Here is the first part of our little membership booklet. Ask the Pastor or someone else and they can get you a copy.
Ch 1. Introduction
We’re glad you are interested in membership in First Baptist.
We’ve found that being involved in First Baptist has been good for our spiritual lives and has provided us friendship and support as we love and serve God and our neighbors.
In this booklet we’ll look at:
– what membership means
– the process of becoming a member
– basic commitments members make
– how this church operates and what it does
– issues emphasized by American Baptists
– some guidelines for healthy Christian living
– and Bible guidelines for happy church life
We hope this will be helpful as you consider this important step in your spiritual journey.
(The last third of the book contains documents that further illustrate some of the items discussed.)
Ch 2. The Membership Procedure
1. Visit with the Pastor.
This includes going through a membership class or talking through this booklet with the Pastor. You will be asked to make or agree with a clear statement that you do believe in Christ. Then the Pastor recommends you to the Diaconate.
2. Visit with the Diaconate
The Diaconate is a small committee who formally recommend to the church that you be welcomed as a member. They are not very scary people!
3. Be baptized
If you have not already been baptized by immersion, as a freely chosen act of your own, we ask that you take that step.
4. Be welcomed by the church.
This typically happens at the end of a Sunday morning service, where you are introduced to the congregation as having been recommended by the Pastor and the Diaconate for membership.
Ch 3. Membership: A Promise for Christian Living
A. What IS Membership?
Joining this church is like saying that you want a different flavor for your life. It might be a huge change of flavor, or not so huge, depending on what your life has been like in recent years.
You are saying you want to be regularly and actively involved with this group of Christians
– in worshiping God,
– in the endeavor of following Christ,
and, as appropriate for your situation,
– in being supportive of other members and receiving support from them,
– in helping out with the work and the giving it takes to keep this church active in its ministry,
– and in efforts to serve others in the communities around us.
Adult members of this church have the responsibility to vote on issues that come up in church business meetings, and are eligible to serve on the governing boards (e.g. the Trustees, the Diaconate, etc.).
The church is a non-profit religious corporation under the laws of the State of Nebraska, and according to our Constitution the voting members are the final authority for major decisions the church makes, especially major financial commitments and major staffing questions. Members (and active non-members as well) are encouraged to be significantly involved in various ministries of the church and in its decision-making processes.
But membership is primarily a statement of intent – the intent to follow God more closely as a believer in Christ, the intent to help and be helped by the people of First Baptist Church, Hastings, NE in living as a Christian in this world.
B. Basic Member Commitments
Basic Member Commitment 1. Personal Faith in Christ
a. What That Means
To “believe in” someone – especially such an important, striking, and wise person as Jesus Christ – means much more than that you think he probably existed (or exists). It means you trust Him; you welcome His presence and guidance in your life. It means you start getting to know Him.
Jesus is the one, after all, who asked, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46) It’s a very reasonable question.
We might rephrase it today as “Why do you say you believe in me, but you don’t care what I say and don’t do what I ask?” Again, very reasonable questions.
Being unwilling to follow him, our claim of trusting him must ring hollow. We could never credibly claim to trust [or receive into our lives] a doctor, teacher, or auto mechanic whose directions we would not follow. (1)
(1) Dallas Willard, The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus’ Essential Teachings on Dischipleship. HarperOne, 2006. p11.
So, this “personal faith in Christ” that members of First Baptist profess, means welcoming Him into our lives with His wisdom and guidance, and also forgiveness. It’s kind of a big deal!
b. A Sample Prayer
In a very helpful little book called Who Is This Jesus? (2) the author has this to say:
That is precisely how you come to Jesus today. You simply talk to him. It may seem very strange talking when it feels as if there is no one there to answer. But there is someone there, although you cannot see him. . . . the historical Jesus who lived and died and rose again.
(2) Who Is This Jesus? By Michael Green. C 1990, 1992, Regent College Publishing. P 115.
Jesus is truly present here and now. The same good, holy, powerful Person who lived in Palestine and was killed and came back to life 2000 years ago.
That same author also suggests a helpful prayer showing how one might initially express that faith in Christ:
Jesus, I am amazed that you should bother about me and love me and want me to be your friend and disciple. I know that there is a lot in my life that needs cleaning up. Please come and do it.
