I Am A Church Member (but Thom Rainer doesn’t get it)

I am a church MemberI like Thom Rainer. I have benefited greatly from his books and research. But his most recent book, I Am a Church Memberis severely misguided and misinformed.

I Am a Church Member appears to be intended for “Church Membership” classes in local churches. While I am not a fan of  institutional churches or of the church membership classes that go with them, I do understand that if a group of believers are going to meet in an institutional way, they probably need some sort of membership rolls, and membership classes to go with them. Fine. If that is how you think it is best to follow Jesus, I have absolutely no problem with it.

So what is the problem with Thom Rainer’s book? I Am a Church Member uses guilt and fear to get new church members to do what the church leadership wants.

Let me back up.

By all reports, institutional Christianity is hemorrhaging.  Every year, millions of people abandon the institutional way of doing church, not because they are abandoning God, Jesus, or the Church, but because they find that intimate relationships with others and loving service in the community apart from the systematized and scheduled meetings on Sunday morning is a more natural way of following Jesus and living life as His disciples.

Naturally, this mass exodus from the church has church leaders scared. They need people to fill their pews. Why? So that they can give their tithes, so the church building can be paid for and the pastoral salaries funded, and so that there is a place and people for all the expensive church programs.

But how do you tell church members that to truly follow Jesus, they have to attend church, give their tithes, support the church leadership, and serve in church programs?

Apparently, you get Thom Rainer to write a book about it, and get 23 prominent church leaders and seminary presidents to endorse the book, and then price the book in such a way so that scared church leaders all over the country will buy hundreds of copies of the book so they can hand it out to all the people in their “Church Membership” classes.

A Summary-Review of I Am a Church Member

Here is a basic summary of Thom’s book:

Rainer begins the book pointing out that nine out of ten American churches are declining in attendance (p. 4). His book is the proposed prescription to this problem. (But is it really a problem?)

Beginning with a terrible misunderstanding of Paul’s “Body” imagery in 1 Corinthians 12-14 and how every “member” of the Body needs every other member, Rainer uses six chapters to propose six commitments that every new church member must make to the church they are attending. The six commitments are actually six popular cliches which church leaders around the world love to use in sermons and in publications to guilt church people into being regular church attendees.

The best (read: worst) part about each chapter, is that they conclude with a pledge for the reader to sign and date! I can almost visualize the conclusion of each week in the Membership classes, where the Pastor (or Elder) teaching the class get everybody to stand and say the pledge out loud, and then collects copies of everyone’s pledge to be stored in the person’s “Membership File” so that if they ever get out of hand, the pastor can pull their file and say, “See? You made a commitment. You signed on the dotted line. Are you going to break your word? Are you a liar? You know where liars go, don’t you?”

That may be a bit over the top, but you get the gist…. and if you have ever sat through one of these meetings, you know that this is pretty much how they go… See this satirical video.

The Six Commitment in I Am A Church Member

Here are Rainer’s six recommended commitments (summarized and reworded for this review):

  1. I will devote as much time and energy to my local church as possible, because if I don’t, I am letting Jesus down.
  2. Nobody is perfect. Not even my pastor. So I won’t talk or think negatively about him in any way, or challenge anything he says or does, because doing so would damage the gospel.
  3. Church isn’t about me. Even if I don’t like the music, can’t stand the preaching, there’s nothing for my kids, and I think the church is wasting my time and money, I will still attend faithfully.
  4. No matter what, I will support my pastor and pray for him every single day.
  5. I will bring my entire family to church with me, because the future of my family, the church, and the entire world depend on it.
  6. I love being a member of this church, and I never, ever, want to stop being a member. It’s the best! I promise. It’s a gift from God.

Yes, yes, my summaries are a bit snarky. But if you read Thom’s book, you will see that my summaries are not that far off from what he actually wrote. I am using satire to point out how guilt-laden and performance-driven these commitments are.

Why do I feel so strongly about this? Because I am tired of church leaders with expensive church buildings and bloated church budgets trying to shore up their ineffective church programs by demanding further sacrifice and greater commitments from tired and weary church members. What ever happened to “my yoke is easy and my burden is light”?

While there may be some people are leaving institutional Christianity because they are rebelling against God or forsaking Jesus, the vast majority are leaving so that they can better follow Jesus into the world. Isn’t this something to be praised and encouraged?

I am a church member

Look, being a church member has nothing to do with sitting in a pew on Sunday morning, listening to a sermon and praying for your pastor, giving your money to support a local church budget, and making commitments to serve on a church ministry program.

Are we all members of one Body? Yes. Does every member need every other member? Of course.

And that is exactly why so many millions of people are leaving institutional Christianity. It is not because they don’t want to be members of Christ’s church, but because they are members of Christ’s church, the Body, and have found that Jesus wants them to serve the Body and love the world in ways that waste less time and money.

Look, I am not against people attending church. Truly. I am not. I am not against “Church Membership” for people who attend church. The way that system is set up, “Church Membership” is a good idea. What saddens me is that church leaders think that people who “leave their church” are forsaking Jesus, abandoning the church, and living in rebellion against God.

