1. Membership is Mentioned (1 Cor. 12).
2. Membership is for Clarity (Matt. 18; 1 Cor. 5).
3. Membership is for Care (Acts 20).
4. Membership is for Accountability (Heb. 13:17).
As most all of you know, we are in the midst of a series on church membership. This is
because at Rock Valley Bible Church, we are working toward implementing a formalized
church membership. Last week, we saw how church membership has been practiced in many
different ways throughout the history of the church.
In the early church, we saw rapid membership
. As the church grew rapidly,
so did its membership, without much form or structure. Leaders were often set in place
only after a group of people were gathering together for worship. In the post-apostolic
church, we saw rigorous membership
. As the church settled into
organizational structures, there began to be a lapse of time between faith and
membership. This was done, in part, because of the persecution they faced. It was
important that prospective members be tested before they were accepted into membership.
In the church after Constantine, we saw relaxed membership
. As the default
religion in the empire was Christianity, those born into the empire were assumed to be
Christians and baptized as children. This continued for 1,000 years. In the church
after the Reformation, we saw regenerate membership
. That is, churches sought to
accept only genuine believers into membership in their churches.
And when it comes to church membership in recent history, sentiments span the spectrum
from optional to necessary. Some think that church membership is totally optional. "If
church membership suits your fancy, that’s fine, you can become a member of a
church. But you think that it’s better for you not to be a church member,
that’s fine as well, whatever works best for you." That’s what some people
think. Others think that church membership is necessary, though not necessary for your
eternal salvation. These people see church membership as a fruit of salvation. That is,
actively engaging in loving and serving other believers in a covenant community gives
evidence to your salvation.
Even churches that practice church membership do it differently. In some churches, you
can become a member simply by coming forward at the end of the service, confessing
faith in Jesus, and expressing your desire to be a member. In other churches, it takes
several months and many classes and pages of application and several interviews and a
final vote before you can become members of a church.
The reason why there is a discrepancy in the various attitudes toward church membership
is because the Bible is silent on exactly how
church membership should be practiced. But that doesn’t mean that church
membership isn’t Biblical.
A pastor friend of mine said it this way, “Church membership is assumed in the
Bible.” That is, there isn’t any command in the Bible for you to be a
member of the church. Because, when you come to faith, you are brought into the church.
Paul writes to those in Corinth, ...
1 Corinthians 12:12-13
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the
members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is
with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into
one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all
were made to drink of one Spirit.
Paul is talking about spiritual baptism that comes to all
who believe in Jesus. And “we were all baptized into one body” (1 Cor.
12:13). That is, we have all been baptized into the church. All believers in Jesus have
been brought into the church as members of the church. And that’s why you
don’t see any verse in the Bible that says, “You must be a member of the
church,” or, "You must join a church.” This is because when you believe,
you are placed into the church by the Spirit.
Now, exactly how this membership is expressed is a matter of freedom. The Bible give no
direction on how church membership is to be practiced. As a result, church membership
is practiced in different ways in different churches.
At Rock Valley Bible Church, we have practiced “informal church
membership.” That is, we have not added a formal process by which you officially
“join” the church. The way that people join Rock Valley Bible Church is
much more natural.
In a typical experience, a family visits our church on Sunday morning and is welcomed
by those at the church. After a few weeks of visiting, I will often make some more
personal contact and visit the family in their home, or, we might have them over to our
house for dinner. During that time, I have an opportunity to meet the new family, to
hear of their faith journey and to share a little about the church and ways to be
involved. We place them on our church-wide email list so that they may understand what
is happening at the church. Eventually, those who hang around are included in our
directory and become a part of our church. This process is very organic and
doesn’t quite happen the same way for everyone who comes. But it gives you a bit
of what our “membership” process looks like. It’s very
Our church operates like acquaintances who become friends without thinking much about
the process or what exactly it means that they are “friends.” Now, as it
comes to church membership at Rock Valley Bible Church, we are seeking to make a bit of
a change. And for the most part, the change is going to be like a dating couple who has
a DTR discussion. DTR stands for “Define the Relationship.”
In other words, the change we are seeking isn’t so much in how membership works
at Rock Valley Bible Church, as it is in how we are seeking to be clear in defining the
relationship. We want to answer questions like, What does it mean to be a
“member” of Rock Valley Bible Church? What are expected of members? What
can members expect of one another? What can members expect of the leaders of the
In this series, I want to clarify the answers to some of these questions. I want to
work on “Defining the Relationship.” To be clear, we have a membership at
Rock Valley Bible Church. Many of you are members of Rock Valley Bible Church. You have
attended here for years. You are involved in the life of the body. You consider me to
be your pastor. You consider the elders to be your elders. You think Biblically about
your commitment to the church and are all in regarding loving one another.
