The Beggars Blog is a network of Lutheran pastors Commenting on the intersection between theology and everything.

Connected to Christ: Why Membership Matters

Connected to Christ: Why Membership Matters

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Connected to Christ: Why Membership Matters. By Peter Speckhard. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2017. 110 pages. $5.99

Peter Speckhard has written a love letter to the modern church, and every pastor would benefit from reading it. After digesting the work, every pastor should study it with his elders and other leadership. Once the leadership of the congregation understands the wisdom of Speckhard’s words, they should work together to bring the entire congregation up to speed. What is contained in these 110 pages is so important that it should be mailed to every congregation in the synod. At $5.99 a book, and with many discounted bulk rates available, Concordia Publishing House may have done the next best thing in providing an affordable guide to modern church membership.  

Several years ago, while serving a congregation of over 2,000 members in Indiana, I and several other church leaders discovered a fatal gap in the way we brought new members into the life of our congregation. Our instruction covered all the finer points of Lutheran doctrine as found in the Small Catechism, and we were confident that our newer members understood the importance of God’s Word and Sacraments for the forgiveness of their sins. That being said, we were also facing a ratio of involvement outside of worship that would have made Pareto blush. Less than 10% of the members of our congregation were doing nearly all of the work to keep the ministry running. A change was needed.

The fix for our congregation was to add another element to new member instruction. In addition to teaching the doctrines of the Christian church, we also focused our instructional efforts on the life of the local congregation. In other words, what makes a local congregation unique from all other organizations in a given community? And how does it fit into the larger framework of the Christian church throughout the world and throughout time? Just as important: where do I fit in to that framework?

We would have benefited greatly from Speckhard’s guidance. While our greater struggle was in guiding new and prospective members into increased congregational involvement, we also had to explain the importance of being a church member in the first place. Speckhard spends much more time on the latter than the former, but both are addressed as he cogently guides his readers through the many important reasons church membership matters.

At the conclusion of the chapter in which he expertly unpacks the pros and cons of “pray, pay, and obey” in the life of the modern church, the author states:

when we look more closely at the realities of church life, we find that some reasons people have for refusing to join a church are actually good reason to join and things most people naturally dislike or think too difficult, like tithing or being corrected, would actually be big blessing to them if they understood them in light of God’s Word. (82)

In 1 Peter 3:15, the apostle contends that Christians should always be ready to give a reason for the hope that we have in Jesus Christ. The word he uses in this passage, (ἀπολογία), is the Greek word from which we derive our modern term “apologetics.” Christian apologetics, which commend, defend, and define our Christian faith, can be applied to a variety of disciplines within the church. More than anything, Pastor Speckhard has provided a modern apologetic for belonging to a local congregation.

Using powerful examples from Scripture, the author carefully explains the difference between church membership and the kind of memberships you find in secular society. He identifies and defines each important part of the Divine Service, giving a meaningful glimpse of the fullness of Christian worship often missing from such a short and practical volume. He encourages modern believers in Christ to verify all supposed “truths” in their lives, but guides them also to find a congregation where God’s Word is taught in its fullness and the forgiveness of sins is found in Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and in the Absolution. Consider this quote:

The purpose of attending a Christian church service is to be served by Jesus Christ through the Word and Sacrament. At its heart, this service is spiritual. It can at times provide an emotional, intellectual, or psychological experience for people too. But giving such gifts is not the primary goal of the service. (40)

How can I be so bold as to suggest that all congregations would benefit from reading and applying this book?  I no longer serve a church of 2,000 in city of a quarter million. I now serve a congregation of 200 weekly worshippers in a small Nebraska town surrounded by cornfields. And Speckhard’s words speak just as powerfully and personally to me today as they did in year’s past. For the price of a Big Mac, fries, and a Coke at McDonald’s, you can help your congregation – whether new and prospective members or battle hardened leaders – to rediscover the center of our life in Christ and to appreciate all that the local congregation has to offer.

Reviewer’s Note: Connected to Christ focuses largely on the theological and philosophical dimensions of church membership. For those readers looking for practical, step-by-step helps for getting people more involved in their particular congregation, The Other 80% by Thumma and Bird or even The New Breed by McKee and McKee might prove helpful. 

Rev. Dr. Heath Trampe, Senior Pastor of Faith Lutheran Church in York, Nebraska

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