November 4, 2020
Dr Ritch Boerckel and Pastor Josh Beakley
Josh: Thank you for those who are here with us in person. It’s sweet to be together. And those with us online, it’s always a joy to gather in the middle of the week. There are a lot of things that can capture our attention, our affections, our emotions throughout any given week, I think this week, maybe in particular. It’s a good thing to be able to gather with other believers and say we’re going to give God some of our attention, affection, emotion, energy.
Ritch: So are you saying that because it was Reformation Day on October 31? Is that why it’s a stirring week for us?
Josh: Some people are as godly as you, Pastor Ritch, but I think there are other things that might be capturing the attention of others. (Laughter!) It’s amazing how strongly events and circumstances around us can draw us in, and how big the world can become and how small God can seem, and how much we need God’s Word and each other to remind us of what’s true and real, of how big our God is and how these events that could cause us to either place our hope in or be afraid of or whatever it is. Really, at the end of the day, it’s very small compared to our God.
Ritch: I think it’s the first time in my life on Election Day that the evening after the election, we’re still wondering. Of course, huge things matter in relationship to this, but your point is right. “Some trust in chariots, some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” That is our bedrock. That’s not to make light of the chariots and the horses. I don’t think of an army in God’s kingdom in the Old Testament that didn’t have them, but we just don’t want to trust in them. We want to make sure our trust really is in the Lord. He never changes! A lot of things change related to chariots and horses, but our Lord never changes. So that’s the basis of our peace. That’s the basis of our hope and confidence. We do have to keep reminding ourselves of that. I’ve reminded myself many times of that verse this day, because it’s just easy to start swaying back into some of those fears, concerns, anxious thoughts. God would have us to use those temptations to drive us to His sufficiency.
Josh: Well, we’re going to keep talking about this topic of discipleship, and as we do that, we do have a text in number. So feel free to text in questions that you have. So, whether you’re here or online, you can text us. That will go to our guys in the back and the crew will send it over to us and we’ll do our best to interact with those questions.
Ritch: Yes, we’re super excited about this series! We began with Believe and we talked about repentance and faith and about the miracle of regeneration. Now we’re in the middle of this Belong. We started with baptism. Tonight, it’s about church membership. So if you have questions about church membership, what it means to belong to a church. You spoke so well from Hebrews about church leadership and the response to leadership and yet also leadership’s responsibilities. This week, we’re going to talk about the Lord’s Supper to round out belonging to God’s people, to Jesus Himself. The actions reflect God’s work in us in our worship together. I love the Benediction. Since we won’t probably get to that later, but it reminds me of a great segue between what we’re talking about with unusual times, pandemic, kind of a crazy election with huge consequences to decisions, and this Benediction in Hebrews 13:20-21 that you read at the end of your message.
“Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.”
What a great benediction and prayer that we would pray for us and for Christ’s church!
Josh: Absolutely! So, one of the images that Hebrews, the author there touches on in Hebrews 13:20, is this image of Jesus as the Great Shepherd of the sheep. It’s an image that Peter talks about later too, when he talks about leaders. God talks about His people, and there are so many different images of who God’s people are. We just referenced them briefly on Sunday. The word that is given us in Matthew 16 is the church, but He talks about His people like a body, the body of Jesus. He talks about the people as branches that abide, people that abide in the vine of Christ. He talks about family members or He talks about the people of God like living stones built on Christ, the cornerstone. But then there’s this image of the people of God as the flock, as sheep. All the way back at least to Isaiah, if not before, but there is this idea of sheep. “All we like sheep have gone astray.” We go our own way. And then here is Jesus, who is both the chief shepherd and the sacrificial lamb in this precious example. Peter, in 1 Peter chapter 2 talks about Jesus and you have the sense of silently He went to the slaughter and died for us. Peter says, “By his wounds, you’ve been healed.” So here’s Jesus in 1 Peter chapter 2. Then he says this in 1 Peter 2:25. “For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the shepherd and overseer of your souls.”
