In an old notebook I discovered a few days ago I found two pictures that I had obviously drawn to sum up something I must have read in a book or heard at a conference. The pictures explain something about the nature of the church and what it means to be part of the Body of Christ.
The first picture is of a bus full of passengers. Bus passengers are a group of largely unrelated individuals who are all going on the same journey who contribute nothing to making the journey actually happen beyond paying their fare. Bus passengers pay their fare get on and passively sit down and then get off when they reach their destination.
The other picture was of one of those amazing clipper sailing ships with the crew up in the rigging. (my picture wasn’t so amazing, so I clipped one from the web.) On a sailing ship the crew, just like the bus passengers, are all making the same journey but there the similarities end. Crew, unlike passengers, contribute to making the journey happen, for the ship to get to its destination the crew have to use their specialist skills and work together. The only way those massive sails can be raised and the ship kept heading in the right direction is for the crew to work as a team, depending on each other and contributing to overall purpose of sailing the ship.
The reason I have these pictures in my notes is because they represent two views of what it means to be part of the church. For much of church history church members have been treated like bus passengers, they have been told to pay for their journey and then to sit passively while the work of making the journey happen was done by the professionals, the drivers (clergy). Pope Pius put this view of the church like this, “The one duty of the multitude [i.e., the laity] is to allow themselves to be led and, like a docile flock, to follow the Pastor.” An anonymous protestant cynic wrote that he thought his church wanted him to “turn up, pay up and shut up.” (of course, there have been many church members who have been happy with this arrangement which has no expectations of them beyond being there and paying their bit)
Contrast the bus passenger view of what it means to be part of a church to the one we find in the New Testament. In Ephesians 4 Paul reminds us that its not the job of church leaders like Pastors to do all the ministry themselves while other church members passively receive it. Rather he says the leaders of the church are to equip everyone who is part of the church “for works of service” In verse 16 Paul gets to his picture of what it means to be part of the church “ the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”
In just that one verse we are given two fundamental facts about the church that is critical that we understand and more importantly, do something about. God’s Word says in this verse that the Church has a purpose, it is meant to do something, that something is to “grow and build itself up in love.” The church is a community that God calls on to grow in spiritual vibrancy and love, in love for God and each other. A stagnant church, a church that isn’t growing spiritually is not a church as God’s Word understands it to be or God desires it to be. What its important for us to grasp is that this kind of spiritual growth doesn’t happen by accident, it doesn’t even happen as a result of a small group of people doing all the work. Spiritual growth happens in and through a church when “each part does it work.” We all grow when we are all prepared to work together in the power of the Spirit to grow.
This verse, it seems to me, metaphorically takes us on board the sailing ship not the bus when we think about church. It helps us understand what church membership all is about. When you become a church member you are saying I am not going to be a passenger, I am ready and willing to be part of the crew. You are saying that you understand that the church needs you to make your unique contribution and with others do what needs to be done to enable the church to grow. Church membership is about accepting our responsibility and role in helping our church grow.
When we understand it in this way, we can see Church membership isn’t about getting to vote, its not about having some power, its not about privilege, its about our role in the church and responsibility for the church. Church members realise they have a responsibility with others to help the church be the vibrant spiritually healthy and growing community that Christ desires it to be and which the Holy Spirit can enable it to be. Church membership is about having a role being active in the mission and ministry of the church not simply attending church services. No disciple of Christ should be a passive passenger in the Body of Christ. Maybe it would be better if we stopped talking about people being church members and instead started talking about them being members of the crew?
So now comes the inevitable question if you are a disciple of Jesus when it comes to Westlake are you a passenger or part of the crew?