As a pastor in a young, urban city, I spend multiple hours each week shepherding individuals through “why” church membership matters and what it looks like to commit to a local church body. Even more, we constantly challenge our people to have a long-term vision for their lives — that is, (at the very least) to consider what it would look like for them to plant their lives long term in a place where they can serve, lead, and grow as followers of Christ for years, decades, or even a lifetime. I know … it’s incredibly strange … but we just have this crazy belief that God delights in radically using ordinary people who commit to a specific place for the long haul!
Unfortunately, it seems like many pastors today don’t exactly know what it looks like to do this themselves, primarily because they don’t know what it looks to simultaneously be a pastor — and a member — of their own church. We know what it means to be a pastor. We know what it means for others to be members. But having a lifelong commitment to being both pastor and member feels a little harder to grasp. I would say, however, these two identities don’t need to be at odds with one another. In fact, when a pastor adopts the posture of “lifelong member” before the primary identity of “pastor,” he is setting both himself and his church up for much greater long-term effectiveness and health in the kingdom of God.
So here are four benefits of seeing yourself as a lifelong member of a local church.
1. It keeps us humble
If I’m always a member of my local church before I’m a pastor, that means (at the bare minimum) I live under all the same expectations of membership. In other words, I’m going to cheerfully serve my local church, give generously and sacrificially, and commit to life in community, just like every other member is expected to do. I’m not above any of these things because of a role I play, but I joyfully live as a “follower” before a leader. You know what this does? It reminds me I am no better than others. I’m no more deserving because of the work I do. And the people I help lead are fellow brothers and sisters before they are “parishioners” I exercise authority over. We’re one family, united by the gospel, with God as our Father.
2. It safeguards against loneliness and isolation
Perhaps one of the greatest challenges facing pastors in ministry today is the weight of loneliness or isolation. The “lonely at the top” motto has become not only an unfortunate reality, but for many, it has become the expectation of what life as a pastor is supposed to look like. Friends, loneliness was never intended to be worn as a badge of honor! If I see myself as a lifelong member first, though, and I’m given permission to look at other men and women in my church truly as family — even (gasp!) as friends! — perhaps these haunting realities of isolation could begin to weaken the hold they have on our lives and ministry. Perhaps we could develop a uniquely strong love for other men that is aligned with what God intended us to experience as brothers … and even as pastors. That is unquestionably good for the soul.
3. It makes the church attractive to outsiders
In today’s climate, there are hundreds of reasons for the outsider to be skeptical of the church (as an institution), pastors (as abusers of power), and religion (as a force for evil rather than good). But, as a pastor, when I can posture myself as a member first to my unbelieving neighbors and friends, it instantly establishes my social location as an “equal” before being the “person in charge.” It’s like a “reverse power move!” … and counting others as more significant than yourself is just as attractive today as it was 2,000 years ago (Phil. 2:3).
4. It helps advance the mission of the church through next generations
Finally, and most importantly, seeing yourself as a lifelong member prevents you from looking at this thing as my church. The sobering (and grace-filled) reality is this isn’t your church. It never was and it never will be. It doesn’t matter if you are a church planter and you “built” this thing from the ground up or you were voted in as the senior pastor last week — it’s still not yours. It belongs to God and it always will. We’re just fortunate to play a teeny-tiny part in the grand scheme of it all.
The really beautiful thing about this is that it makes it so much easier to pass the baton to other young leaders as you age. If this isn’t “my” church — I’m just a member and this belongs to God — then I can trust Him, and consequently other leaders, to continue the mission. I mean, isn’t that our dream anyway?! That this thing outlasts every single one of us? Do you ever dream about what your church might look like well beyond your years of leadership? I want to live and minister in a way that our best years are ahead of us, it’s only getting better, and God will accomplish even more one day when I’m a little more out of the way.
In short, having the posture of member is so good for everyone. It’s good for you. It’s good for your family. It’s good for your church. And it’s good for those who are not yet even a part of the kingdom, but one day will be. So humble yourself and be encouraged: Your brothers and sisters will welcome you with grace.
Published July 24, 2018