What is a Healthy Church Member?

During my junior year in college, my brother and I drove to Wisconsin to visit my grandparents for Thanksgiving. My brother let me borrow his Chevy Blazer to drive cross country with a group of friends because my 1980 Volkswagen Van broke down 50 miles into our trip. My brother graciously allowed me to
use his car, but he needed his car back to use during college. I picked him up in Chicago and we were going to my grandparents where I was going to pick up a car from my grandparents. I was excited about the prospect of getting a “new car.” The car had been in storage and had not been driven in a few months. I’ll never forget the ride up to the garage to pick up the car. I looked at my brother and said, “I cannot wait to pick up the Dodge Stratus. It is a nice car and in great condition.” My brother started laughing uncontrollably. He looked at me through tears and said, “You are not getting the Stratus. You are getting the station wagon.” “What? I thought I was getting the Stratus.” Nope. My “new car” was a 1986 Mercury Marquis Station Wagon white with wood paneling and bright maroon interior. My excitement turned to dread, because I faced the reality of unmet expectations. I was still getting a “new car,” but instead of getting the “new car” I was expecting, I was getting a car that was 15 years older that would be perfect for the mom with 3 kids that had a lot of groceries. It was not a college student’s dream car. I eventually learned to love that car, but at first I was disappointed because it did not meet my expectations.

Expectations are double-edged sword. When your expectations are high, anything that does not meet those expectations brings disappointment. On the other hand, if your expectations are low, anything that exceeds them brings joy. Proper expectations are very important. They are especially important for the church. Last week I made the case for church membership being biblical, so today I want to provide the expectations for a health church member. I want to provide the framework for the proper expectations of a healthy church member.

It will not be an exhaustive list, but I want to highlight a few things that I believe are missing in our American church culture. For starters, the expectations of a church member are the expectations of a Christian. Paul writes in Romans 12:9-21 the marks of a true Christian. Listen to the high expectations that God has for his people,

9 Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.13 Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:9-21, ESV)

This list is the goal to which all Christians should aspire. You can see that it would be very difficult to cover every aspect of this passage in one message, but I hope to highlight a few of them.

The Healthy Church Member Should Love Faithfully
The first thing Paul highlights in this passage in verse 9 is that Christians should have genuine love for each other. Love is a staple for the faithful Christian. Jesus says that the two greatest commandments are summed up in this word of love. Matthew 22:37-40,

37 And Jesus said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

You can summarize all of the expectations of a church member in one word: love. We are called to love one another. There are a lot of secular definitions of love, but what is biblical love? One of the best places to start is the Bible’s love chapter, 1 Corinthians 13.

1 Corinthians 13 has been read at countless weddings and written on countless Valentine and Anniversary Cards and even made its way onto coffee mugs. Although this love should typify a marriage, it was not originally written for a husband and wife. Notice the context surrounding this chapter. It sits between 1 Corinthians 12 and 1 Corinthians 14, during Paul’s discussion in how Christians should use their spiritual gifts to build up the body of Christ. They are spoken specifically to how church members are called to relate to one another. Church members are called to choose the more excellent way in loving their brothers and sisters in their local church.

Church member, is your love patient and kind to others in the church? Or is your love boastful, envious, irritable, resentful, arrogant or rude? Does your love insist on its own way? How many problems could be avoided in the church if people did not insist on their own way, if they did not insist on their own preferences? Preferences are natural and God-given. We all have certain songs that we like more than other songs, but it is unloving to insist that your favorite songs are the ones that should be played the most. We all have certain preferences of organizations and mission endeavors that we think should be supported financially, but it is unloving to insist that your favorite organizations and mission endeavors should be supported the most. True love does not insist on its own way, but rather puts others first.

Beloved, love bears all things, hopes all things, endures all things. What if our church was filled with church members who loved with that kind of love? Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that church? The healthy church member should love faithfully.

The Healthy Church Member Should Live Faithfully

We also must live faithfully. God desires his people to live a morally righteous life. Peter writes in his first letter to the scattered churches in his day,

Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:13-16, ESV)

Peter challenges Christians to live holy lives. As God is holy, his church also should be holy in all its conduct. A healthy church member takes their conduct seriously. Sin brings reproach to the name of Christ, but also brings reproach to the name of the church. How you live and act in your neighborhood affects the reputation of Park Baptist Church.

All parents know this instinctively, for when our children are out in public and act in a way that is unbecoming of good character and our good name, we feel embarrassed. Why? We are embarrassed because their behavior reflects upon us. Likewise, we do not want God or this church to be embarrassed by our behavior. We should care how we reflect Christ at our jobs, at restaurants, and at our family gatherings because our conduct reflects upon Christ and on upon the name of Park Baptist Church. The healthy church member understands the importance of living a holy and upright life.