So Jesus is the chief shepherd. In John 10, He’s the good shepherd. He’s the great shepherd, and He’s the overseer of our souls. As sheep, we recognize that Jesus is that shepherd, as God’s flock. Yet, this passage that we touched on in terms of belonging is a big part of that sense of belonging to Jesus as the chief shepherd and He is the overseer. There is also this call that Hebrews talks to us and we see it throughout the New Testament of, He has under shepherds and we belong to a particular flock. Part of belonging to Him as the head is belonging to the body. Or belonging to Him as the chief shepherd is belonging to a particular flock with under shepherds who, even though Jesus is the overseer, that’s the word, here’s the verse that we taught on Sunday, Hebrews 13:17. We’ll read it and then maybe I’ll pray and then we can talk about some other passages, too.
Ritch: Yes! That’s fantastic!
Josh: Hebrews 13:17, where the author kind of comes toward the end of the letter, here, he says, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” So there is a lot to think about there. We’ll kind of start talking about belonging. But maybe we’ll just pray for wisdom.
Father, we’re really sobered and we think of 1 Peter, where we’re called to clothe ourselves in humility no matter who we are, and especially leaders, to be clothed in humility and to be examples of humility. We think of Christ, the great leader who is a servant leader, who died. He gave His life up. We see examples of so many leaders, including Paul, who just sacrificially gave not only the gospel, but his own self and those who were with him. So we thank you for leaders who have followed you as under shepherds who have given themselves over the course of history, and leaders that we’ve benefited from who are not perfect, but who show us the Savior. We ask that as we think about not just leaders, but the members of the body that we belong to and the rejoicing that we do together, the weeping that we do together, the forgiving that we offer to one another, the restoration that we seek to call each other into, that that kind of humble unity that’s given by your Spirit, that we would enjoy it and embody it and defend it amongst each other and grow in it as a church family here at Bethany. We trust that you’ll lead us in this even tonight through our conversation. In Jesus Name I pray, Amen.
Josh: I know there are other passages that would come to mind and I’ll try to touch on some of the questions, but here’s a question that I’ll just mention as we think about some of these passages. I think it’s really good. I’m wondering how our church family could be better connected so no one falls through the cracks. That’s the question. I’m wondering how our church family can be better connected so that no one falls through the cracks. This is a great question and it’s one that we were even talking about today, this afternoon, talking about some of those things. You’re turning to a passage. I know we talked about a few.
Ritch: That’s good. That’s excellent! So, you have your name tag on and your name. Everybody should have their name tag on tonight. But on your name tag, it says “Pastor Josh.” If you think of the word “pastor,” you say that’s an interesting word. Where does the word “pastor” come from? The word “pastor” literally means shepherd. So what we’re talking about is this metaphor that informs the way we think and the way we connect to the body of Christ, to the church. It’s an important metaphor, in other words. So there are a number of them, as you mentioned. Family is probably the most dominant in the New Testament. But there is this metaphor of thinking of ourselves like a flock. There’s only one Shepherd, and that means there is only one flock. So a shepherd doesn’t have two flocks. He has one flock. In John 10, he says, “My sheep hear my voice and they know me and they follow me.” That’s how we’re part of a flock together. So if you ever see a sheep out in the wilderness, a lamb without the flock, you know that lamb is lost and it’s not long for the world unless it’s found because there are dangers that a lamb will encounter, that a lamb is not prepared to encounter separated from the flock and from the shepherd.
So this beautiful design of the church that God has given us is for our protection. It is for our fruitfulness. It is for our strength. It is for our liveliness, together. The only thing that keeps a person who says, “I’m a follower of Jesus,” from having that kind of commitment to remaining with the flock and in the flock and among the flock, is sort of a proud spirit. It’s saying, “Well, I don’t really need the flock. And furthermore, I don’t need to listen to the voice of the shepherd.” Because our point is, if we’re really following Jesus, we will be significantly connected as a member of the flock that Jesus leads. There is one flock. It’s universal. Yet, the way God designed it, we see it right in the New Testament, is there are these local expressions that are part of that one flock. So when we become members of God’s family through this new birth, we’re placed inside the flock and called to have a visible sort of expression of that act of God.
As I think of these three aspects that we’re talking about in this series on Belonging, the first is baptism. So, spiritually, God has already baptized us with one Spirit. That’s what happens to everyone who comes to faith in Jesus. They become baptized by the Spirit of God. Then there is a visible expression that God calls us to make. The first is an act of God. The second is an act of obedience, which is, “Okay, I’m going to give a visible expression of this internal, invisible work of God.” When we become believers in Jesus, followers with new life, we’re baptized by one Spirit into the body of Christ, into this flock. That’s something that’s invisible. God calls us to make that invisible work that God performed by grace, visible, so that we significantly and meaningfully connect ourselves, our lives with that flock.
