I thought I’d pseudonymously share an exchange with a dear couple in our church about church membership, especially since they thought, as Dustin Hoffman says in The Graduate, these ideas were fully baked rather than half.
This couple is planning to relocate for a new job, after having leaned into the life of our church increasingly in the past year.
We appreciate the personal email asking about membership and where we’re at with it.
In light of our current life situation, we weren’t considering membership. If we were staying in Rock Hill, we’d be first in line to become members of Hill City. That’s a no-brainer. We love the church, consider it our home, and are committed to it. However, it’s clear to us that we’re not staying in Rock Hill, and we will be moving this summer. It didn’t make sense to us to become members and make that level of commitment if we’re leaving four months later.
As we look at our future and the coming move, the biggest regret we have about moving is leaving Hill City. Hill City has been a great fit for us, and we have felt more loved, wanted, and appreciated here than at any other church we’ve been a part of. We hope and pray that when we move, we can find something that approaches what we’ve found here with you all. You love Jesus and live life for him with an authenticity that is rare. You avoid pretense and aren’t afraid to live in a messy reality of brokenness and grace. You all are awesome!
In our remaining time in Rock Hill, we want to be fully engaged (and used!) in the church in any way we can. We want to make the most of the time we have left with you all.
If you have any feedback for us or a different perspective on this, please feel free to share.
-Joe & Judy
Dear Joe and Judy,
We’re of course so sorry we’ll be losing you and your gifts in our church, but obviously we want what Jesus wants for you and for his kingdom, and so we are thrilled that you’ve been given clarity about your next steps.
May I suggest a couple half-baked arguments for why you might consider going ahead and becoming members anyway? Either way, of course, we support your decisions.
1. Ellie and I were 90% sure we were moving away from Ohio when we found Grace Church in Hudson, OH. We found an unfathomably rich community and the restoration of our spiritual sanity, along with some robust Bible teaching that challenged us in our walk with Christ. We joined 2 months after beginning to attend. We moved 4 months later to SC. They baked us a cake and had a commissioning and send-off for us after the service on our last Sunday. It was moving, and we never regretted joining for a second.
2. When you arrive in your new context and settle into a church family, you’ll be able to have your new church contact us and we can commend you to them and to their care, so that there is a continuity in your care and in your membership. I know church membership and ‘transfer’ is taken more seriously in the Presbyterian tradition than maybe in others, but it was really neat to settle into our new church family in Columbia and have their elders contact our old elders in Ohio and have them commend us to their care. Weird Presbyterian idiosyncrasy, but I think it’s cool-weird, and meaningful.
3. If you were engaged to be married, because you had found your dream-spouse (or something finally close enough!), and then, 2 weeks before the wedding, found out that you only had 4 months to live: what would you do? I’d get married. You said “it didn’t make sense to … make that level of commitment if we’re leaving in four months.” The only level of commitment you’re making is to love and serve your heart out for the four months you’ve got with us before God calls you to your new home.
4. Obviously we’re not grasping for numbers, numbers, numbers, or we’d have a very different way of “doing church” (or “playing church”). But at the same time, it will be very meaningful for our church and for our supporting presbytery to see that we gained you two as members, even if for a short time. Especially the fact that you’re a generation more senior than me and Ellie makes a big difference and says something important to our supporting presbytery and to our rather young church body.
5. Four months is way too short a time for you to get in trouble for all your quirky views. You’re safe. 🙂
6. If in some measure God has restored your hearts to confidence in what the local church can be under the grace of Jesus, then consider your membership vows a testimony to the goodness of Jesus for what he’s done here in this place, and in your hearts while you have been among us.
You all are such a blessing to us, and your support and encouragement to our church is a huge vote of confidence that God is really at work among us. For a young, relatively less-experienced leader like myself, it’s both incredibly humbling and a massive encouragement to me that you all would affirm what Christ is doing within Hill City’s body. Thank you for that. Even if you still feel like membership is not the way to go, that’s okay for sure. It’s really no personal slight whatsoever. Either way we’d like to have the chance to lay hands on you and commission you in your new kingdom deployment when you are getting ready to leave for your next assignment.
Yours in Jesus,
This couple found these reasons compelling. Maybe you will too?
My man Daniel also wrote a piece today on the beauty of church membership, which is worth a read.