Now this doesn’t mean that we trust in our holy and upright lives to commend us before God. Even in the passage above, Peter writes, “set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” We must set our hope fully on the grace of God shown in Jesus Christ. All our righteous works cannot erase our sin against God. Our sin has to be punished. This is why our hope has to be set fully on the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Philippians 3:9 says that we should want to be found in Christ, not having a righteousness of our own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith (Philippians 3:9). Friend, if you believe that you will go to heaven because of your good works, please know that the God’s Word would disagree with you. None is righteous, no not one. We all have turned aside from God’s way and have become unrighteous…but God has given us his righteousness. Jesus lived a righteous and holy life. He never sinned, but was punished as a sinner. After he was crucified, dead and buried, God raised him from the dead. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ gives everyone the opportunity to experience his righteousness through faith in his finished work of redemption. Friend, repent from trusting in your good works and trust in Jesus’s good work on the cross on your behalf. Our hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. You can be righteous today, by trusting in Jesus as your Savior.

And as we set our hope fully on this righteousness, God calls us to live a holy life. We know that a holy life does not save us, but it shows the world the power of Christ in our redemption. Our new life in Christ shines a spotlight on the saving power of God. God uses our new lives in Christ to call others to follow him. The faithful church member should live faithfully for God’s glory and for the reputation of his people.

The Healthy Church Member Should Attend Faithfully

The church is in a sad state when pastors have to make the argument that the regular gathering of believers is important. Christians should love to gather with God’s people to hear God’s Word, to sing God’s praises,
and to encourage God’s people with the glorious good news of Jesus Christ. This is Christianity 101. Hebrews 10:24-25,

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

The writer of Hebrews encourages God’s people to stir up one another to love and good works and to encourage one another as the final Day of the Lord is drawing near. And we cannot fulfill these obligations without meeting together. The gathering is one of the most basic blessings of the church. The gathering is the church. Remember the Greek word for church, ekklesia, used in the New Testament was taken from the Hebrew, qahal, which means “assembly.”

The healthy church member should be attending faithfully. The numbers are not good in the American church. The people of God are not faithful in their church attendance. Granted, people get sick and people take vacations. I am not expecting perfect attendance, but regular attendance should be the expectation. If you do not guard you time, it is easy to become a part-time church goer. Listen to this excerpt of an article by Trevin Wax,

Geoff and Christine are thirty-something churchgoers who love Jesus and love their three kids. They consider themselves faithful members of New Life Community Church. Their oldest is about to be in the youth group, and their youngest is finally out of diapers. Christine has been involved in the kids’ ministry through the years. Geoff is a deacon. But they are part-timers when it comes to church attendance, and they never set out to be. They are not alone. Recent statistics show that an increasing number of evangelicals who are firm in their faith are flabby in their practice of actually gathering with their brothers and sisters in worship. It’s the part-time syndrome, and it can sneak up on any of us. Let’s go back to Geoff and Christine. There are 52 Sundays a year, and last year, they attended a worship gathering on 28 of those Sundays. (That’s an average of about twice a month.) What happened?

Vacation: To maximize his allotted days, Geoff took the family to the mountains during the kids’ spring break, stretching over two weekends (one of which happened to be Easter!). There was the summer beach vacation, another stretch of a week and two weekends, and then a fall getaway. Total = 5 Sundays.

Sports: Their oldest son is on a travel soccer team. Many of the games are on weekends, and they believe it would be a better testimony to be among unbelievers on Sunday mornings rather than let down the team. Total = 9 Sundays.

Sickness: With their youngest child going to preschool, the family seems more susceptible to illnesses than before, and sickness always seems to hit on the weekends. Total = 3 Sundays.

Guest Preacher: When Pastor Jon is out of town, Geoff and Christine usually take the weekend off. They never like the guest speaker as much as Pastor Jon. Total = 3 Sundays.

Visiting In-Laws: Christine’s parents come twice a year to spend the weekend with the family. To maximize their time, they usually spend the weekends catching up and doing some shopping. Total = 2 Sundays.

Holiday: Thanksgiving weekend, and the week in between Christmas and New Year’s, the family is traveling. Total = 2 Sundays.

Geoff and Christine may be a fictional couple, but their situation is true for many of us. Recently, a church leader told me their most faithful attendees are only in church 2-3 times a month. They basically expect churchgoers to be “hit or miss” every week.[1]

Church leaders expect faithful members to be hit or miss in their church attendance. What a low standard!! Beloved, it is a great privilege to gather with God’s people. Let us make it priority. I do not want to guilt people into coming to church, but if Jesus gave up his blood for us, can we not give up our Sundays for him?

The Healthy Church Member Should Submit Faithfully

Hebrews 13:17 says,

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 no advantage to you.

