Church – what does it mean to belong?

Church – what does it mean to belong?
There are four images in the Bible of what church should be like: a loving family, a fruitful farm, a strong fortress and an interconnected body[1].
Why meeting together is crucial for health as a community and as individuals
These metaphors explain why meeting together should be a priority:
It brings us together as children before our loving heavenly Father to say thank you for his kindness through worship and prayer and to eagerly hear his voice as his Word, the Bible is taught.
It brings us together as individual plants to be fed nutrients and refreshingly watered by The Farmer, who will perhaps pull out weeds that have taken root or ripen fruit that’s ready.  It is the ‘missional’ opportunity for people to experience and join God’s people.
It brings us together as bricks in one building before our Architect so he can strengthen, mend the inevitable cracks that form in the truth-buttresses and truth-pillars of our lives; to restore the weathering that has occurred in our understanding of God; and perhaps correct a design fault.  It brings us to Jesus the cornerstone so we can re-align our lives to him where we have drifted.
It brings us together as many members of one complete body before our Head so to be filled freshly with his Spirit to move from being the gathered body of Christ out into our ordinary lives as his scattered body, using God’s gifts to serve others.
We ‘must nor neglect meeting together’ but ‘stir one another towards love’ and ‘encourage one another’ (Hebrews 11:24-25).    Being at church should be a priority.  The Bible is central to this as the way God speaks and works as our Father, Farmer, Architect and Head.  The Bible shapes all we are and do: our sung worship; teaching; praying; sharing of life; and openness both to God’s Spirit and one another.  We do this for the adults in ways appropriate for them and for the children and young people in ways appropriate for them.  We do this both for those who are mature Christians and for those who are not yet Christians.
How does God lead his church?
Jesus leads his church. 
All these metaphors show God and Jesus as the ultimate leader of his church – the Father of the family, the Farmer of the farm, the Architect and Cornerstone of the fortress, the Head of the body.  In 1 Peter 5:4[2] Jesus is described as the ‘chief shepherd’.  Jesus leads his church – he is the chief shepherd, the senior pastor, the CEO or whatever other metaphor we would choose to use!
Jesus leads his church through everyone generally.
For the church to flourish it needs all its children listening to their Father, all its crops responding to their Farmer, all its buttresses and pillars molded by the Architect and aligned to the Cornerstone, and all its body-parts obeying their Head.  Therefore as a church we believe and seek to practice that all have, in different ways and degrees, a responsibility to help build his church.  Equally major aspects of our life as a church we seek to discern together as a church, usually through what we call ‘church meetings’ – regular gatherings of the church membership to pray and discuss and confirm.
Jesus leads his church through everyone generally under the care and authority of some specifically.
God also gives the church ‘under-shepherds’[3] to have particular responsibilities in leading the church.  In the same passage that speaks of Jesus as the Chief Shepherd  Peter says ‘To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder…be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them…’  (1Peter 5:1-4)  In different ways[4] these leaders lead and serve the church.
Belonging to God’s church – What is ‘baptism’?
Jesus has a universal church that stretches across all time and it includes everyone who has, ever did or ever will believe in him.  When someone first becomes persuaded to trust and obey Jesus the Bible encourages them to be ‘baptised’.  ‘Baptise’ literally means to immerse or cover in water.  It is a dramatic, symbolic way of showing your new life in Jesus and that you are now united with him and therefore united with all other Christians ever.  Baptism is something people generally only do once and shows both their faith in Jesus publicly and, by default their belonging to Jesus’ worldwide universal church.
Belonging to God’s church – What is ‘church membership’?
There are many ‘levels’ of belonging to a local church.  The church is a place that all find acceptance and a place to contribute.   Alongside that general sense of belonging, many churches, including ours, have something we formally call ‘membership’.  Where baptism is entering Jesus’ universal church as you believe in him, membership is a way of expressing your belonging to one local church and uniting specifically to the others who make up that local church.  This is committing in a serious way to a specific local church.  The word in the New Testament most often used to describe belonging to the church is koinonia.  It is translated into three English words:
Partnership: In Luke 5:10[5] koinonia is used not about church membership but to describe how Andrew & Peter and James & John work together in a small business and were also related as cousins and brothers.  So being part of a church is partnering together in significant ways for a significance cause like these brothers and cousins committing to one another in a dangerous business enterprise.
Fellowship: The idea here is committed companionship or togetherness.  It is the ‘fellowship’ envisaged on a great adventure where neither trial nor joy separates the bond between you and your other travellers.  Acts 2:42-47:  ‘They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship…’
Membership:  Not in the sense of paying dues at the local golf club but in the sense of being part of; becoming an essential ‘member’ that completes a body.  It is about integration and co-dependence.  In 1Corinthians 12:12-26 it is used to describe the body functioning as a whole when each member uses its gifts to serve the others, all under Christ’s lead.
Of the many levels of belonging to a local church koinonia describes the fullest level and is something to be rejoiced in but also considered seriously.  It comes with particular responsibilities that are not light.
Church membership shows that you understand the need to be committed to the mission of God via a specific local church.
Church membership follows on from baptism and shows a personal commitment that is reflected in the way we live as a Christian.
Church membership provides a group of people who are prepared to commit time, energy, finance and spiritual gifts to the local church.
Church membership means taking a responsible part in discerning major aspects of church life through church meetings.
Church membership means that you have put yourself under the leadership and care of the pastors and elders: you know they are committed to serving you, to promoting your spiritual health, to helping you when times are hard, and lovingly correcting you if needed.

[1] See:  Our four values as a church resonate with these four images: A loving family (loving people); a fruitful farm (courageous in mission); a strong fortress (Bible saturated); an interdependent body (Spirit dependent).
[2] ‘And when Christ the Chief Shepherd appears…’
[3] The Bible uses a mix of language to describe these roles including elders & deacons (borrowing Jewish synagogue language); pastors and shepherds (borrowing Greek language); and leaders (borrowing secular language) depending on the culture being written to and what they would be most familiar with.  The Bible is more concerned not with the title or name but the character and competence of the individual.  Places like 1 Corinthians 4, 1Timothy 3, the whole of 2Timothy and Titus, 1Peter 5, and Hebrews 13 also expand in depth on what it is to serve as a leader in God’s church.  Importantly church leadership is always seen as plural in the Bible not singular.
[4] Pastor/minister is a visible leader set apart by the church with particular Bible teaching, prayer and mission responsibilities.  Elders have a responsibility for spiritual health and vision over the whole of church.  Deacons have specific responsibilities over particular areas of church life.

[5] ‘…and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.’