flowed. A vine of long thorns was twisted into the form of a crown and fixed upon his head. The sharp points pierced skin revealing a glimpse of skull. Blood flowed. Nails served as anchor driven within His feet allowing enough flexibility of His legs for Him to lift Himself up almost involuntarily to grasp a breath that He may utter a word. Blood flowed.

One can only imagine the pain of the cross. The body endured pain beyond one’s imagination, the mind was pressed to its breaking point, the emotions were wrenched. But for Messiah King one more blow was delivered. Unseen by the naked eye somehow the Father laid my sin upon the Son. The pain of the cross seemed to pail in comparison to the pain of Holiness being pierced through by sin. The fangs of sin filled with the venom of death were buried into the soul of Messiah just as nails were driven into His body. “My God“, He cried, “My God, Why have you forsaken Me?”.

From eternity past the gaze of the Father had found the Son well pleasing. But now the Holy eyes of God found the Son utterly detestable, for in the Son he saw me. Oh how could my sin stand in the presence of God? It must be judged! All creation calls out for my sin to be judged! And there in Messiah King it was judged. The verdict of guilty was proclaimed in Heaven and the sentence fell as the blood flowed. My Lord cried out, “It is finished”.

The life of the body is in the blood and the blood was gone, the blood was spilled out, and there it laid upon the ground the blood of Creator mingling with creation and creation trembled under its weight. The sky grew dark. Many graves were opened in an immense quake and as if to say “enough” they spewed forth their dead.

The head that had no where to lay in life, found rest in death in the tomb of a rich man who had recognized the King. For three days Messiah’s body lay there cold and dead. It was as if the Father wanted to prove how utterly dead Messiah was. A stone and a seal were set over the tomb by the Roman guard at the request of the Jewish Elders. Such a seal was never broken by man in fear of death. But Angels have no fear of Rome. One of God’s Holy Angels rolled the stone from the place where it was lodged, opening the tomb for all the World to see after three days were complete. Messiah had satisfied wrath and had conquered death. He had risen.

Where is my sin? It died with Messiah, yet it did not rise. Now 2000 years after the fact I look to the cross. I see my sin in Messiah. I look to the tomb and find it empty. I look to my Lord who lives in a state of Eternal Glory. Where is my sin? It was judged on a hill called Golgotha. Oh it died a bloody death in Messiah.

Now life wells up from my inmost being just as the King promised. Death where is your victory? Where is your sting? Death is swallowed up by life. Just as Messiah’s death brought life to many dead bodies that day – I live, yet with the stench of death upon me. Just as those who lived on that day died again, one day I will die. But after a while I too will leave the grave for when the Father looks on me, now, He is well pleased.

The Lamb was Silent

The following short story was adapted from the Gospel accounts of Jesus arrest. I wrote it for use in the intro. to my sermon this Sunday.  

The familiar smell of the Olive press filled the night air mingled with the faint fragrance of something like a magnolia blossom that rose from our body of the Lord still fresh with the nard poured upon him just a day earlier. The pleasant aroma along with the stillness of the Jerusalem night seemed to sing a lullaby to the heavy hearted disciples making it difficult for them to watch and pray.  

The stillness of that night was short lived. The beautiful scents were overtaken by the smolder of torches. The only sound in the Garden had been a prayer cried out by the Lord in groans that words could hardly express. But suddenly there were some 600 men in that grotto, soldiers, priests, Pharisees, Sadducees all led by one man who was very familiar to our Lord, a man from Kerioth named Judas.

Here a mixed multitude stood before the band of disciples, but this multitude was not like the one they were so accustomed to. Large crowds had often pursued Jesus, but never with swords and clubs.  

Jesus stood there in perfect peace. Moments earlier the Earth under Him seemed to quake as He prayed so fervently that bloody sweat fell from His brow. But now He was calm. Like the lamb approach by a Sheppard as so many times before, but this time the Sheppard’s face was void of expression, for this time was different. The same Sheppard that had escorted the lamb to green pastures would now lead the lamb to slaughter and the lamb was silent.