I still have lots of questions that bother me, but I lay them all before you in the tangle that they are.
I do believe that you went to the cross for me, to deal with my guilty past. And I do believe that you are alive again.
You invite people to come to you. And I’m coming. I’m coming now.
If that prayer – or something like it – truly represents your thinking, then I promise you He will not be offended if you “borrow” it, applying it to yourself. That’s why He came, to welcome people into that kind of honest, direct, friendly relationship with Him. It’s the reason you were born.
c. Bible Verses About Receiving Christ
This matter of having faith in Christ to save us is presented in the Bible in several different ways.
But it always comes down to a personal welcoming of Him into our lives – to see us as we are, call things as He sees them, and work with us to bring His new quality of life into our lives. It all requires that He forgive us, which He does freely as we turn fully and honestly to Him.
This is described in the following ways (among others) in the Bible.
Receive Christ, Believe in Him / 1 John 5:11-13
And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.
Receive Christ, Believe in Him / John 1:11-13
He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God — children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.
To “receive” such an awesome Person is clearly a much bigger thing than to receive, for example, a paycheck or a letter or a candy bar. It becomes a life-changing relationship, touching everything in life.
Accept Christ as Lord / Luke 6:46ff
Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?
As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice, I will show you what they are like. They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built.
But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.
Here He makes clear that He expects to become the dominant influence in the lives of those who claim to believe in Him. Those people will become strong and stable; but ones who do not give Him that place in their lives will end up in terrible collapse.
Invite Him Into Your Life – Heart / Revelation 3:20
Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and
knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.
“Repent” means to change your mind about things – and thus change the direction you are going in. The door might be of your mind, or heart, or life, or whatever makes most sense to you, but the point is clear. He is very willing to start associating with, working with each one of us. But we do have to allow Him to be present with and in us.
Confess Your Sins / I John 1:8-10
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.
Sometimes, you know, there are some specific sins that we need to get specific about in talking to the Lord. He does, after all, want to work with us to actually change the quality of our lives. That involves deliberately letting go of things that need to go as He points them out.
Be His Trainee, His Disciple / Matthew 28:18-20
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.
And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
d. Some Great Promises To Encourage Us
Jesus’ disciple Peter wrote that “he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature.” (2 Peter 1:4)
If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. (Revelation 3:20)
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)
And surely I am with you always, to the very end. (Matthew 28:20)
Whoever comes to me I will never drive away. (John 6:37)
Basic Member Commitment 2. Regular worship meetings
The Bible urges us to not stop meeting together (Hebrews 10:25). It’s a pretty good way to encourage each other. And it makes a public statement as to how important the Gospel of Christ is in human life – and in our own personal lives.
Most importantly, it helps us refocus – it is just very wise to think about and worship God regularly It’s like the lenses of our hearts need cleaning and polishing! Sunday worship is designed for those purposes.
In our church Covenant (at the end of this booklet) we promise “We will … assemble together each week to uphold the public worship of God.”
It strengthens each of us in our Christian walk to see that others are committed enough to join with us in regular, public worship of God.
Basic Member Commitment 3. Service
Service is a key element of the teaching and example of Jesus. If we are truly Christ-followers, then it will be growing in importance in our lives too.
Jesus said things like
Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave — just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:26-28)
The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40)
First Baptist has been known in Hastings as a serving church. One major avenue of FBC service was the founding of the Crossroads as a homeless shelter, with First Baptist providing the funds and much of the labor involved in the startup of that ministry back in the 1980’s.
We are not believers in Christ so we can come weekly and lean back for a warm spiritual bath in the pew. He has called us to serve – to serve each other as fellow-members of this church, and to serve people around us as those whom God loves and for whom Christ died and lives.
People serve here at FBC in a variety of ways. Some are active with youth or children; some are often involved in food preparation and the serving of snacks; somebody has to clean restrooms, floors, carpets, etc. Somebody does lawn work and snow removal, and takes care of the equipment needed for that.
There are workers in music, and in electronic technology. People arrange special get-togethers for women, men, youth, etc. Communion gets prepared every month. Light bulbs and toilet floats get replaced. There are volunteers who work in painting and repair.
People invest time connecting with newcomers to the church or with people outside the church who are concerned about their relationship to God. People serve on the Trustee, Christian Education,
and Diaconate Boards. We have reliable people to collect, count, bank, and track the church’s income and to write checks, and there are others who sign them.