We just haven’t been very clear of what’s expected of members. Nor have we
been very clear of what’s expected of church leaders. We have not done well at
“Defining the Relationship.” It’s because we have practiced
“informal membership” We are simply working towards making our relationship
Well, this morning, I want to present what the Bible says about church membership. I
want to show what the Bible says about church membership. I want to show what the Bible
doesn’t say about church membership. First of all, let’s point out that
1. Membership is Mentioned (1 Cor. 12).
“Membership” a Biblical word. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul compares the church
to a body. Just as a body has many “members," so also does the church have many
“members.” Paul writes, ...
1 Corinthians 12:14-27
For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a
hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make
it any less a part of the body. And
if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do
not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of
the body. If the whole body were an eye,
where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were
an ear, where would be the sense of smell?
But as it is, God arranged the members in the body,
each one of them, as he chose.
If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.
The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,”
nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”
On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are
indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think
less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated
with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not
require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that
lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but
that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is
honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ
and individually members of it.
Paul explicitly uses the word, “member” seven
times in these fourteen verses to identify members in the church. The analogy here is
of a body. Just as your eyes and ears are members of your body, so also are there
members of the church. We may not often identify our hand as a “member” of
our body, but nevertheless, the word works. Your hand is a member of your body, as is
also your eye and ear and foot. And just as each of these members of your body plays a
crucial role in the functioning of your body, so also do members of churches play
important roles in the life of every church. This was Paul’s point earlier in the
1 Corinthians 12:4-11
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and
there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there
are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in
everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit
for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit
the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the
same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another
gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of
miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits,
to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.
All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions
to each one individually as he wills.
The Holy Spirit is actively involved in placing the
members of the church together, each with their own gifts, to be used “for the
common good” (1 Corinthians 12:7). Note here that membership here in the church
is local. In other words, when Paul describes us as “members” of the body
of Christ, he isn’t simply referring to the universal church, as if all who
believe in Jesus are members of the church at large. No, Paul describes membership in
relationship with others, each one doing their part for the common good.
So, “membership” is a Biblical word. Notice how they became
“members." It wasn't by signing up to receive all of the benefits that
“membership” brings, but by being placed into the church by the Holy Spirit
with their gifts that they might be used “for the common good” (1
Corinthians 12:7). And that’s why an informal membership can work, because
“membership” in a church isn’t about “signing up.”
Membership in a church is fundamentally about believing in Christ and being engaged in
the life of the church. This leads to being involved with others in the church, and
serving others with your gifts, and giving, and helping, and encouraging.
Next, I want to look at a several passages of Scripture that mention the church as a
specific, identifiable, quantifiable group of people. This is my
2. Membership is for Clarity (Matt. 18; 1 Cor.
In other words, churches in the Bible consisted of a clearly defined group of people.
Those in the group we call, “members.”
Let’s begin with Matthew 18:15-17. Many of you are familiar with this passage.
It’s often called the passage about “Church discipline,” which is
true. Jesus instructs the church on how to “discipline” a wayward member,
by removing him from your midst. However, this passage is far more about “Church
restoration” than it is about “Church discipline.” Jesus instructs
the church how to restore a sinning believer by bringing him back into the church.
It’s all about calling those straying from God to turn back from their false
ways. It’s only at the end, after multiple attempts at restoration have failed
that the church enters into formal “discipline.”
Beginning in verse 15, Jesus tells us what to do when people go astray. He says,
If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him
alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every
charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.
If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he
refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax
Jesus begins with the situation of another believer
sinning. Initially, the sinning brother is confronted individually and called to
repentance. If the brother repents, then forgiveness is freely extended. However, if
the brother fails to repent, then others are brought into the process. This time, a
group of people come to confront this individual. If the brother repents, then
forgiveness is freely extended. However, if the brother fails to repent, then it should
be told to the church. Those in the church should call the brother to repentance. If
the brother repents, then forgiveness is freely extended, and fellowship within the
body is enjoyed once again. However, if the brother fails to repent, then he should be
treated as an unbeliever, outside of the fold of the church.
