I am a Church Member by Thom Rainer is a heart-warming and encouraging little book. It gently urges the Christian reader to understand and fulfil their role as an active participant in the church. Rainer contrasts the church with the image of a country club. In the club a member is one who pays their annual subscription and then feels entitled to receive certain perks and to be served by others. People come to the country club with expectations and demands. Membership of the church is more integral and organic. If we belong to Jesus, then we are already essential members of the church body, and we each have an important part to play. We are called to serve one another rather than seek to be served.
The commendations for this book run for many pages and read like a ‘who’s who’ of contemporary church leaders. But this doesn’t guarantee the merits of the book. It’s strength lies in it’s biblical foundations. Ultimately church membership is viewed as a gift from God. It comes through God’s grace in salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s a privilege, not a burden, or a set of rules to be followed.
I appreciated the way that prominence is given to love as the centrepiece of Christian relationships. The church is called to express itself in love for one another (1 Corinthians 12-14) and love is to be the hallmark of true Christians (John 13:35). Sadly, churches are easily damaged by a lack of love, disunity, gossip, and a lack of forgiveness. We are called to remember how we have been treated by Jesus Christ. He forgave the unlovely, and we are called to the same attitude.
Rainer reminds us that the word servant occurs 57 times in the New Testament and the word serve 58 times. Jesus modelled this and he called his followers to do the same. Church is not the place to have our personal preferences satisfied by others. It’s the context for putting the wellbeing and needs of others before our own.
The book finishes with the reminder that church is the fruit of the gospel. Rainer outlines how the sacrifice of Jesus Christ calls us into relationship with God. It’s the joy of salvation, rather than legalistic obligation, that will draw us into loving one another as part of God’s church.
I appreciated this book because it is short and simple (only 79 small pages). In many ways it would be a good book to offer newcomers to our churches, at the close of a welcome or orientation program, or as they are welcomed into some kind of formal membership. It is also an important book for old-comers or occasional-comers to our churches, because it urges us to look afresh at what church is really all about.
Interestingly, each of the six chapters in I am a Church Member finishes with a pledge for the reader to sign. This seemed rather counter-cultural to me. Perhaps, it’s more of an American thing, or typical of other church traditions. Whatever, the intent is clear—Rainer wants to encourage the reader to act on what he has written; to make a difference in our churches. And so we should!