And that does not even mention the many ways that FBC people are involved in non-church-related service in other places in the community.
What do you suppose are the most time consuming or emotional-energy demanding tasks? Which are hardest to find volunteers for?
It might be good to have a short visit with a couple of these servants of the church to find out what kinds of things they do. Who do you think you’d like to visit with?
Ask them what they do, how often they do it, how long it takes, and why they think it’s important. (And don’t let them be too modest, pretending that it’s really nothing. It’s definitely not nothing!)
Basic Member Commitment 4. Giving
If the members do not support the church financially according to their ability, how can we expect anyone else to care enough to help with that? The general standard in the Bible is that income be “tithed”, that is, 10% of one’s income was to be contributed to the work and service of the temple and synagogue. That is still a valuable standard.
But if someone cannot start off at that level, it can be very good to nevertheless set a basic percentage (say 2% or 5%) of one’s income as the amount to reliably give for the local church’s support. Then as God provides, that is, as one’s faith grows, the percentage can be moved up.
This is a very important way to show (to yourself) your commitment to the success of this church. Money is pretty important to our lives! It is also pretty important to our church life. So as we give money, we find ourselves also giving even more of our hearts to this church and it’s work. It’s a strong and valuable pattern.
Here are some very encouraging words from the Bible on this topic:
Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven… For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
2 Corinthians 9:6-11
Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.
Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work…
Basic Member Commitment 5. Communion & Baptism
Our Church Covenant says,“We will observe the ordinances of baptism and communion…”
We practice “believer’s baptism,” which means we see baptism as a public confession made by persons old enough and with enough understanding so that it represents their personal choice, their personal act expressing faith in Christ. They take that step after – or as – they become believers in Christ.
Thus, while we treat with respect and honor the baptisms experienced by people as infants, we do ask, if a person has not been baptized of their own free choice, that they do so as they join First Baptist. Thus we make the act our own, and thus it carries great meaning.
There is also much significance in the New Testament practice of being immersed into water in baptism. After all, the Greek word in the Bible for “baptize” means, literally, to dunk or dip.
Being immersed (“dunked”) into water is a strong illustration of the cleansing which is an important part of beginning a new life. Even more strongly, it illustrates death (going down under) and resurrection into newness of life (coming up).
So it’s a powerful symbol of faith and newness of life.
Communion also is a powerful symbol. We take communion as part of our worship service on the first Sunday of each month, plus on a few special occasions like Christmas eve.
We think of it as a partial re-enactment of the “Last Supper” Jesus had with his disciples the night before His arrest.
While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”
Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:26-28)
We usually pass around plates with small pieces of bread, and each person who desires to participate takes a piece. It represents us receiving the reality of Christ’s work for us in His earthly life, death, and resurrection, and also His love for us and presence with us now.
Then we pass trays with small cups of grape juice which also represent to us the reality of Christ, and of our receiving Him.
As we receive the bread and juice into our lives through our mouths, we are choosing just as certainly to receive Christ into our minds, hearts, and plans by our faith in Him.
Basic Member Commitment 6. Summary: The Covenant
Our church Covenant is printed in full at the back of this booklet. A “Covenant” is a deliberate promise people make to one another. This Covenant deals with a number of the ingredients of successful church life and church membership, so it is an important reminder of what we are about. It starts like this:
Because we have received Jesus Christ as our Divine Lord and Savior, have followed Him in baptism, and have united with this fellowship of His children, we now consecrate ourselves to His service, pledge ourselves to the support of this church and unite with one another in this covenant.
And it continues with things like:
We will acknowledge the lordship of Jesus Christ over every area of our lives – our spirits, our minds, our bodies, our relationships, our work, and our recreation…
We will be faithful in our stewardship, recognizing that our time, resources and abilities are gifts from God to be used in His service…
We will share each other’s joys and sorrows and make every effort to be quick to forgive and slow to criticize…
We will sincerely seek to keep the two commandments that Jesus taught as the greatest of all; to love God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves…
We will, upon becoming convinced that any personal habit or pleasure is defiling to our bodies or destructive to our witness for Christ, make every effort to cease that practice…
The Covenant is not a formal contract. But it is an important statement of intention and of commitment to each other.