How easy this sounds, and yet, how difficult it is to practice. Many individuals find
confronting the sin of another person to be difficult. Furthermore, many leaders of
churches would never dare to bring such an open accusation of sin to the entire church
body. Yet, Jesus calls the church to this practice regardless of the
Now, the main point for us today is this: Jesus wants the church to be clear about who
is inside the church and who is outside of the church. Or, you might say it this way:
Jesus wants the membership of the church to be clear. You see this best in the last
step of the process of dealing with an unrepentant person. At the end of verse 17, we
read, “And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a
Gentile and a tax collector.” The terms, “Gentiles” and “tax
collectors”, were terms used by Jesus as illustrations of those who are “at
the bottom of the moral scale.”
In Matthew 5:46-47,
Jesus uses these terms to indicate those of lowest morality. One commentator
points out that these terms described “the worst sort of persons."
To be sure, Jesus told us to treat “Gentiles and tax collectors” with
compassion (see Matt. 8:1-11; 9:9-13; 15:21-28). But the point here is that they have
been treated with compassion, with multiple people coming in grace and calling them to
repentance. And in the end, the one who has refused all calls to repent “has no
place among the holy people of God, and ... is to be shunned."
He should be kept out of the covenant community and not
welcomed into the fellowship of the church.
Ultimately, this four-step process works to differentiate those who are in the church
and those who are outside of the church. Those who are inside the church are the
ones who trust in Christ and are seeking to follow in his ways. They are “church
members.” Those who rebel against the rule of the Lord should be expelled from
his church, as they neither represent Christ or the church that he is building. They
are not “members” of the church. Somehow, and in some way, it must be clear
who is in the church and who is not. The method for identifying those in the church is
called, “church membership.”
Now, Jesus doesn’t tell us how to make this distinction, only that this
distinction needs to be made. Until this point in the life of Rock Valley Bible Church,
we have made this distinction naturally. That is,those who attend are involved are
“members” and those who aren’t involved or listed in the directory
are “not members.”
However, it has been clear enough for our church to follow through with the words of
Jesus. On two occasions in this church, we have done this. We approached sinning
“members” of the church, individually first, then as a small group. We have
told the entire church. We have considered them to be like “Gentiles and tax
collectors” (Matthew 18:17).
In each of these cases, it has been clear that the sinning individuals were
“members” of the church. They attended our church services regularly. They
were involved in the lives of others. They attended events of the church. They invited
others to their homes. They were in the homes of others at church. In these cases, it
was clear that they were “members.”
But sometimes, this boundary is a bit fuzzy and not quite so clear. It's fuzzy when
people sometimes come to church and are sort-of involved in the life of the church.
It's not quite so clear when people aren’t even listed in the
At Rock Valley Bible Church, as we formalize our membership practices, we are simply
looking to clear up the line, to make it clear who is inside the church and who is
outside. We are doing this because Jesus wanted that to be clear. In the case of an
unrepentant sinning member, Jesus commands us to make it clear that such a one is
outside the church. In the case of communicating such things, Jesus commands us to make
it clear that everyone else is inside the church. That’s what Jesus taught about
Paul has a similar mention of church membership in 1 Corinthians 5. In this chapter,
Paul is talking about an unrepentant sinner in the church of Corinth. Paul wants the
church to be clear about this man’s status. That such a one is not a part of the
church in Corinth. He writes, ...
1 Corinthians 5:1-2
It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that
is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father's wife.
And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has
done this be removed from among you.
Paul is telling the church to “remove” such a
man. That is, “Remove him from the church. He cannot be one of your members.
Remove him from your membership.” In other words, the church is to be a place of
purity. Overtly, unrepentant sinners have no part in the church. It should be clear who
is in the church and who is outside the church. In verses 9-13, Paul clarifies his
1 Corinthians 5:9-13
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral
people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this
world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out
of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate
with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or
greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with
such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is
it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God
judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among
In other words, it is expected that those outside the
church are living immoral lives. It’s perfectly fine to associate with them to
bring the gospel to them. However, it is not acceptable for those in blatant immorality
to be inside the church.
Notice how Paul speaks about those “outside” and those “inside the
church.” God judges those outside the church. We must judge those inside the
church. We must “purge the evil person from among you.” This is what church
membership represents. It represents who is inside the church and who is outside the
church. Church membership is the way to bring clarity in these matters. Let's move on
to my third point.
3. Membership is for Care (Acts 20).
Thirdly, I want to show you a few passages where the leaders of the church are given
the task of caring for a specific group of people. Membership helps to clarify exactly
who these people are. So, turn to Acts 20.