Then, this week, we’re going to talk about the Lord’s Supper. So one of the things that happens when we become believers is that God invisibly, wonderfully, and miraculously makes a covenant with us. It’s a covenant of His blood. That covenant is a lasting covenant that secures us in Him. Then that’s a work of God’s grace. Then the visible expression that God calls us to obey is the Lord’s Supper, to make that work of God a visible, outward part of our lives that is expressed through these specific acts of worship.
Every one of these visible expressions that we’re talking about do not save a person. They can be completely meaningless. If the first hasn’t happened, if there has not already been an invisible work of God’s grace bringing a person into baptism through the Spirit, bringing a person into membership of the body of Christ, bringing a person into this covenant. That’s a work of God. It’s all of His grace. We do nothing except believe in Jesus for those things to happen. But if we are followers of Jesus now and we have experienced those, God clearly calls us to make that internal work of grace, invisible work that He has already accomplished, making it visible in these meaningful expressions of worship that He has outlined in His Word. I think I wandered away from the question a little bit, but go ahead and answer it. I got excited about something. (Laughter!)
Josh: That never happens! It’s a good question. I think we can circle back to it, because I think it’s real important practically. There are a few things there. But what you said kind of gets into one question that came in that I think is a very practical, real question when it comes to the practical expression of membership. But I don’t think it’s disconnected from this idea of belonging; baptism and then communion and membership. There have been a lot of different traditions of the Christian church, gospel believing churches, about how these things manifest in that particular church. Maybe, without getting too, because we talked about baptism last week, to talk about communion in terms of how often do we do it? How often do we celebrate the Lord’s Supper? How exactly do we celebrate the Lord’s Supper? How much bread do you take? Is it okay to have a little wafer? There are questions. People have all these questions. So there are legitimate questions. It’s the same thing about membership. So do we have to do this kind of process? Do we have people just raise their hands? Do they just tell you? Is it informal? Is it formal? There are lots of different expressions. Here’s a question that says, is membership in a local church a biblical practice? This is the question. Or is it like Women’s Ministry, where we see general examples, but there is lots of freedom in how it’s structured? What biblical principles guide us when making determinations regarding how membership is structured at our church?
Ritch: That’s a great question! I believe that what the New Testament shows is there is a very clear identification of those who have had this work of God’s grace, been joined by the Spirit through baptism into one body that is real and then in some way is externally expressed so the people, leaders as well as the members of that local body, understand who is added to the church and who is not? So right away, from the beginning in Acts 2, after the first sermon, it says, “there was added to their number that day.” So they kept a number, and they kept a number for the purpose of this thing. We are a significant expression of Jesus’ church. We want to know who is part of us and who is not part of us, because that makes a big difference in how we care for one another and what we expect of one another and how the leaders, as under shepherds of Christ, protect, feed, lead that group. So every individual church, I think, has a pretty broad leeway of what they as a church do in order to make that external identification really clear.
What I think is dangerous is for a church to be so sloppy with that, that it’s not clear to the leaders or the people. Who’s in? Well, they’ve been here for a while. Are they members of the church? I don’t know. Does anybody know their testimony? Are we as leaders responsible for their soul? Are we going to be held to account by God for them or not? So if they begin to wander off the gospel, do we have a right? Have they already raised their hand and said, “I’m part of this church. I’m committed to being a member of this church so that I’m availing myself to that kind of ministry. If my future self wanders away, I want you to come after me.” Without a clear identification of that, the church is unable to function as the New Testament describes.
I do think that there are a variety of ways that local churches might decide to make that identification. I think the most important aspects of that identification are, one, in that process, whatever the process is…We can talk about our process in a moment. But our process should include a personal explanation of the person’s testimony of faith in Christ. That they understand the gospel, that they’ve responded to the gospel, and at some point, taken that first step of obedience, of following Jesus through baptism. So I think it’s legitimate for a person to be added to the number, to have someone who is responsible for that church or a group of people, hear that story so that they can say, “I affirm you. I affirm this testimony that you have the gospel right, that the response you are making is what we understand the New Testament to make so that we are confirming through your testimony this invisible work that God has already done in you in bringing you to church. And whoever Jesus welcomes, we want to welcome. So, welcome into the church!” And for that person to be able to say to the leaders, “And now, by this covenant that God has given to me, I’m committing to be part of this church. So I want you to expect of me all that New Testament leaders should expect of members of the flock. I ask for your prayer. I ask for your ministry in my life. I ask for the accountability that comes along with that. This is a significant matter for me and I’m praying it’s a significant matter for the leaders here as I commit myself to this particular expression of God’s church.”