Just once, I would love for a mega-church pastor or a prominent church author to come out and announce a blessing upon all those people who are leaving their church to follow Jesus in tangible and loving ways in the community. Why cannot church leaders see themselves as “sending these people out into the world” rather than see them as “leaving the church”?

So if Thom Rainer ever reads this review, I would invite him to write a follow-up book which church pastors can hand out to people who are leaving their church. It could be titled, I Am a Church Member (…even if I don’t attend church). The book would contain no pledges, no dotted lines upon which to sign, and no guilt trips. Instead, it would contain a commitment on the part of the church leadership to not condemn or criticize those who leave institutional Christianity, but to bless them and thank them for being the church by following Jesus in ways that take great courage and creativity.

I beg Thom Rainer (and all the Seminary Presidents and Mega Church Pastors who endorsed I Am a Church Member) to recognize that many people may be leaving the institutional church, not because they have given up on church, are abandoning Jesus, or are bad church members, but because they are good church members and they want to be the church by following Jesus into their neighborhoods and communities.


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Comments

  1. says

    Very well said. I kind of wanted to read this but your review is pretty much what I expected. The defenders of institutionalized Christianity are in a panic over dwindling numbers but rather than ask why people are leaving and wondering if perhaps there is a reason they resort to guilt trips and subtle threats to keep people showing up.

    • says

      Yes, I think there is a bit of panic setting in. This always happens when the ship is sinking. But as some are seeing, the church is not dying, but is rising up from the ashes, and she is beautiful to behold!

  2. Sam says

    This book does smack of desperation. It seems as if the real goal is to preserve the institution, and following Jesus and loving others has been all but forgotten.

    We temporarily attended two churches that had similar ideas. One required that people sign a similar list of “commitments” when joining. The other had a sheet you were supposed to sign each week, that among other things said you had tithed that week, hadn’t sinned, had prayed and read the Bible each day, and more. People signed these items, but didn’t do what they had agreed to do. We didn’t sign and didn’t stay.

    • says

      Yes, these commitments are quite common. When I was a pastor, we actually had “attendance” rosters we would pass around. We “said” it was so I could call the people who missed and tell them that they were missed and to see if there was any help they needed, but really, it was a way to put a guilt trip on people for missing a Sunday service.

  3. Dustin says

    They think the numbers are dwindling now, just wait another generation.

    But it doesn’t matter because God is ‘writing His laws in our hearts’ and we are ‘walking temples’. Men like Thom Rainer and mega church pastors defend the institution because their livelihoods depend on it and those in power are afraid to lose it.

  4. Tommy Everard says

    I admit I did not read this whole blog post, because you are preaching to the choir with me. Sounds like a book to prop up the livelihood built into Christendom for those who use it as a job. Because for those who Christianity is more of a vocation, well they make their livelihood by partaking in life.

  5. Andrew says

    AMEN to that brother. I believe our good LORD Yeshua is working in you. God Blesses you with the power and understanding from knowledge of Our Holy spirit.. You are truly Blessed, keep up the good works Jeremy.. AMEN AMEN

  6. Dan says

    You have a rather harsh view of Church leadership. Trust me going 90,000 dollars into debt to receive a masters of divinity and then expecting to make 24,000 a year does not really strike me as being in it for the money. I think all Christians come to a point in their faith were they look at the Church and say this looks nothing like Christ and they have a choice throw the baby out with the bath water or work to make the institution Christ like.

    • Edwin Pastor FedEx Aldrich says

      Dan,

      As a pastor and a long term “member” of the Church, I pretty much agree with Jeremy, and you make exactly my point. Where in the bible do we find the “position” of pastor requiring a $90k seminary degree? Do the seminaries really exist for the good of Christ’s Body, or for the perpetuation of a man-made system? You decide, just like the secular colleges, you spend a tom of money, get a low paying job to start out then work your way up in a company or change to a better paying company. The difference is we change company to “church” and suddenly our job is a holy calling, and when we leave the little church that doesn’t pay much to go to a bigger church that pays more we can say “God is leading us” instead of I am taking a better paying job. I know that some people have taken scripture out of context to say that “pastors” somehow deserve a large salary, and the denomination have decided that in order to protect their brand of doctrine have decided to require seminary training. But pastors are few and far between that leave a good paying church to go to a smaller lower paying church, or to a church where they take no salary at all.

      All of this to say this, the “church” is Christ’s body, made up of all who believe him anywhere at any time, and they are all members, we do not need commitment forms or covenants in order to determine who is in or out. We do not need buildings that sit empty six days a week, and we do not need a single paid staff member to carry out God’s mission. We can do everything that the church in the New Testament did without any pseudo-professional ministers drawing salaries to pay off their student loans, and the sad part is that we could probably do it much better and much more efficiently without any of these things.

      Pastor FedEx

      • Sam says

        Seminaries are businesses that hire employees, some of whom are professors. They exist to teach a certain set of doctrines/beliefs to people who want to be indoctrinated in that system, which will convince certain types of churches that they are “experts” in doctrine and perhaps Bible and therefore should make a valued employee who will perpetuate the beliefs of the group.