This passage is one of the most tender scenes in all of the Scriptures. This is where
the apostle Paul bids farewell to the elders of the church in Ephesus. Paul dearly
loved these men, having spent three years with them in ministry together (Acts 20:31).
He believed that he would never see them again (Acts 20:25, 38), which is why they
departed with prayers and tears (Acts 20:36-37). Paul gave these Spirit-appointed
leaders the advice they needed to shepherd the church in Ephesus without him. His
counsel is applicable to all of those who shepherd local churches. His counsel is
applicable to leaders of Rock Valley Bible Church.
Paul’s counsel to these elders begins with a
review of his ministry (Acts 20:18-21). He tells the elders how
he served them and taught them during his days in Ephesus. Paul, then, looks forward to
his own destiny (Acts 20:22-24), saying that “imprisonment and afflictions await
me” (Acts 20:23). Next, Paul turns to his expectations for what the elders will
face (Acts 20:25-31). They will face danger in the church and defection from among the
elders. Finally, Paul points the elders to their only source of security, God himself
(Acts 20:32-35). The heart of Paul’s words is his fundamental exhortation to the
elders, found in verse 28, ...
careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has
made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own
One commentator identifies verse 28 as “both the
practical and the theological centre of the speech.”
Another calls it, “the key exhortation to the
Another claims that this verse is “the most discussed part of the entire
It is where we will focus our
attention as it pertains to church membership.
Verse 28 describes the work of shepherds. They must watch themselves and the flock
under their care. This defines the shepherding work: caring for the flock. Just as the
elders of the church were called to care for their own spiritual condition, so also
were they instructed to care for the spiritual needs of their local flock in
Notice the role of the Lord in this spiritual work of the church. These elders were
appointed by the Holy Spirit. From an earthly perspective, Paul appointed the elders
(Acts 14:23). Yet, equally clear is the
Lord’s appointment of those in the church. Paul told the elders in Ephesus
that it was “the Holy Spirit [who] has made you overseers.” The church is
not an institution created, designed or sustained by human effort. Jesus promised to
build his church (Matt 16:18). He “obtained [the church of God] with his
blood” (Acts 20:28).
God’s design for local churches is straightforward. Each church should have a
structure, with Spirit-appointed shepherds and an identifiable congregation. The
shepherds are responsible to care for the spiritual needs of those in the congregation.
The congregation receives the oversight and protection of the leaders.
We see Peter telling some elders similar things.
1 Peter 5:1-3
So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings
of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed:
shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight,
not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain,
but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but
being examples to the flock.
Again, we see the shepherd imagery in these verses. It is
the elders of the church who are given the task of shepherding the flock. I love the
way that Peter describes how this should be done. Pastors and elders should shepherd
the flock willingly and sacrificially and lovingly.
- Willingly: "shepherd the flock of God that
is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would
have you;" (1 Peter 5:2).
- Sacrificially: "not for shameful gain, but eagerly;" (1
"not domineering over those in your charge, but being
examples to the flock (1 Peter 5:3).
This is the sort of leadership that I have sought to
provide at Rock Valley Bible Church. This is the sort of leadership that all of us
elders have sought to carry out: willing, sacrificial, and loving leadership. Any
failings in doing so has been our sin. It’s what we are striving to do. We are
striving to care for all of you like a shepherd would care for his sheep.
And so, as we institute a formal membership at Rock Valley Bible Church, please know
that it’s not a power thing. It’s not an authority thing, which sometimes
church membership can be. There are plenty of examples of those who have been shepherds
of churches for their own gain, using and abusing those in the church for their own
good. Please know, that we, as elders, aren’t seeking to use our position as a
place of power and authority to gain control over you or use you in any way. Our heart
is to care for you. Church membership will help this.
Now, I don’t know if this has ever crossed your mind, but it has crossed my mind
(and the minds of the other elders): Who is a part of the flock? Who is a part of Rock
Valley Bible Church? Who is the object of our oversight and spiritual care?
Now, for the most part, this is obvious. Those of you who regularly attend our services
on Sunday. Those who receive the Weekly Word. Those who are listed in the directory.
Those of you who are involved in a small group. Those who are involved in the lives of
the people of the church, calling them, emailing them, and texting them. Those who are
supporting the church financially. Gladly, this is the case with most of you. You are
members of the church. And when there is a need in your life, we are fully committed to
helping you and serving you and guiding you in whatever way we can.