The Bible commands Christians to submit to their church leaders. Leadership is difficult. It can be challenging to make decisions that may upset people and affect their lives, but decisions still have to be made. The second half of verse 17 says that leaders should watch out for your souls, “with joy and not with groaning for that would be no advantage to you.” Your submission and trust in this church’s leadership ultimately is for your benefit. The greater trust you have in the church’s leadership, the greater joy it is for pastors to guard your souls. How much easier is it to do things you enjoy? People always say if you love what you are doing, it doesn’t feel like work. It is work, but it doesn’t feel like work. You are typically more productive and efficient at the work you enjoy. This verse in Hebrews is saying to submit to your leaders in such a way to make the elders job of keeping watch over your souls a joy to them and, therefore, a blessing to you. If it is a joy, they will be more effective and efficient, which is a blessing to you.

Regardless of your submission, pastors are still going to watch over your souls. They are still going to lead and make decisions. Wouldn’t it be better for all involved to trust God’s Word and submit to church leadership? It sounds self-aggrandizing for pastors to say, “You must submit to us,” but this is how God has set up his church. Pastors are told not to be domineering, but a faithful example (1 Peter 5). We will be held accountable before the judgment seat of Christ for how we lead, and you will be held accountable before the judgment seat of Christ in how you submit. Trust God’s Word. The healthy church member should submit faithfully.

The Healthy Church Member Should Give Faithfully

The healthy church member should give their money for the work of the Lord. The goal or the starting point for New Testament giving should be 10%. Malachi 3 equates a failure to tithe with robbing God. God has given us resources and we are in turn to give back the first fruits of our resources back to Him. God expects you to give to his work, but also expects you to do it cheerfully, for God loves a cheerful giver. He expects you to give in proportion to how He has blessed you. Jesus gives this example in Mark,

41 And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums.42 And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which
make a penny. 43 And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. 44 For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:41-44, ESV)

God loves a cheerful giver. Why does God expect his people to give? First, it protects people from the love of money which endangers their souls. Paul writes in 1 Timothy 6:9-10,

But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.

And Jesus says in Matthew 19:23-24,

23 And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:23-24).

Secondly, it proves that Jesus is Lord of our life. Jesus says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:21). When we give our treasure to Jesus, our hearts follow that treasure to Jesus. Jesus uses money to test our devotion to him. Giving your money is a way to give your heart to Jesus. Thirdly, it helps support the work of the kingdom. It is not necessary for a church to have a full-time paid vocational pastor, but it is often helpful. The blessing of having a vocational pastor is that you free him up from other pursuits so that he can better watch over your souls through the prayer and preaching ministry of the Word. The Bible says in 1 Tim 5:17, “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.” Paul claims it is a right for people to be supported in their gospel work. Those who care for you spiritually should be compensated financially, but monetary gain can never be a motivation for pastors. Even in the qualification for pastors, 1 Timothy 3 says that an elder should not be a lover of money and in 1 Peter 5 that elders should serve willingly, not under compulsion. Pastors should never be about the money, and the people should never hold the pastor’s salary over this head. The more resources the church has the more the church can invest into the kingdom of God.

There are a lot of reasons to give. Most Christians believe in theory that it is more blessed to give than to receive, but most Christians don’t actually believe that in practice. In 2007, a study was done that indicated only 5% of Americans tithe.[2] And the average Christian gives just 2.43% of their income away.[3] If giving is an indicator of our spiritual health and where we place our treasure, is there any surprise why our churches are dying spiritually? The healthy church member should give faithfully.

The Healthy Church Member Should Serve Faithfully

1 Peter 4:10 says, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace.” The expectation is for church members to serve. God has given each a gift to be used to build up the body of Christ. Serving the church is one way we follow in Jesus’s footsteps. Mark 10:45, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Do not come to church be served, but to serve and give your life for others. Do not come to get, but to give. Follow Christ’s example. The healthy church member should serve faithfully.

The Healthy Church Member Should Pray Faithfully

Prayer is one of the greatest gifts we can give the church. The church is engaged in supernatural work. At the beginning of almost every epistle, you see the author talking about their prayers for the churches’ spiritual health. One of my favorite prayers is Philippians 1:9-11,

And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

Paul prayed that the love of the church would grow more and more in knowledge of God’s Word and in wisdom in applying that Word so that the church would live a pure and holy life as they set their hope fully on the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ their Lord. We should model Paul’s example in praying that our church would grow in its love for God and for one another for the glory and praise of God. We should all strive to be healthy church members, but we should never look down on those who are not. When we see others in our midst who may not be meeting the biblical expectations of church membership, we should not look down on them, but we should pray for them and labor alongside them to grow in their love for God and His Church.

God has given high expectations to His people. Beloved, let us strive to be a healthy church, full of healthy church members to the glory and praise of God.