        • Edwin Pastor FedEx Aldrich says

          Sam,

          Exactly, its no different than any other paraprofessional. Architects or doctors or lawyers, they go to school, get a degree, and then get on with a company and hope to move their way up. In church, we call moving up growing your church, or being “led by God” to another church(almost always with more pay or potential). I think it devalues the spiritual gift of pastor and replaces it instead with a career field.

          FedEx

      • Dan says

        I am not in seminary to make money plain and simple if I wanted to make money I would have continued in history or law. I am going into a denomination that 80% of its churches are less than 50 members. You might not value a education in counseling, theology, scripture, and biblical language but I do and I believe it will better equip me. My denomination does not require a seminary degree to be a licensed minister, in fact most do not. Mine even offers online classes to obtain a basics at minimal cost. I am going to arguably the best seminary to get the best education to do my best job ministering to people.

        • Edwin Pastor FedEx Aldrich says

          Dan, it is unfair to say that I don’t value education. I have spent the last 30 years as a student of the bible, sitting at the feet of pastors, professors, bible teachers, philosophers, counselors, and others as well as spent hundreds of hours listening to recorded teaching. I value education in as much as it makes me more like Christ, but most seminary graduates I have met act nothing like Christ. What I oppose is going into debt for education, taking on burdens that often become hinderences to the ministry. I believe in “freely you have received, now freely give”, meaning I teach all who I can without charge and seek out those who will teach me. Surprisingly, several seminary professors have been among those who freely gave to me. If your conscience allows you to incur this much debt knowing you will struggle to repay it, that is between you and God. I just oppose running places of learning about God like the secular schools are operated. Just my opinion, learning about God is a lifelong process or journey, if you will, not a business to be sold through institutions of man.

          Pastor FedEx

    • says

      Dan,

      I actually did get that much debt getting a TH.M. And I made that much money in my first two churches. Actually, the second one paid me $30k. But few want to pastor small churches. Many pastors (including myself) wanted to pastor large churches. Did you hear that Furtick is building himself a $1.7 million dollar mansion?

      • Dan says

        That amount of spending is ridiculous, when I said 90,000 I was serious, I think that’s how much I am going to end up with.

        • says

          I hate to say it, but you are probably right. I worked a lot, and got some grants and scholarships, and interest-free loans from family. So that helped a bit. Where are you going?

  7. Jennifer Constantine says

    I have mixed feelings about the concept of people leaving church. I currently teach Sunday School at the church I go to because I was asked to after our church went through a split. I do not however, believe in church membership beyond the concept of ‘if i am a christian, then i am automatically a member of the church, His bride, and therefore do not need to make any further pledges or committtments.’ I do however, believe that in order to continue to remain healthy, I should be knit in with a local body of believers. I think that means I need to pray about where Jesus wants me and it’s ok if that means I don’t show up everytime the door is open other than those times I have already obligated myself such as Sunday School. I believe the reason people are leaving church in droves is because the gospel is not being preached in a way that challenges people to go deeper in their relationship with God, in which their lives are transformed and they are in turn discipling others. Why, because if that were to happen, pastors would lose control over ‘their’ flock. The ones that are really understand this don’t worry about church membership because -surprise- when thy are faithful to do as God wants, they always find that God pays the bills whether people are faithful to give or not.

    • says

      Good points, Jennifer. I agree also that being a follower of Jesus means some sort of tangible connection with other believers so that together, we can live life and serve others. But I don’t think that most people on the membership rolls of churches truly have this connection with others, nor will signing on a dotted line get it for them.

  8. Eric Carpenter says

    This is another classic example of institutional leadership failing and/or refusing to see that the institution and the church are two completely separate things. The church is of God’s making, while the institution is man’s creation. As Christendom continues its collapse, we’ll see more and more of these guilt-inducing types of books. Yuck.

    Jeremy, thanks for reviewing this one. What you wrote needs to be said.

  9. TonyVance1966 says

    Great review. I am institutional in my service of The Lord, but I see the value in the way you talk about. I recently have come to the attention of simple/primitive church, & am fascinated by its possibilities.

    • says

      Great, Tony! I have sometimes been overly critical of institutional settings, but see that they play a large role in the Kingdom of God as well. Thanks for serving as you do!

  10. nbraithwaite says

    I tried to post two comments earlier but I guess putting in a link was seen as spam. Anyway – this is interesting to me considering I just posted something in line with this topic on my blog: HonorGodsWord.com – “Church Cannibalism”

  11. Edwin Pastor FedEx Aldrich says

    Jeremy,

    Good review, Was probably not going to read this anyway. I had my fill of this type of preaching and teaching. It saddens me that people are using the Bible to defend an institution that looks and acts nothing like the “Church” found in the bible. I really feel that the exodus of people from institutionalized church is just beginning. There will be some that stay, but the competition between churches over that ever dwindling group will become very interesting. The western church has a lot to answer for as far as what they have done with God;s resources and how they have treated people and I am not sure that the institutional church as we have known it will survive another generation or two.

