Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Loving-Kindness of Covenant Membership

Despite the risk of pastoral misuse, churches need a model for intentional soul-care.

In 1990 I attended a mega church in Eugene, Oregon. The college pastor and I met up weekly, and one day he asked if I wanted to join the church. “No thanks, George, I’m only going to be here for four years.” Somehow I thought joining a church happened about the same time you picked out a burial plot. George didn’t push back. I spent all of college with no commitment to the church, and no category for covenant church membership.

What is covenant church membership? It’s the idea that commitment in a local church is a two-way street. The believer commits to attend, pray for, uphold the doctrines of, and generally promote the mission of a particular congregation. Meanwhile, the congregation as a whole agrees to teach, pray for, encourage, and generally hold every member accountable to live a Christ-like life. While covenant church membership is implied in a number of passages, it’s also an implicit part of the Bible’s storyline: God ordained a people for himself and as God’s people the church is to live out, together, all the commandments of Christ.

In light of recent events, many have objected to the practice of church discipline, an integral part of covenant membership that many find uncharitable at best and oppressive at worst. When I first came to pastor in Atlanta I found that many members of my church wanted nothing to do with this kind of intensive pastoral oversight. They saw membership as a one-way street or a personal agreement between them and God. They wanted their pastor to keep his nose out of their business.

In spite of the risk (and at times, reality) of pastoral misuse and misstep, I believe covenant membership to be a biblical and incredibly useful model for carrying out pastoral care and encouraging church community. To abandon covenant church membership is to lose an opportunity to shepherd souls. Keep reading

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