This blog records my transition from the Churches of Christ to Eastern Orthodoxy.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Club Membership vs. Discipleship

What is "club membership"?  Membership in a club is about meeting attendance, paying club dues, membership benefits, initiation rituals and ceremonies, and supporting club events.  You can get this sort of experience from a gym, from AAA, from the local Country Club, from a sorority or fraternity, from Freemasonry, and even from Sam's Warehouse. 

Here's some tough questions:
Do we "do church" in such a way that gives people the impression that Christianity is merely club membership?
Do we "do church" in such a way that facilitates people who are merely looking for a club membership experience? 
And most importantly, should we "do church" in this way?

Of course, "doing church" even flawlessly will still bear at least some resemblance to club membership.  We still give of our means for support of the church's work (membership dues) and we gather together on a regular basis (meeting attendance) and people get baptized (initiation rituals) and take the Lord's Supper (ceremony).  But how similar should discipleship and club membership be?  Is discipleship qualitatively distinct from club membership? 

Church and the Lord's Supper and so on--these do include a sense of community and belonging and purpose.  This is certainly similar to club membership.  But discipleship is about denying self, taking up your cross, and following Christ (Mark 8:34), about losing one's life for the sake of Christ and the gospel (Mark 8:35), about being unashamed of Christ and His teaching (Mark 8:38).  Joining a club membership is largely about what benefits i will get from membership.  Christianity is about giving and serving to the point of sacrificing personal benefit.  Further, the church and its practices is not a club that just happens to be suited to Christians who want a club membership.  The church ought to be the manifestation of Christians living out their discipleship.

Discipleship requires a kind of commitment that clubs don't.  Christ demands my all.  i am to surrender the entirety of my life to him--the way i think, act, speak, and plan.  i join a club as an addition to my life, to fill it out a little more than it already was or to find what was lacking in my life.  When i become a Christian, discipleship is my life.  Further, i owe my fellow Christians a depth and scope of service and love that is not required by club membership.  When the church is being what it should, members really do stand or fall together.  We uphold each other, no one is expendable, everyone is needed.  When you leave a club, what they miss is your dues.  But they can recruit more members. 

i think there are more pertinent differences between the two but i'm having trouble formulating the differences.  What other differences are there?  In what other ways is discipleship clearly different from club membership?

Here's what i really wanted to get to.  How should we "do church"?  Or rather, how should we not "do church"?  i think it's a sad fact that there are churches out there who are aiming to be nothing more than a club-membership-alternative.  If push came to shove, the leadership would practically admit as much.  Sadly, i've even known preachers who were told by their elders to stop baptizing people and making the congregation grow numerically because the long-standing elders and families preferred a small church (the desire for an "exclusive" club). 

But there are also churches who are aiming to be more.  There are churches that sincerely want to be a manifestation of Christian discipleship.  Yet they end up creating an environment which either gives people the impression that Christianity is mere club membership, or they create an environment which facilitates and even coddles people who are looking for mere club membership.  These churches often emphasize features of their practice or facility which mimick club membership and use those features to draw visitors.  

But is that the kind of growth we really want?  Even if people join and later wise up, do the ends justify the means?  Can i use any old bait at all to get someone into a baptistry even if that bait is deceitful and misrepresentative of Christianity?  Should i even view it as a bait-and-hook situation?  Yes, Jesus taught the apostles to be "fishers of men," but did He intend that phrase to imply that we can play on people's base or even sinful inclinations as a means of attracting them to Christ? 

i'd like to suggest that we ought to aim to disassociate ourselves with the "club membership" idea.  As long as we mimick the club membership experience, i don't think we'll ever ultimately grow past the club membership experience.  In mimicking a club membership experience, the church environment will not be conducive to testing or growing people's faith beyond what is required by mere club membership.  We shouldn't consider it growth when we recruit mere club-members versus actually converting people to Christ.  We shouldn't consider it growth or progress if we never increase in our mutual edification, interdependency, and one-another-ness.  More club members and larger club-due-revenue is not biblical growth.  And the more we cater to "club membership" mentality, the more we cheapen what discipleship and the church really are.

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