Possessive belonging, church membership and serving where you are told

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I have recently heard two helpful, succinct and penetrating thoughts on membership. What is more, they came from the same source. Justin Mote, the irrepressible Chair of the North West Partnership – the gospel partnership to which my church belongs and through which I found myself being sent to my current pastorate from another member church – recently offered two particularly useful insights.

I found myself listening to an online sermon from my previous church – Grace Church Manchester – delivered by our esteemed chair. In it, he spoke about being a church member noting, from Romans 12, that members belong to the body. Differentiating between associative and possessive belonging, Justin explained that our belonging to the church is possessive. That is, the church owns the members. The members belong to the church for the church to use (not abuse) as they will. He spoke of his wife’s parents, after she first became a Christian, wondering whether the church was putting upon her too much. He recalls that she replied “I belong to them. They own me. They can use me however they want”.

Prior to hearing that sermon, I attended the North West Partnership annual conference. During a Q&A session, Justin was addressing service in ministry in the context of the role of the Holy Spirit. He alluded to his being asked to run the teenage work in his church and went on to make the usual self-deprecating remarks one would expect about not being best placed to do so. Nonetheless, he and his wife found themselves serving this way. One small remark drove home the key point. Having explained that the Holy Spirit will empower us for ministry despite our potential failings and limitations, he said this (and I paraphrase for want of having actually memorised the quote): if your leaders ask you to do something in the church, if they think you are the best person for the job, then you do it. Are we not called to obey our leaders? So if they ask you to do something, you do it.

I found both comments really quite helpful for they clarify a significant issue in the life of the church. Namely, where can I, and when should I, serve? The answer seems unambiguous in light of these comments. You may make yourself available, you may have particular skills/gifts you want to exercise, you may feel unsuited to the task. But, at heart, you belong to the church so you serve where there is need and you serve where your leaders ask. You belong to the church so they may use you as they will. You are called to obey your leaders, so you should serve the church as they ask you.

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