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Methodists and the Meaning of Membership

I was pleasantly surprised to see Bishop Will Willimon’s recent  blog post on the importance of “Making Membership Mean Something.”  I was excited because I have begun to think recently that the meaning of membership may be the issue facing United Methodists now and in the coming years.  Many of our denominational battles revolve around the meaning of membership; indeed, some have tried through various means to make membership absolutely meaningless.  In recent years these attempts have included legislation to General Conference and petitions to the Judicial Council calling for removal of the pastor’s authority and responsibility to determine readiness for membership.  Others have fought to maintain biblical standards for church membership.  One thing we have not done is define the biblical meaning of church membership for United Methodists.  We should not be so blind as to think this will not be a difficult and even painful battle.  Indeed, it has been already.  The notion of increased expectations, accountability, and service as part of the meaning of United Methodist membership will be tough to swallow for some.  But if the denomination is going to make it, we must be willing to step up to the challenge.  If United Methodist’s are to be faithful in our mission to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” we must first transform our understanding of membership and discipleship; we must get serious about the biblical meaning of church membership.

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