However, there have been times when people are clearly on the fringe. They come
sporadically. But not really involved. They have been around for a little while, but
not a real long time. We don’t know them very well. They don’t know us very
well. What about them? Are they part of the flock? Are we under divine obligation to
care for them? If they have needs, how committed are we to help them with our limited
resources? How much can we ask them to serve, if they haven’t even made any sort
of commitment to the church.
And then, there are another category of people. They have been attending our church for
a long time. But they have never gotten involved in the church. They leave quickly
after our service ends. They have very little contact with those at church during the
week. I think they would call Rock Valley Bible Church their church. Yet, they have
been on the fringe for so long, that I’m not quite sure. What about them? Are
they part of the flock? Are we under divine obligation to care for them? Do they even
want for us to be a part of their lives? Do they expect us to pursue them when they
have been gone for a few weeks? What is their status as a part of Rock Valley Bible
Now, you may never have thought about these sorts of questions, but the leaders of the
church sure have. We have thought about these things because God will hold the
leadership of the church responsible for how well they shepherded those in the church.
This is my final point:
4. Membership is for Accountability (Heb.
Turn to Hebrews 13. I simply want for us to consider one verse: Hebrews
This book was written to Jewish people, who had embraced Jesus and come into the
church. But they were in danger. They were in danger of turning from Jesus and
returning to their Jewish roots. The author of the book spends the entire letter
seeking to persuade them to continue on in following Jesus.
His argumentation comes along two lines. The first is the supremacy of Jesus. Jesus is
better than the angels (Hebrews 1:4). Jesus is better than Moses (Hebrews 3:3). Jesus is better than Abraham
(Hebrews 7:7-9). Jesus is better than
Aaron, as He has brought in a new priesthood (Hebrews 7:23-24). Jesus has inaugurated a New Covenant, which is better
than the Old (Hebrews 8:6). Jesus has
cleansed a holy place that is better than the Old Testament tabernacle
(Hebrews 9:24). The sacrifice of Jesus
was better than any of the Old Testament sacrifices (Hebrews 10:14). As a result, we should follow after Jesus
in faith (Hebrews 12:1-3). We should press on to maturity (Hebrews 6:3).
The second line of argumentation comes through his strong warnings to the people if
they would ever forsake Jesus. These warnings are sprinkled throughout the whole book
(Hebrews 2:1-4; 3:7–4:13; 5:11–6:12; 10:19–39;
12:14–29). They are summed up in Hebrews
10:31, "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." In
these warning passages, there is encouragement to stay on the path of following
Jesus. One of his final exhortations comes in chapter 13 and verse
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as
those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with
groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.
In this verse we see that members of the church are
accountable to the leaders of the congregation. And the leaders of the congregation are
accountable to the Lord.
The commands in this verse are two: obey
(πείθεσθε) and submit
(ὑπείκετε). The first command carries
with it the idea of persuasion. As those in the church are persuaded by the
trustworthiness of their leaders, they obey them out of respect for the leadership they
provide. The second command carries with it the implication of yielding. As those in
the church understand the importance of the unity of the church, they submit to them
for the greater good. The weight of both of these commands describe how church should
respond to the authorities of the church: They should obey them and submit to
Now, again, this can easily be abused by church leaders, when they wield their power to
control people. But if the leadership of the church is reasonable, and where they are
leading is Biblical, and how they are leading is with humility, people in the church
should yield to them. Those in the congregation should follow after the course they
have laid out. This is true even in ways that are not explicitly mentioned in the
Bible. Think about the number of ways that you all willingly submit to the leadership
of our church for the sake of unity. The leadership of the church has determined where
our church will meet. We have determined what day and time our worship services will
be. None of these particulars are prescribed in the Bible. Yet, in coming this morning,
you all are demonstrating your submission to the elders of the church.
And there are many other things as well like this that we have chosen to do things are
our church that aren’t commanded in the Bible. We use an offering box, rather
than passing a plate. We have fellowship dinners on the first Sundays of the month. We
have a youth group that meets on Wednesday evenings. We have a prayer meeting on Sunday
mornings. We celebrate the Lord's Supper every 4-6 weeks. We celebrate Christmas and
Easter in ways peculiar to our church. We choose to have Christmas Eve services and
Good Friday services. We have small groups twice a month. We choose to communicate to
the church primarily with emails which you get twice each week. One email is visionary.