Josh: So there’s a lot that gets into it, but there’s a clarity, right? In terms of belonging, to say, “I want to meaningfully belong. I believe God has done a miracle in my life. I believe in Jesus. I want to follow Him. I want to follow Him together with His people, which includes obeying verses like Hebrews 13:17. I want to be a part of a flock where I’m honoring this passage by following the chief shepherd.” So we have this desire. The church has to have a way for people to make that kind of a statement, to indicate that claim, or to use one of the New Testament words, to say, “I am a brother or a sister. I want to be a brother or sister within this church family. I believe that I’m a part of the one flock and then I’m willing to and desiring to submit to this particular church family.” So the church has to have some way for people to indicate that. And whatever that thing is, that’s what you call membership. That process can be clear or it can be sloppy. We’ve had seasons within our own church where things have been clearer or more sloppy. There are challenges that come with those things.
There’s a question that comes that I think gets into the heart of that, which is, when the church begins the process of spiritual restoration. Restoration is the idea of restoring or bringing back something that was not together or not right. When the church begins the process of spiritual restoration, so someone has strayed. I think the word you used was you’re in sin or you’re drifting, is that something that happens only for church members or is it also for people who are attending a church, but not a member? That’s a great question! I think when you think about the passages, Matthew 18 or you think about Galatians chapter 6 or you think about 1 Corinthians 5, the key beginning is, is this a brother or a sister? Does this person claim and indicate “I’m a brother.” Because, especially 1 Corinthians 5, Paul gives very clear instructions about how a church is to relate to its own body members who are choosing to walk away from Jesus. Paul says, “I’m not telling you to respond to a person of the world in this particular way.” He’s saying, “I’m talking to anyone who has the name brother.” So there is a very specific indication of, this is a fellow believer.
Then there is something specific I think, when it gets into Matthew 18, to talk about the blessing of the church family to pursue that one with all the means of grace that we have. There is a restoration that happens for someone who has indicated that they belong. There are a variety of reasons, one formal and even one legal that for us, the way that we’re indicating you would tell us that that’s what you would want and tell the church family that’s what you would want and that’s what we would pursue, is through church membership. And I would say, out of love and grace, we want to be helpful and to try to practice the New Testament as best we can to people who are trying to meaningfully belong, but one of the most important and best ways that you can help a church in terms of leaders and a church family to do that, is indicating that you want that. For us, that’s the path of church membership that we’ve laid out.
Ritch: And it has gotten quite a bit more complicated, some of these questions, because the cultural setting is a bit different from the New Testament. So, in the New Testament, we get the sense that in every town, there was one church with elders overseeing. So if you were living in Peoria and you were a follower of Jesus, then you would know exactly who the elders are and who the church is. Well, we have, I don’t know, dozens and dozens and dozens of churches in this area. So now, the elders of each of those churches rightly ask, “Who am I going to give an account to God for?” because an elder in every church in Peoria is not going to give an account for every Christian in Peoria. But God has sent specific people to that flock to be part of that community, and those elders are going to be held accountable. So it has to do with accountability, responsibility and authority.
Maybe using a story that came to my mind, I remember when we were little my neighbors had some apple trees. There were two groups of kids and we kind of got angry with each other. So one group of us was underneath one apple tree and the other group was underneath, and we started throwing apples at each other. Some kids were getting hurt and we just were keeping going because we wanted to hurt each other. I remember my mom coming out, and what did my mom do when she came out? She didn’t tell everybody to go home. She grabbed me. “You’re coming home!” because I was her charge. Now, it wouldn’t have been wrong for her as just sort of an adult to tell everybody. She just decided she’s not responsible for them like she is responsible for me.
So in one sense, we’re right to be responsible for any brother to a certain degree. But if that brother hasn’t said, “I’m going to submit to this church and be part of it and that makes you accountable for me,” that’s a different kind of authority and responsibility that we have for that person, than the one who has raised their hand and committed to that kind of relationship. So it’s relationship that describes authority and responsibility of brothers and sisters and a family and of the leadership of that church toward that family.
