Church Members: The Need To Define Who Is and Who Is Not
By Paul A. Murray
I have received many calls regarding the qualification of membership in the local church. This is one of the weakest areas in the local church. It leads to another major issue, the lack of bylaws. Too many of our churches do not have a set of bylaws or cannot locate them. Bylaws should be reviewed on an annual basis to make sure this document which defines the governing of the local assembly is current. As pasto0rs we are called to preach the gospel, but we may not always be equipped to run the business affairs of the local church.
Pastors are run off. Churches are taken over by rogue groups. Ministries are mismanaged. Non-members take a footing in policy changes. The list goes on. We have a responsibility to manage the business affairs of the church in a prudent way. ‘To whom much is given, much is required.’ Doing the work of the Kingdom is business. We can see an example of this in Acts 6:3: ‘Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.’ Even Jesus said in Luke 2:49, ‘I must be about my father’s business.’ There is a need for bylaws to add meat onto the bones of our ministries.
The bylaws are one of the most important documents of your church or ministry. Pastors must take great care in writing this document because it establishes the government of the church organization. Bylaws bring structure to the operational side of the church. They bring guidelines on how the organizational structure will be handled. As well, they define the criteria for an individual to become a member of the church.
In the world we live in today, without a clear and concise definition of membership, a church is open to potentially devastating problems. We can no longer allow the infilling of the Holy Ghost as the sole criteria to church membership.
In creating or adopting revised membership guidelines, outside of defining membership benefits, there are three areas to address to ensure a level of protection from non-member and disruptive member intrusions. They are:
* Who is a member
* How to become a member
* How membership can be revoked or suspended
Who is a Member
This is the most important concept and often taken for granted with many details overlooked. A clearly defined membership criteria removes an ambiguity and assumptions. For example, to be a member, each person must meet and agree to the Statement of Faith of the Church, sign a membership covenant and, more particularly, meet the Scriptural mandates as set forth in Acts 2:38; Acts 2:4; I Tim. 3:16; and Galatians 5:22-23. In addition, a minimum age requirement of 18 years of age is recommended. A description of how they must handle themselves as related to 1 Tim. 4:2; II Cor. 7:1; 1 Thess. 5:22; Rom. 14:21; Matt. 5:16. To dress as becomes modest and holiness as expressed in I Pet. 3:1-5; I Tim. 2:9-10; I Cor. 11:1-11. Another requirement is to be faithful in attendance of services and meetings. Also, to faithfully support the pastor and work of the church with one’s prayers and financially with one’s tithes and offerings (Mal. 3:10; I Cor. 16:2) should be required. To respect and obey the pastor that he may give an account with joy and not with grief (Heb. 13:17) would be another essential element of membership. Finally, a member should agree to seek to win the lost to Christ and to manifest a spirit of brotherly love and fellowship to all God’s people.
How to Become a Member
Membership is granted after an individual meets the requirements as set forth in your bylaws. Membership should not be automatic. A six, consecutive month requirement is a good time frame before membership can be extended. In addition, verbiage that gives the pastor and board of directors authority to refuse membership to anyone that they deem undesirable, disqualified or either prevents those who arrive with ulterior motives.
This area clearly spells out the authority the church has in the discipline, suspension or revocation of membership. Any member failing to cooperate with the rules of the church or failing to support the church with tithes and offerings or manifesting a lack of interest in attending services for more than a 30 day period or consistently showing a wrong attitude, disloyalty or disrespect toward the pastor or other board embers hall be automatically suspended, removed from the membership (II Thess. 3:6) or dealt with according to the following methods: 1) If any member of the church corporation be overtaken in a fault, the member shall be dealt with according to Gal. 6:2; I John 5:16-17; and James 5:19-20. 2) Any grievance arising between individual members of the church shall be dealt with according to Matt. 18:15-18.
By incorporating such verbiage, the church is raising a shield of protection around itself. As a final note, this information is sole3y a guide for the development of membership criteria and does not constitute legal advice.
This article ‘Church Members: The Need to Define Who Is and Who Is Not’ by Paul A. Murray is excerpted from Apostolic Witness.