Students Freak Out When I Describe Active Church Membership

Proclaiming the good news in word and deed,

taking part in the common life and worship of a congregation,

lifting one another up in prayer, mutual concern, and active support,

studying Scripture and the issues of Christian faith and life,

supporting the ministry of the church through the giving of money, time, and talents,

demonstrating a new quality of life within and through the church,

responding to God’s activity in the world through service to others,

living responsibly in the personal, family, vocational, political, cultural, and social, relationships of life,

working in the world for peace, justice, freedom, and human fulfillment,

caring for God’s creation,

participating in the governing responsibilities of the church, and

reviewing and evaluating regularly the integrity of one’s membership, and considering ways in which one’s participation in the worship and service of the church may be increased and made more meaningful.

This is how “the ministry of members” is described in the Presbyterian Church (USA) Book of Order. I say “described,” because whenever I share this with Confirmation youth, their eyes go wide. A moment of panic sets in and you can almost hear the screaming question in their heads, a church version of “Is this going to be on the test?!”

This is a description, not a prescription. This isn’t a checklist.

Also, it matters and you should take it seriously.

You are a member of the church already, I explain. If you were baptized as an infant, then you are a Baptized Member of the church. Confirmation invites you to profess faith for yourself and become an Active Member. The word “Active” trips some students up, because they’re plenty active already and they’re not exactly casting about for more time commitments.

Their question is most often reduced to this: can I be an Active Member and not come to church?

Yes.

Kind of.

Of the 12 descriptors of Active Membership above, only two of them really require you to come to church. It is difficult to take part in the common life and worship of a congregation if you’re not there, although live streamed worship services, emailed devotional guides, and even Bible studies conducted by video conference all open new possibilities. Participating in governance is probably the hardest to do remotely.

Still, the thing I want students to take away is that our conception of church membership has more to do with a quality of life in the world than it does with institutional attendance requirements.

That is much harder to measure, though.

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