Josh: When you think about family in a household, there are certain things that need to be a part of a family. But within different families, they’re going to kind of take different expressions. So in a family, there has to be some way for the parents to express love, some way where they’re providing, some way where the parents are trying to teach their children about Jesus. If they want to follow Him, they have to have some way. But it doesn’t have to look exactly the same for each family. The parents of that particular family have both the responsibility and then the authority to carry out some way to do that. And within that family, you have to kind of work within the responsibility and authority of the parents that you have. There may be strengths and weaknesses. But within a church, you have a responsibility to celebrate the Lord’s Supper and to do this. But there’s not a specific command for how often. Also, we’re told not to neglect the gathering, in Hebrews. We have an example and maybe a couple passages that would indicate Sunday mornings is a great time. It’s the first day of the week, resurrection of Jesus. There are some indications that they met week to week. But at the end of the day, for the church family, you have a responsibility to try to indicate what faithfulness in those ways looks like. And it’s going to maybe take different forms for different church families. But those particular leaders in that church family have the responsibility and authority to try to be faithful to the Scriptures in a particular way.
Ritch: It’s because God has designed our lives and our world for us to know the responsibilities that we have. To be responsible for everyone in the world is to be responsible for no one. Does that make sense? That’s why God has, for instance, given moms and dads, children that they’re especially responsible for. If you don’t take care of your own family, you’re worse than an unbeliever. That doesn’t mean that you don’t care for neighborhood kids or the kids in the next state or the next country at all. But if you just assumed what we’re doing here is everybody is responsible for everybody, then ultimately, we’re relieved of real responsibility for anybody because we know we can’t do it. It no longer has any real meaning. But if we look out Sunday after Sunday at our brothers and sisters who are sitting around us and say, “God has called me to a specific responsibility to this group of people,” then it’s a sobering thing because that’s very concrete. It moves us toward specific action. It’s in that way that we become healthy, that the church becomes healthy and able then to present a witness to the world of, we’ll say, real biblical Christianity, gospel life.
Josh: So here’s a practical question. What do believers do when a person is in another church and they’re living…I’ll kind of rephrase it…they’re living in unrepentant sin and they’re still claiming to be a believer, but that church isn’t, the word here is church discipline, but that church isn’t doing anything about it, those church leaders. So here is a person that you know that is just continuing to live defiant against God, but they’re not a part of your church family in particular.
Ritch: That happens all the time! This is not a hypothetical question that Christians have to deal with. I believe love requires a conversation. Now again, in a local church, you can go beyond the one conversation. You can say, “I’m going to bring some church leaders into this conversation, now.” Then if the person says, “No, that’s none of your business,” you can say, no, you actually made it our business. Do you remember when you joined the church? You’ve signed some documents that indicate this is our business. You asked us to do this. So we’re actually just following through on what you asked us to do from the beginning. So there’s been a contract, or it’s more a covenant, really, that’s being made among peoples in a local church. And it’s very serious! It has some ramifications that we later, might regret at the time, because we’ve become blind or hardened. But we can’t deny that that’s not the covenant that we entered into.
Whereas with this friend, “just out of caring for you, I care for your soul. I believe the New Testament says your soul is in danger and as a brother, I can come to you.” I don’t know much else …you might be able to get some friends and say, “Could you talk to them, too?” That kind of thing is appropriate out of care and concern. But there is no, I’ll say, flock action that takes place to help that person become awakened to the need that they have for repentance and submission to Christ.
Josh: Now, it does get a little bit into that membership. If this person has committed themselves to another local church and they’ve made that commitment and identified that in that church, it does indicate there may be a recourse, especially if you’re in relationship with those, to say, “You may not agree with what I’m saying, but would you be willing to meet with me and someone from your church?” Then you could trigger that particular conversation. That church might see things differently, or it might trigger the process just by way of…
Ritch: I think you can make an appeal to the church, too.
Josh: But if they haven’t indicated that they want that from their church and they haven’t made that commitment, it makes it twice as hard to try to do anything of that nature. It would be similar if we had someone who just was coming into a service and they’re just coming here and singing and then someone were to come and say, “Hey, did you know so and so in your church service is living in unrepentant sin of some kind?” We’d say people are free to come and sit in our services. They say, “But they’re a part of your church family.” We’d say, well actually, they haven’t indicated to us that they’re a part of our church family. So we can’t affirm the credibility of their testimony. We’re not saying that’s what it looks like to follow Jesus. They haven’t indicated that to us. Now when we get a little bit blurry on what church membership is, then it does become harder because our sense of responsibility does get blurry, too. You’re always dealing in real life with some blurriness, but I think moving toward clarity is great for people’s souls and for the purity of the church and the gospel.