    • says

      It would be good if this competition could cease, and we could all work together in unity, right? Whether it is “institutional” churches or “organic/simple” fellowships.

  12. Justasheep says

    I also agree with the commentary about this book and most local churches in America. So how should followers of Christ be a part of a local community of believers? Seems that we should be trying to change the way the existing local church operates rather than walking away. Thoughts or successes on how local believers have come together to live out the Body of Christ?

  13. Ward Kelly says

    The church I am currently attending is not only pressuring the obviously faithless for tithes, they are now selling bricks for $85.00 to place in a crosswalk in front of the church…ugh. They also separate the attendees into classes with those who attend, and those who are “partners”. I agree with a previous poster that Jesus said our burdens would be light. With all these mega-type churches pressuring people it is no wonder people are leaving the church. Oh, and the pastoral staff of 5 or 6 take a $500,000 salary. I would really like to find a home church…

  14. Ryan Parish says

    Jeremy, I’m wondering how you came to the conclusion that most people who are leaving churches are doing so to better follow Jesus? That’s not my impression, but I’m hoping you’re right. Can you persuade me with any evidence?

    • says

      Just my own experience in my own life and through interacting with thousands of others. But the question can be turned around as well. Where is the evidence that people who follow Jesus outside of the four walls of the church building are doing a worse job of following Jesus than those who remain within that setting?

      • Ryan Parish says

        I don’t dare claim that those who follow Jesus outside the traditional church model are doing a worse job. I haven’t any evidence one way or the other, actually – outside of experiential. Honestly, my comment was not a challenge but a sincere inquiry. Those that I have known who have left traditional church did so for less noble reasons than your post describes. My main concern is that people become like Jesus and thrive in His kingdom. Like you, I am convinced that we need other disciples to be a part of that process with us, but I don’t claim that you need a particular building or organizational machinery. I was just hoping to have my own impressions (based on my own experiences) balanced with what you’ve seen in sincere disciples who leave the traditional model and find something more biblically effective.

        • Sam says

          Ryan, my wife and I left the building and follow Jesus outside the building. We know those who checked out churches for awhile, grew totally disillusioned based on what they experienced and just chucked the whole church/Jesus thing. However, we have our doubts that most of them were Jesus followers anyway.

          Our experience is that our churches are filled with what we call religious people, but only some of them are Jesus followers. Most church people seem to be into political and religious causes, go to church to “network”, and so on.

          Admittedly, as Jesus followers we “need other disciples”, but we weren’t finding them “in church”. We’ve found them on the street and in the neighborhood. Many can’t figure out how to do that. The stuff I’ve written on topics like getting to know neighbors and being the church in the community doesn’t seem to connect with church people, who usually think church is about sermons, a belief system, music, political causes to be for or against and so on.

          For many of us “church” was about lots of things, but Jesus some how got lost in the shuffle a long time ago. Sure, mention his name, use the Bible and so on. But follow him and do what he modeled? – Huh? Isn’t that stuff first century?

        • says

          Ryan,

          I don’t know how to explain or defend it. It also is just my experience. I see the Kingdom of God unfolding in ways never before imagined or expected, not just among those who name of the name of Jesus, but among those we relate to also.

  15. deidre havrelock says

    I like how you ask where the pastors are who would be wiling to bless those who left the building to be able to follow Jesus and the Spirit better… a blessing would be nice change.

    • Ryan Parish says

      Deidre, I should think that I would be one such pastor. Unfortunately, I’ve not dealt with anyone who ‘left the building’ for that reason. If I did, I would like to think that I’d encourage them to find a community of disciples who would help them follow Jesus more effectively. Hypotheticals are easy, though, I guess :) I have blessed those who chose to go to another congregation, though. What Jesus wants for that person is that they become like Him – and he/she can do that in all kinds of different communities of disciples.

  16. brab0012 says

    It seems you are misusing the term “institutional.” Organized is a better term. The Bible gives specific responsibilities to pastors/elders that require a certain amount of organization. For instance, a pastor is to give an account of how he shepherds the flock that God has given him. This implies that he must know who makes up his flock, teach, rebuke, and exhort them with all long suffering. The pastor must, therefore, keep tract of who is in his flock, and how they are doing spiritually, physical, etc. The pastor is required by God to care for the individual believer who is a member of his flock and not the members of another flock. Furthermore, the care for the members of the body sometimes requires rebuking, or even excommunication. These basic requirements placed on the church leadership require that the church must have a membership role. For how can a pastor be held accountable for an unknown person? How can a person be excommunicated from an organized body that doesn’t exist? I’m suspecting that were we to delve into theological positions we would find much disagreement. That is not unusual among Christians. However, at present I sense that it is a root of bitterness that is fueling your discontented attack against local churches. If you are indeed sincere in your attempt to dismantle the organization of the church, then may I suggest that that you might be getting your ideas from that evil one that most desires to dismantle the church? Consider James 3:13-18 brother.

    • says

      There are different ways to organize, so when I use the term “institutional” I refer to the form of church organization where there is a building, a hierarchy of clergy (some of whom are paid) who are separate from the laity, a constitution and bylaws, and other similar structures and symbols. There are other ways to organize church which have none of these things, but which are still “church.”

