Over the next few weeks, we’re going to look at the different aspects of our membership vows. When we are baptized or if we are being received into a congregation, we are asked, “As members of this congregation, will you faithfully participate in its ministries by your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service and your witness?”
Within this statement is a commitment to engage in each of these spiritual practices; each practice serving the purpose of building up both us and others for the Glory of God and His kingdom. Through our vows and as members of God’s holy Church, we are stewards—trusted participants in God’s will—and this is a serious responsibility. How has God chosen to redeem the world? Through us. So we will look at where each of us are, in regards to praying, presence, gifting, serving, and witnessing.
WORSHIP GUIDE QUESTIONS & COMMENTARY
WHY CHURCH MEMBERSHIP IS IMPORTANT :
Membership in the Church is important for a number of reasons.
1) The Church is God’s idea, as see in the book of Acts when He gathered together the faithful to be filled with His Spirit. Equipped with the presence of God, the faithful followers of Christ would remain together, sharing the mind and will of Jesus, to bring about the good news of God’s love through Jesus’ sacrifice to the world.
2) If the Church is God’s idea and is made up of faithful followers, then our participation in the Church is obviously of great importance. Because of the serious nature of our message and goal, a lack of commitment and participation is detrimental to the task. Participation is everything. But participation is not cumbersome or overly difficult when we participate with God, rather than apart from Him.
Often times, we try and be a good member or participant, but we get tired, burned out, or disillusioned. This tends to happen when we’ve either stopped practicing one or all of our vows, or we’ve replaced the spiritual gas—the love of God— that gives us energy with a lower-grade, insufficient fuel, like the love of self or cold obedience. We must have the life-giving love of God at the center of our activities or we’re just simply doing “things.”
3) Membership is important because the Church is a community. Scripture reminds us in 1 Corinthians 12.27, “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” Each person is a member, a part, an extremity of the Living Jesus in the world. Through the Church, we have both the Spirit and love of God as our strength and drive, but we also have the dependability of our other members. The Church is most certainly about support, through and through. God’s expectation is not that we would take on His world-changing mission alone or even as a few, but that we would engage the world as a body of believers, as an entire community of faithful people.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF A VOW :
When we make our membership vows, we are committing to a way of life that puts God at the front and the center. God is both our priority and our core. He is the interior heart and the exterior hands. If we stop and think about it, there is nothing minor or trivial about a commitment to pray, be present, gift, serve, or witness. These things are means of grace—ways that we connect with and to God; ways that we are formed into confident and capable disciples; ways that the Church can move and breathe and act in the world. Therefore, our membership vows are not light-hearted expressions or meaningless statements.
When we hear of vows, we think of marriage vows. In the Methodist tradition those vows are In the Name of God, I, ___, take you, ___, to be my wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until we are parted by death. This is my solemn vow.
I can still remember standing in front of 400 people when I said my wedding vows, and yet Ashley was the only thing I was aware of. It was significant and serious but it was also joyful and memorable. The same is true in our covenant and commitment to God. We’re vowing to stay true and faithful for better or worse, rich or poor, sick or healthy. Through our vows, we are saying ‘yes’ to being the hands, the feet, the hearing, the eyes, and the body of Jesus to the world. Its not a game. This is what is required to participate, to make it happen and for it to be beneficial for both God and us.
PRAYING MAKES A DIFFERENCE :
Now that we’ve looked at membership and vows, let’s begin breaking them down with our first one, the vow of prayer. Prayer is the communication that takes place within a relationship with God. Anyone can ‘pray’ but the truest sense of prayer is what takes place between someone and God as they are in a committed relationship to one another. For the Christian, prayer is more than conversation, it is communion with God, something that I hope makes more sense now that we’ve looked at vows and what’s entailed.
The difference prayer makes is seen in how it forms the one praying to God. As we pray, we grow to know God better, we learn to depend upon Him more, and we develop the ability to listen to what the Holy Spirit is saying to us. Prayer is very much a furnace that changes and transforms us into what God needs in order to accomplish the tasks set out before us.
Within this praying–relationship that we share with God, we come to trust in God’s character and goodness. Through a trusting, praying relationship with God, the character and goodness of God become part of us; we begin to live into that character and that goodness that is God’s. This is the kind of thing that happens in a committed relationship. Think of a spouse, how after many years and time together, you start to act like each other or use each other’s –isms and vocabulary. We slowly become one with our partner in many ways and we trust them because of that. Its the reason they are our go-to-person for the most important aspects of life.
The same is true for our praying relationship with God. When we pray to God for anyone or anything, we are both trusting God and His wisdom in the situation, and we are revealing to God what our hearts are most concerned with. At times, our prayers are answered. And yet, there are times when we will not understand why our prayers went unanswered. At all times, we must remember that our God is just and holy. Prayer is NOT a license to try and manipulate God or get what we want.
When I was in seminary, I was privileged to briefly study under Eugene Peterson (pastor, author, and professor). After 50 years in the ministry, we all had many questions and he opened up a window to field our wonderings. People asked all sorts of complicated, deep questions. And he gave them complicated, deep answers. But I stood up during an opportune moment and I asked him, “What is the greatest misconception in the Church today?” He paused, stared at the ground a minute, raised his head to heaven, then looked at me with a squint and said, “That prayer is a consumer act.” Peterson had watched for half a century people treat God like a cosmic grandfather, a celestial Santa Claus.
Folks, prayer is meant to be formative and deepening. And if and when you begin to be formed and deepened, you will become for the Church everything she needs to be God’s vessel for Good News throughout the earth. We pray with and to God. We lift Him up in gratitude. We make our petitions and the petitions of our Church and of others known. And then we let the formation (that comes through a prayer–filled relationship with God) make us into all that God intended.
This is why it is so important that we support our Church and it’s people through prayer. Because when prayer forms us into this kind of person, this kind of disciple, the Church can do anything. Transformed people who pray as Jesus prayed are mountain movers, world-changers, saintly people who are devoted to God.
…we are the body of Christ in the world; we pray to connect others and ourselves with the heartbeat of God; we pray to be transformed, to be molded into the likeness of Jesus; and in and only in Jesus’ likeness and with His mind can we accomplish what God has set out to do, which is, to make disciples for the transformation of the world.