We can easily get into a tangle with words. HMRC famously did battle with McVities over whether Jaffa Cakes were indeed cakes, and on a more serious note some are finding the label "evangelical" problematic as a result of its association with the Trump administration.
The term "membership" can also cause issues: I don't think there's a better word we can use, but it can cause misunderstandings. So here are three myths that I think are worth busting!
Membership is not a club. A good friend once shared with me a revelation he'd had about the way his non-Christian mates saw Church. He'd been talking enthusiastically about how he'd enjoyed a Sunday service and his friend said to him, "Well, it's whatever works for you, isn't it? I had a fantastic day out with the Land Rover club." We're not a group of otherwise separate people who meet up because of a shared interest! What do the Scriptures say? "From [Christ] the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work." - "But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession." What binds us together are the defining aspects of our lives - devotion to Christ and to His people, and the Holy Spirit who lives in each of us.
Nor are we like a club where there are "member benefits" - quite the opposite! William Temple once put it that "the Church is the only organisation that does not exist for itself but for those who live outside it." Naturally, when we look for leaders to take on responsibility in shaping the community, we look first and foremost amongst those who we know are fully committed to the "one mind, one purpose" that I talked about in my last blog, so it is often members who serve the most in the community. Likewise, the bulk of the giving that supports our community comes from those who have committed publicly through membership. Membership is not an inside track for good returns, but a commitment to be more self-giving! In short, we are not a club, but a family - but one which anyone can choose to join.
Membership is not a way of keeping certain people out. There is an interesting image in Revelation 21 of the "New Jerusalem" coming down from heaven. In John's prophetic picture, it has great, high walls that are more than 50m thick! This could be interpreted as a defensive, self-protective picture of the future, were it not for v25: "on no day will its gates ever be shut". That city has a defined identity: it belongs wholly and utterly to Christ forever - but it is also wide open because nobody who has sought to enter has been excluded, and because with God living in it, there is nothing to fear.
Our idea of membership is based on that model; there is a wide-open invitation to all and any to enter a community with a defined identity. We are outward-focused, and much of our effort as a Church is devoted to seeing people drawn in!
Membership is not an unnecessary formality. We find that formal commitment to membership works two ways - it flows out of a sense of connectedness and commitment to a community, but it also helps to form that sense of connectedness and commitment. We're also not very formal about it! An "Exploring Membership" evening leads to a conversation (or conversations) with someone in Church leadership about any questions you might have, a chat with an elder, and then a chance to be welcomed and prayed for on a Sunday morning.
Have you found home at OCC, but not yet explored what it means to commit to the community? Are you a long-standing member who would like to refresh your memory on what we stand for and the way we live? Come along to The King's Centre this Sunday evening (November 26th) to take the next step of the journey!