      As such, I am not trying to dismantle the church, but build it up and encourage the church to grow in healthy and holistic directions. Ultimately, I desire that the church follow Jesus into the world by loving and serving others.

    • Sam says

      Many of us use other church “models”, but that does not make you or us bitter or evil. We are not interested in investing billions of dollars in properties, staffs and programs when there are people living in the streets and in abject poverty nearby.

  17. Christie McClellon Jones says

    We are getting ready to do a Bible Study at my church on this and I will get back to you to voice my opinion. Thanks for the review.

  18. Christie McClellon Jones says

    We are getting ready to do a study of the book at my church. I will get back with my views. Thanks for the forum.

  19. Kyle Bridgman says

    Thanks for the invitation to read this book. I had actually just read it. I understand your points about the institutional church not being the ultimate way to serve Jesus. I also am not naive about the direction and pressure of our culture today. We are constantly bombarded by invitations to step further and further away from God. Hopefully people will reach a point in their faith when they have personally disciplined themselves to avoid most of those temptations. Until that time, personal discipleship needs others to help and guide. The institutional church is a place where an anchor can be driven. It will not be perfect, it will not be even close, but it will provide a place to return to and will also provide a place to battle back against our culture. It will provide an opportunity for those who are seeking and growing who don’t happen to run into a community-minded missionary to mentor them. It is also a place to become a community-minded missional Christian to use as a home base. Yes, a couple of the pledges are designed to strengthen the instutition, but many of them are about praying for others, supporting those whom God has called to lead and I believe a major theme of the book is discoving. Any book will fall short of meeting every situation, but this one is a good general call to at least think about our personal ministry and how it applies to group ministry.

    • says

      Kyle,

      You are right that an institutional church can be a place where an anchor can be driven. I just want people to think through the reasons why they attend an institutional church. For many, it is simply tradition and because “this is what Christians do.”

      As long as someone realizes that there are other ways of being the church and following Jesus, but they believe that “attending church” on Sunday is helpful for them in following Jesus, then I am all for it!

  20. twolatincats says

    Our pastor held this book up last Sunday and basically preached from it. This week our community groups have been instructed to discuss the six pledges to reinforce what was spoken about from the pulpit. What bothers me most is that so many of the Scripture references that are used to support the pledges are taken out of context and really have little or nothing to do with the author’s theories.I believe God will hold this man and those who abuse God’s Word accountable. I have not read the book—my church is already living through enough spiritual abuse on the part of its leaders that I really don’t think I can stomach any more! I lead one of these community groups and believe me, we will look at the Scriptures and be like the Bereans and find out for ourselves “whether these things are true.”

    • says

      I had that concern too when I read the book. Good job being a Berean.

      But don’t cause too much controversy over this in your small group. It doesn’t pay to be divisive and to seek to undermine others. If you are uncomfortable, it might be time to quietly leave the church, but raising a ruckus might not be wise.

      • twolatincats says

        Absolutely! (on being divisive etc.) Two wrongs never make a right.

        On the plus side of the whole issue is the certainty that God is sovereign and He will accomplish His purposes for His church no matter what.

        Thanks.

  21. Jim Gaston says

    I think you have it all wrong. This book is showing those who want to be a member of a local church how they can be a better member and in so doing having a deeper relationship with Christ. Here are my chapter titles. 1. I will be an active member in the church. 2. I will encourage other church members. 3. I will put aside my personal preference for the sake of the Gospel. 4. I will pray for those who rule over me. 5. I will disciple my family members and others. 6. Local church membership has many benefits. There is no guilt trip in this book. There is responsibility in being a church member both the local body and the universal body. And to characterize this book the way you have I believe you are sowing discord and you are the one that is in sin and need to repent. I to have been hurt drastically by the local institutional churches more than most and if anyone a reason to throw the concept out it would be me. Just because I was wronged on several occasions in my life does not mean the concept is wrong, it means that there are humans involved. Your free spirited thinking have brought about many of the cults that are in existent today. We need to find a way to unify the passion of those like your self with the benefits of the institutional church.

    • says

      Jim,
      I hear what you are saying, but what about the people who do not want to do the things that Rainer says. In other words, what about the Christians who seek to serve and follow Jesus in ways other than those that Rainer writes about in his book? Most often, they are looked down upon, criticized, and seen as second-class Christians. The true, Godly Christians are those who do the things Rainer recommends.

      Look, I am absolutely fine with people who want to do the things Rainer suggests. What I am not fine with is how those people criticize and condemn Christians who seek to follow Jesus is other ways.

      I know you cannot speak for Rainer, but what about you? If someone is attending your church and does not wish to become a member or do the things Rainer says, how do you view them? How do you treat them? What do you think about them? What if they decided to stop attending church altogether? Then what?