Ritch: And not just for corrective measures, but my experience has been in my life as well as my observation of Christ’s church, it’s a beautiful thing for all the flaws and warts. It’s a beautiful thing, this flock, this family, this temple, the living stone that is being built to a holy temple. It’s a beautiful thing! When I see individuals seriously committing themselves in a clear way, whatever that clear way is…it could be their presence, their words, the covenant of membership. I find that person begins to care more for the people in their own church. The more members of a church that say, “this is a really serious matter,” the more you’re going to have that kind of care that kind of answers that first question in one way, an organic way.
Ideally, there is real community in a church that everyone is connecting to, because everyone is committed to each other and committed to that community. That community is really bound by Christ. It’s not bound by any other personal interest. It’s not bound by political interest or opinions. It’s not bound by hobby interests. It’s not bound by socio-economic commonalities. The only thing that binds church together as one flock is Jesus. He’s the Shepherd. This is why we’re together. It’s because we’re all following Jesus. I have no other expectations on this flock and the individual sheep other than that we’re following Jesus. The moment I begin to have an expectation on that flock of being something other than Christ-centered, then I’m beginning to put expectations on the flock that God says is actually going to destroy the flock.
So, how do we care for people in the church so that they don’t slip through the cracks? Well the first really is, and the most important thing really is, more than you talk about any organizational issue, is by having a group of people saying, “We’re serious about being committed to this flock.” And when you are, you start looking around and saying, “What about that person in the back, there? I think they’re a member, and yet they look pretty lonely.” Or you start saying, “There’s a person that used to sit next to me Sunday after Sunday, and I used to say “Hi” to them. I don’t see them there anymore. I wonder what happened to them. I’m going to find out. I’m going to find someone who I can get in contact with.” So there’s a natural kind of shepherding of the body in itself when people grasp hold of what we’re talking about, which is a deep commitment to membership. Along with that then, there is a much greater ease for the shepherds to organize the flock so that that kind of care takes place and people don’t fall through the cracks. You could have this brilliant organizational structure, but people fall through the cracks because there’s not a passion of commitment by those who are stewarded with running that organization. Does that make sense? That part of the organization. So there are going to be holes in the wall. That’s why the beautiful design is, as God places life in each one of us, He gives us life that causes us to love Him and causes us to love our brothers. If we lean into that rather than resist it, I think we all will experience the church as something really beautiful. Does it have flaws? Yes. Will it fail? Yes. But it will be the most beautiful expression of heaven on earth when that simple principle is grabbed onto and embraced by God’s people.
Josh: There is a lot to that, that we can’t dive into here. There are a couple simple practical questions. Here’s one. Hebrews 13:17 talks about submitting to leaders because they’re keeping watch over our souls. Does this strictly mean church leaders, or are civil and government leaders included in this as well? Are they ones keeping watch over our souls?
Ritch: I think this is primarily a reference to spiritual leadership. Now, there are some who would argue it also has to do with other kinds of leadership, and I’m not going to argue against that. But he does say in verse 18, “Pray for us.” So I think the writer is placing himself as one of the leaders. Does that make sense? So he says, “Do this,” and it’s them. He’s speaking in the third person as a group, but then he says, “Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things. I urge you the more earnestly to do this in order that I may be restored to you the sooner.” So I think the emphasis here is not so much on secular care by rulers as it is on the spiritual care. Verse 7 also kind of indicates even a stronger context. “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God.” So again, if you want to apply that to others, I’m not going to resist it so strongly, but the context really points to the primary emphasis here is on spiritual leaders.
Josh: I think that there are principles that we can draw from other passages that do give this a sense of, it’s appropriate to recognize leadership and the relationship you have with leadership. But in this context, I think the primary application for sure is spiritual leadership. Well, are there any other suggestions on caring well for people from a member side so that people don’t fall through the cracks? You talked about committing. I think we have a couple practical things. One, we’re working and we have some deacons and deaconesses and a team here starting to work on trying to build a network of people and help everyone to understand people that are connected, recognizing connections that are there, but then also starting to identify there are people who are in some ways falling through the cracks during a time like this. They can’t show up. It’s hard to indicate, we’re present or where the person is. And we’re working on a way to do that. But I think that, like you said, the mindset and heart of thinking about people that are missing, thinking about ways to reach out is definitely the most important in terms of connecting with people.