The other email is administrative. And as you attend these services, and make use of
the offering box to give to the church, and read the various emails we send out, you
demonstrate your submission to the leadership of the church. That’s some of the
ways that you can fulfill Hebrews 13:17. Formal church membership is in the same
As I said earlier, the Bible is silent on exactly how church membership should be
practiced. We, as a church, are simply making a change, from informal church membership
to formal church membership. And we are asking you to submit to our leadership in this
area for the sake of unity in the church. But we are also asking for the sake of
helping us to know who we are accountable to shepherd, because the leaders of this
church are accountable to the Lord, as to how we lead, and how we keep watch over the
souls given to us (Hebrews 13:17). Keeping watch over the souls of others is a solemn,
God-given task for those who lead God’s people. Leaders will give account for
their work. Although not explicitly mentioned in verse 17, this accountability is
surely before the Lord, “to whom we must give an account” (Heb 4:13). Just
as a manager expects to give account to his superiors for how he has done in managing
assets entrusted to him (Luke 16:2), so also will shepherds of God’s people
expect to give account to the Lord for how they have managed his flock.
The stakes are high. This is why James says, “Not many of you should become
teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater
strictness” (James 3:1). Not only will leaders be judged for their own walk with
the Lord, but also with how they led God’s people (see 1 Timothy 4:16; Acts
20:28). This accounting will come on judgment day, when leaders will give account to
those who have been appointed under their care. And we believe that one of the ways
that we can do this is with a formal church membership. So we know who we will be
The clear implication here is that the congregation is well-defined. Spiritual
leaders won’t be accountable for those outside their congregation. Instead,
leaders will be held responsible for their oversight of those who have willingly
submitted themselves to their care. This is the need for church membership. Church
membership helps define for the leaders those who are under their care, for whom they
will give an account.
Now, the author of Hebrews continues on in verse 17 to talk about how to help the
leaders in their task. He writes, "Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for
that would be of no advantage to you." I love this idea. I love how it puts forth the
blessing that comes to the congregation who support and encourage their leaders so that
they serve with joy. A grumpy and burdened pastor is of no advantage to a congregation.
But a happy, joyful, and energized pastor is of great benefit to a congregation.
Christopher Ash has some helpful comments to other church members about this
Unless there is at least some whisper of joy in [the hearts of
pastors] as they do their work, some spring of gladness in their step, they will
never persevere to the end. And—and this is the
point—it is we who will suffer. Instead of being well
taught—faithfully preached to with insight and depth—instead of being
patiently prayed for, instead of having our souls guarded from evil, instead of being
lovingly equipped, instead of being well led in our churches, we will be harassed and
helpless, like sheep without a shepherd, at the mercy of all kinds of destructive
evil. And our churches will be places of shallow immaturity
and instability, at the mercy of every whim of cultural pressure or theological
It is therefore in our own interests, to say nothing of love for the pastor, that we
should make their work a joy and not simply a heavy and gloomy burden.
If you and I truly grasp the extent to which healthy pastoral
oversight is a team effort—a two-way dynamic in which we, as church members,
play as critical a part as our pastors—then, and only then, will we be urgently
motivated to learn the better to care for them. You and I
have it in our power to demotivate our pastors, so that they gradually ground down
into a slough of despond from which they will be utterly unable to do us any good at
all. But we also have it in our power so to cheer them, so to
put a spring in their step, that they will gladly do for us all that we hope and
It has been my joy to shepherd this congregation for 20
years. You have responded well to God’s word. You have responded to my
leadership. You have followed my lead. Those who have rebelled and resisted are the
exception, rather than the rule. For the most part, it has been a great joy to shepherd
all of you. One way to help this shepherding process is to identify clearly those who
are members of the church, that we might care for your spiritual needs.
Next week, we will talk about what it means to be a healthy church member.
This sermon was delivered to Rock Valley Bible Church on
January 26, 2020 by Steve Brandon.
For more information see www.rvbc.cc.
T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament
(Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007), 694.
2] Donald A. Hagner, Matthew
14-28, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word Books, 1995), 532.
3] France, The Gospel of
4] C. K. Barrett, A Critical
and Exegetical Commentary on The Acts of the Apostles, The International Critical
Commentary on the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments (Edinburgh: T&T
Clark, 1998), 974.
5] Darrell L. Bock, Acts,
Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007),
6] John B. Polhill, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992),
7] Christopher Ash, The Book Your Pastor
Wishes You Would Read (but is too embarrassed to ask) (India: The Good Book Company,