  22. scott says

    Thom Rainer doesn’t have a problem but I think you do. You turned a scriptural account for love and unity in the Church (yes the body of Christ) by Thom into a guilt trip/scare tactic. Only in your mind did that happen, Jeremy. I wonder how much prayer and communion in the Holy Spirit occurred in your process because your comments reflect exactly what Thom is addressing. I am sorry to say this but Thom is consistent with the WORD you are not. Please accept my gentle rebuke in love and truth and make a correction.

    • says

      Scott,

      Membership classes and membership commitments are consistent with the Word? I may have missed that part. Can you point it out to me?

      Regardless, my main concern is with people who will get criticized and condemned for not wanting to become a “church member.” They almost always get treated as second-class Christians who are not fully devoted followers of Jesus.

      Would you mind if someone attended your church but didn’t want to make the commitments that Rainer writes about? What would you think of such a person?

  23. JB says

    “many people may be leaving the institutional church, not because they have given up on church, are abandoning Jesus, or are bad church members, but because they are good church members and they want to be the church by following Jesus into their neighborhoods and communities.”

    If this were true, your article points may be valid. I would love to see the evidence that points to this conclusion. I don’t see people leaving and then being spectacular Jesus followers outside the walls of the church. I wish that were the case. I see people falling away in disillusionment from church people that don’t act like church people, but then they flounder in a world filled with sin, slowly sinking to that level and blending in till there is no light or salt. No church is perfect, but I do believe it is the best method of human support for Christians. Uplifting one another. Sharing pain, sorrow, joy, fellowship. Walking this walk together.

    I may or may not be in favor of everything Rainer says in the book, but I do believe the book is not a desperate attempt to save the church, but an attempt to show people how to behave in a way that honors their calling to God as it relates to the church. If God’s people act like God’s people, there wouldn’t be so many people leaving.

    • says

      JB,
      What evidence would be acceptable to you? I personally know dozens of such people. Although, what you mean by “spectacular”? Following Jesus is anything but spectacular. It is humble, hidden, and often done in small “mustard seed” settings.

      One reason people flounder (as many do) is that they have been told that the only way to be a Christian is to attend a church, and so when they cannot stomach that any longer, they figure they have to give up on all of it.

      • says

        “Can’t stomach it” is an interesting choice of words. So, if the very idea of going to church makes me physically feel as if I’m going to vomit, I think I must be who you’re speaking of. Those who don’t feel this way are often the ones evoking this gut response. Lord, forgive me for the times I was the problem.

  24. Joan says

    I’m a church secretary and a member of the church I work at. People leaving the church every week, down to about 20 families. We left, the Holy Spirit prompted us. Too much religion not enough Jesus. I have served since I was 9 y/o and the true teacher is the Holy Spirit. God is doing something and we should walk in Faith not Fear. This move of the true bride is exciting and actually seems to be making the church a living moving organism in the world!!! Flowing in the Spirit ministering to others, …..they shall know you by your love for one another. If God is breaking down our church building structures(Baptist and other denominations) to have us flow under one Jesus in Love then so be it!

    • says

      Thanks for sharing what is going on in your church. I do think God is moving in the Body of Christ, and pastors can embrace this work or fight it. I fear that by trying to guilt people into keeping their butts in the pew, pastors will be fighting against what God is doing in the church.

      • says

        Joan, your comment about the Bride is so apt. The institutional church has found other lovers (usually politics these days.)

        A few years ago, a man shared a dream he had in a small, online prophetic group. In the dream, there was a stone church building that started caving in. He saw his wife (bride) run from the church, unharmed, naked & unashamed. She ran into his joyful embrace.

        The meaning a clear. The Bride is forsaking the institution. She is no longer clothed in denominational insignia or hidden behind man made walls. She is free to embrace her first love. This IS happening, more& more.

        People wring their hands over the various trends they see as destroying the church. These trends are an effect of a crumbling structure, not a causative factor. NOTHING can destroy the church. The gates of hell shall not prevail against her!

  25. Rusty says

    I believe the body of believers in Acts devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching, prayer, fellowship and the breaking of bread together. And apparently there was some organization because there were numbers added to the “church”. Jesus never said there was a problem with temples of worship… just how you use them… sorry I am not among those who will be a part of dissensions of Christ’s bride.

    There is an accountability to the calling to follow Jesus…

    • says

      Thank you for trying to refrain from dissension. So if someone attends your church building and they decided to follow Jesus in a way that causes them to stop attending, would you think less of them or try to keep them attending so that they can truly follow Jesus?

  26. Larry Hines says

    Stop kidding yourself Mr Myers. The so called “new way” of doing church is an institution as well. The relationship with Jesus is a step by step, very organized approach to being a better human being. Stop being so rebellious toward everything the, how did you say it, “organized” church is doing. Not all of these “organized” churches are doing church as you have described. Many are changing. Do you not think that Jesus and the 12 disciples were an organized group?
    Your words:
    “Naturally, this mass exodus from the church has church leaders scared. They need people to fill their pews. Why? So that they can give their tithes, so the church building can be paid for and the pastoral salaries funded, and so that there is a place and people for all the expensive church programs”.
    There are new churches popping up everywhere that are no different. They all are begging for money to pay their salaries, programs and utilities. Despite what you say, money is necessary to do any type of ministry. So whether you do it in a mega church or a ghetto in NYC, you need funds to keep the ministry going.
    We should continue with existing facilities and structure, but change from within. That’s our best hope, but do all the things you have said. I agree with you, but I disagree too.

