Years ago, when my family and I wanted to join a church in San Diego County we participated in the required membership class. In some previous churches in which we were active there was no formal membership, let alone membership classes. When we moved to Southern California we joined a mega church. They had formal membership in which prospective members sat through two Sunday School classes which addressed the church's constitution and presented their various ministries. At the conclusion of the second hour we became formal members.
When we purchased a house some distance away in San Diego County, we decided to join a smaller (185 or more people) church. The pastor and elders took membership far more seriously. This was new and refreshing to us. Yet the surprise came when they required those of us who went through the eight-hour membership class and wanted to join, to sign a membership covenant. Neither my wife nor I had ever heard of such a thing, so it seemed a little odd. The membership covenant outlined a list of ways the pastor and elders promised to serve those of us who were members. Then it listed a dozen or so expectations for their church members. Reading over the covenant and seeing nothing about which to be alarmed, we both signed it. In the course of the following week, the pastor and elders interviewed us. Two Sundays later we made public professions of faith and were formally received during the worship service. It was a big deal.
I have never been a part of a church since then that had such a thing. It is something Peacemaker Ministries encourages churches to implement. In fact, regardless of a church's affiliation, Peacemaker Ministries provides a recommended covenant for members. You can find more information on their website.
Reflecting on that covenant it dawned upon me how it might be a way to balance the expectations church members have of their pastor (and elders) with biblical expectations for the church folks. Church members often feel free to voice, even demand, their expectations of pastors (or elders) with little regard for the impact those expectations (good or bad, true or false) have on the men serving in church office. After all, church members' expectations are the primary reason why pastors leave a pastorate or leave the ministry altogether.
What expectations do church members and regular attendees typically have? From my personal experience and based upon what many fellow pastors have told me over the years, the great majority of those expectations fall outside God's own requirements for pastors (and elders). In other words, they are legalisms. While I could probably write another book, the subject, and title of which might be 1001 Common Expectations for Pastors, this is not the place to elaborate.
My point is: church members do have expectations of their church leaders and church leaders have expectations of local church members. Perhaps the pastor expect things like, “She must never be critical of me," or "Every participant in activities will always show up early or on time," or "The youth should pay attention to my sermons as much as I did when I was their age." To require those things would be to commit the same error or sin as any other person with her or his personal expectations. That would be just as legalistic and wrong.
Nevertheless, pastors and elders would be right to draft and communicate a list of expectations for all members of the local church that are biblically determined. Allow me to propose such a covenant:
The ultimate goal of pastors and elders in a God-ordained ministry is to equip the saints to do the work of ministry (Eph. 4:11-12) through the faithful exercise of their gifts (Rom. 12; 1 Cor. 12) in order to form Jesus Christ in the local community of God’s people through love (Eph. 1:15-23; 3:14-21; 4:13; Col. 1:22-29; 1 Thess. 3:11-13; 1 Tim. 1:5).
Here is a sample covenant for church members:
Our objective is to see every member and regular attendee serving and ministering to God and to one another in the love of Christ in order that we all become one new and mature body who lives in the unity of the faith (Eph. 4:13), in an intimate full-knowledge of Jesus that fosters a deep love for and full imitation of Christ (Eph. 4:13), and who lives in the truth that is spoken and expressed through love (Eph. 4:15).
Therefore, I make a commitment to:
* Glorify God by serving Him in regular, corporate worship each Sunday (unless I am providentially and legitimately hindered).
* Grow out of my “comfort zone” and grow more and more in grace and truth in my personal relationship with God in Christ.
* Grow out of my “comfort zone” and grow more and more in a godly, personal relationship with God’s people at _____________________ Church (Matt. 22; Jn. 15:12; Jas. 2:8; 1 Pet. 1:22; 4:7ff; 1 Jn. 4:7-12; 5:1).
* Regularly pray for others in the church (Acts 13:1-3; James 5:15; Eph. 6:18-19; I Tim. 2:1-4)
* Actively edify others by encouraging them in their spiritual growth and development of Christ-like character. (Acts 20:32; Rom. 14:19; 15:2; 1 Cor. 14:26; Eph. 4:12-13; 1 Thess. 5:11).
* Exhort and encourage others by giving aid, strength, and comfort, and by being a real friend in time of need. (Heb. 3:13; 10:24-25; 1 Thess. 4:18; 5:11).
* Lovingly admonish others (training by the Word through encouragement, reproof, or protest (Rom. 15:14; 1 Cor. 10:11; Eph. 6:4; Col. 1:28; 3:16; 1 Thess. 5:12, 14; 2 Thess. 3:15; Titus 3:10).
* Showing love by seeking to do good to others through self-sacrifice and giving (John 13:34-35; 15:12; 1 Thess. 3:12; 4:9-10; 1 Pet. 4:8; 1 Jn. 3:11, 23; 4:7, 11; Rom.15:2; 13:8-10; Gal. 6:10 ;1 Cor. 13; Col. 3:12).
* Having a servant’s attitude and actively serving others in meaningful ways (Rom. 12:10; Eph. 5:21; 1 Pet. 5:5).
* A regular and obvious demonstration of true affection to others (Rom. 12:10; 16:16; 1 Cor. 16:20; 2 Cor. 13:12; 1 Pet. 5:14).
* Practice hospitality (at least twice this year for someone with whom I am not very familiar; this could involve having them for supper, dessert, coffee, enjoying a picnic with them, etc.) (Rom. 15:7; I Pet. 4:9).
* Serve this church as a whole by using my talents and spiritual gifts (John 13:14; 2 Cor. 4:5; Gal. 5:13; Phil. 2:3-8; Rom. 12; 1 Cor. 12; 1 Pet. 4:10).
* Handling the failures of others with grace, mercy, and love (Eph. 4:2, 32; Col. 3:13; James 5:16).
* Be an active peacemaker in our church (Prov. 19:11; Matt. 7:1-5; 5:23-24; 18:15; Eph. 4:32)
* Not condemning one another in matters of personal conscience (Rom. 14:13).
* Not destroy the character of another by my words (Gal. 5:15, 26; Eph. 4:29; James 1).
* Not lie to others (Col. 3:9).
* Not speak evil against another person (James 4:11; 5:9).
* Verbally and actively support the vision, mission, and goals of our local church.
* Participate in the annual congregational meetings.
Before God I will seek to put off whatever is keeping me from loving and serving my church family as myself, and work toward putting on Christ through His Word and by the power of the Holy Spirit.
My name: ______________________________ Date: ___________________________
Certainly you could think of a more comprehensive list or one that more completely satisfies (even generally) the requirements the Scriptures have for God’s people within your local church. What do you think?