    • says

      Larry,
      You could be right, but I am not aware of any steps that I am following in this “new way” (which isn’t new at all). I don’t collect funds. I don’t have existing facilities or structures. I am not part of a new church building that is popping up somewhere.

      So before you criticize what I am doing, you better take a bit of time to actually learn what I am doing.

        • says

          The better question is “Where do I not meet?” Here are a few places I have met with other believers last month and have been encouraged by them and have (hopefully) been an encouragement.
          -work
          -my dinner table
          -Sheraton Hotel Lobby
          -local coffee shop
          -neighbor’s horse corral
          -in my backyard
          -local wine bar
          -a friend’s hot tub

  27. PD says

    JB, you have it right. I am dismayed at the raw cynicism expressed in this chain. As an elder of a non-denominational church, I have real life experience about what happens when people walk away from a local gathering of Christ’s church. Jeremy’s line of reasoning is popular because it aligns with society’s growing cynicism with all things institutional. Unfortunately, Jeremy’s reasoning is often employed as an excuse by those who don’t wan to humble themselves and make a commitment. I am skeptical of how many walk away from “institutional” church to find a closer walk with Jesus or to serve more fully AND ACTUALLY DO SO. I have yet to find even one. Jeremy may know “dozens’, but that is a small number compared to the thousands who are being enriched and rescued by the local church. None of us is strong enough to go it alone– without the support of a family of other believers. Why do you think the NT is peppered with all of the “one another” passages? In my experience, those who left our church family have either found another church body (the best result), dropped out entirely, or church-shopped until they found a church with lower expectations for serving, giving, and personal accountability. Our church is not perfect by a long shot, but we are striving to provide a church home for the hurting and the searching. Without this type of ready-to-help family, many would be lost. I am in full agreement with Rainer’s statement: “It’s a lame and invalid excuse to say you will limit your involvement to the universal church.”

    • Sam says

      Here’s one and I know many more in the city where I live. We left the institution, not Jesus or the church. We’re much more involved than we ever were in any institutional church. One need not attend an institutional church to have the support of other believers. As a matter of fact, I remember almost no support from the people who attended the churches we attended. That wasn’t their interest. I’m guessing that you know only the institutional church model from personal experience. Hey, if it works for you, great. But don’t assume it works for all of us who follow Jesus.

    • Jonathon says

      For all practical purposes, I’ve dropped my church membership. I am editing my resignation letter.

      I gave up on the pastor, after giving him a letter outlining what I could do for the church which he has AFAICT, never looked at.

      I gave up on the elder assigned to me, when they were given a copy of the same letter, said “That’s interesting”, and promptly forgot all about it.

      It is easier to pursue something, when one can physically interact with other individuals pursuing the same thing. When the church congregation, either individually, or as a corporate body, acts more like a FaceBook friend, than a physically present flash and blood person, that dimension is lost. Unfortunately, all to often, the church leadership resembles a cross between a FaceBook Friend, and a Nigerian widow tnat wants to give you some money from her deceased husband’s estate.

      • PD says

        Jonathon, as a leader, this touches me directly. I do not know your circumstances, but I know how imperfect leaders and churches are. We mess up. I encourage you to find another church where you have more confidence in the leaders. The church was established by Christ and individual churches were established and nourished by Paul, Timothy, and others. Look at how messed up the church at Corinth was!! Yet, they were encouraged to work things out, not strike out on their own. Churches are the model established for us in scripture. Yes, from time to time there is a need for reform, for new leaders, etc. But trying to go it alone is not a solution. As you correctly point out “it is easier to pursue something when one can physically interact with other individuals pursuing the same thing”. That is part of the wisdom of the church model. I pray you will find a good church community.

        • Jonathon says

          Much as I would like to think otherwise, it is as if the Holy Spirit is guiding me to start a home church.

          ###

          What I see in church leaders is a focus on the Christian book of the month, be it _tBad Girls of the Bible_, or _I am a Church Member_, and completing ignoring _The Book of Concord_, _Institutes of Chistian Religion_, _Glossa Ordinaire_, _The Early Church Fathers (32? volumes)_, and similar foundational books in Christian theology.

          Furthermore, I see a denial of the existence of material such as _God Hates You, Hate Him Back_, and _Judas of Galillea_, with the consequential inbility to address the issues they raise.

    • says

      PD,
      As an elder of your church, if someone came up to you and said that they felt Jesus wanted them to take a break from church attendance for a while, what would you tell them? I am just curious.

      As to your points, obviously there are millions of people who have stopped attending church, and I know dozens who are more involved now with loving others like Jesus than they were when they attended church, but you criticize me for saying I only know dozens? Do you seriously think I should know about the lives of all the millions?

      Let me admit it: There are also dozens of people I know who have stopped attending church and are not making any effort to follow Jesus. But do you want to know why? Because the church previously attended told them that if they wanted to follow Jesus, they had to do it by attending church. So when they stopped attending, they also figured they had to stop following. Thankfully, Jesus is using people like me (and millions of others in the same boat) to show these people who have stopped attending church that there is wonderful way of following Jesus as part of His Body, the church, which does not involve sitting in a pew on Sunday morning and listening to a sermon.

      The primary reason people “fall away” from Jesus when they stop attending church is because most of them have been wrongly taught by church leaders that the two are identical. This book by Rainer is another example of a church leader who seems to be saying something similar.

  28. PD says

    Jeremy,
    I would probably say to take a break if they think they need it. But I would also encourage them not to give up meeting with other Christians who can share life with them, help them grow in the Lord, and prepare them for works of service in His Kingdom. I would tell them to continue in prayer and study and be wary of false teaching. In my mind, that would constitute a “church”. Brick-and-mortar and a denominational name do not make a church. Committed people seeking to do God’s will make a church.
    My only point about the dozens vs. millions was your exaggeration. You have anecdotal evidence (dozens) but are making the assertion that the vast majority of the millions leaving are doing so for the reasons you claim. I wont try to put a number on it, but I know your reasons are more often used as an excuse for something deeper.
    Jeremy, thank you for being there to help others follow Jesus. That is truly what it is all about. We will have to agree to disagree about the value of church participation. I pray your work in the Kingdom will be blessed.
    And thanks for the dialogue, everyone! God bless you all.

    • says

      Thanks, PD. I think that would be a good thing to tell people.

      Just so you know, though, I wasn’t basing my statistic on personal, anecdotal knowledge. I was basing my “millions” statement off a report which I think I read from the Barna group recenlty. Or maybe it was one of those other Christian polling groups. I will try to find it…

      Anyway, they ran a survey and found that most of those who stop attending church still view themselves as followers of Jesus. They read their Bibles, pray, give to charitable organizations, and talk with their friends and neighbors about Jesus. Most of them report a closer intimacy with God and liberty in their walk with Jesus than they claim they felt when “attending” church.

      So I was referring to that report (though I didn’t mention it because I didn’t have it in front of me). My personal experience of knowing a dozen or so matches what I read about in the study.

  29. says

    Hi Jeremy,
    Thanks for your review of “I am a Church Member”. There are church leaders that don’t deserve our support and there are many churches out there that we personally wouldn’t want to attend for good, valid theological reasons; and it would be a real shame if the pastors and Leaders of these churches used Thom Rainer’s book to make the people within these churches feel obliged to continue in them by signing them up as ‘official’ members of these churches.
    I read the book and when I read it I though that Thom made it clear that by member he means as in the body metaphor, and when he refers to church he doesn’t mean a commitment primarily to a local church but to the Body of Christ, that is, all genuine Christ-followers.
    Unfortunately this book could be misused by self-interested pastors and church leaders to promote greater commitment to ‘their” church and “formal membership” within it. That would be tragic and very sad.
    But it could also be used to promote greater commitment towards being a vital and functioning part of the Body of Christ, by joining with others and working together on the task of making disciples.
    I would like to see this book being used in a way that let everyone who is already a Christ-follower know they already are a member, even if your name is not on a church’s membership list. This book is about how to be a better and more effective member or part of the whole. That’s how I plan to use this book.

    • says

      Good points, Steve. I truly do hope that if people use this book, it is used in the way that Thom undoubtedly intended it to be used, rather than to put guilt trips onto people for not being committed enough.

  30. Laura says

    I read this book and what it did for me was make me re-evaluate my commitment to my church and my God. It did this through having me take a tough look at myself and what I think I should be ‘getting out of church’ and what God actually wants for me. If you have made the ‘commitment’ (and no we don’t sign a contract or attendance log or anything crazy like that) to be a church member, certain things SHOULD be expected of you. It’s no different then being a member of any other family. My husband, kids and myself all have roles and responsibilities in our family, it’s no different in being a member of a church family. I didn’t get the guilt trip y’all are talking about, I got a kick in the pants that said ‘Laura, your focus is all wrong, quite being so negative, it’s not about you…’ Do I think that churches are being sidetracked, yes, do I see people leaving because of guilt, yes, but no one ever said believing in God was easy, guilt isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it may just be a way to open our eyes. Did I take everything Mr. Rainer said and the absolute end all? NO, the only book that is that for me is the Bible, but I did take some of the insights to heart and am applying them to my life, my relationship with Christ and my role in my church.

    • says

      boLaura,

      I think my main concern was that Rainer seems to ignore or pass over the importance of being committed to the “Body of Christ” and emphasizes instead the importance of committing to a local “church group.” He seems to imply that if someone is not committed to a local church group, then they are not committed to the universal Body of Christ. This is a false dichotomy, and does not fit with either Scripture or logic.

      I am not opposed to people who want to be committed to a local church group, but I hope that they extend grace toward those who commit themselves to the universal Body of Christ in ways that do not involve the things Rainer seems to think are important for church “members.”

      I too am a church member, just not in the way Rainer defines it.

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