Ritch: And that’s not to give any excuse to poor leadership or lack of labors in creating a structure that helps that very thing. So in our church, as you know, we are hiring a Care Director to help us with this. That’s how seriously we’re taking this. We’re speaking of these things right now because the more we have an identification of people saying, “Yes, I’m a member and excited about being a member of this church,” that organizational structure includes them, then. When a person doesn’t say that, we wonder, can our organizational structure even include that person? Because if they get a call from the church as though they’re committed when they’re not, oftentimes, I’ve found that they get offended, and probably rightly so. It’s like, “Why are you calling me? All I’m doing is coming occasionally.” Oh, okay. I guess that’s the defining of the relationship. So membership helps define the relationship so that network can really identify. When a person is identified, they can have certain expectations on the church and on themselves that really help that leadership structure to be effective.
We talk a lot among our staff about the trellis and the vine. It’s a book that describes the church really is a living thing. It’s a vine that is fruitful, but as it grows, if you don’t have a trellis, then a lot of the vine gets lost. It dies unnecessarily because you haven’t cared for the vine to be the most fruitful. We need people in the church who are experts at that organic life. What kind of fertilizer do we use? How do we care for the vine so that it really thrives? The most important part of any church is the life of the vine. But we also need people with gifts of trellis work. There are many people who are really good at vine work, who are terrible at trellis work because it’s a different kind of work. Then that’s where you have the falling through the cracks. It’s a good problem to have, but it’s a problem. That’s why we need all the body using their gifts, whether it’s trellis or vine, together so that God is glorified in His church.
Josh: It’s going to be something that we’re going to be talking about more because we need to grow. But if you have questions about this, if you think, “I have a lot of questions. There is a lot more to talk about.” On Saturday, we’re having a membership class that will be at 8:00. There is still room if you want to sign up. We have people coming. Then we’re going to talk more and offer some opportunities in the future.
Ritch: And by the way, I’m not sure if my two sons and daughters-in-law are listening, but they both are not members yet of Bethany. This Saturday, Alexander, Kiera, Jackson, Taylor, this would be a great time for you to sign up for that class Saturday.
Josh: Wow! This is getting as practical as you can get, right there. It’s a sweet gift.
Ritch: We actually had this conversation already with them and they’re hoping to come. So I think I have them encouraged enough.
Josh: Praise the Lord we have one Good Shepherd. Praise the Lord that God is very patient, even in the sloppiness in the church and the family. It is a sweet thing to be a part of Jesus’ family. In all the ways that we trip and fall and stray, may He help us to follow Him faithfully.
Ritch: And really, I just, maybe one more comment. I was maybe jesting a little bit about my sons and daughters, but we have talked because I really do believe…it’s not just about me being the pastor and wanting people to join my church. It’s not my church. It’s God’s church! It’s not our church, but it’s Jesus’ church. But it’s not that this is important to me because this is the work I do. That’s sort of the internal fight that I always have.
“Boy, do I back away, because I don’t want to give that impression.” But with my own children, when my son and daughter were in Texas, I said, “Are you in a church? Have you started in a church?” I know that the spiritual life that they’re going to experience is really strongly impacted by whether they’re in a church or not. It’s the same with Daniel and Lizzie as they are in New Jersey. Are you in a church? And thank God, they both were part of a church. As a dad, not as a pastor, as a dad, I got to know the pastors of those churches and I would call them and say, “I want to thank you for shepherding my children.” So as they come here, again, that still is the message. But if they go elsewhere, it’s still the message because it’s not about this place. It’s about God’s kingdom. And everywhere, it’s going to be really important to the people that we care about that they’re connected to the local church. Bad things happen when people don’t get connected to a local church. Also, the mission of the church doesn’t happen. I’m also excited every time I hear about Daniel and Lizzie. Boy, they are doing mission and they’re part of a mission that’s really important to bring the gospel into a part of New Jersey. So that’s just a little side note at the end, here.
Josh: There is so much we could talk about. We’re out of time tonight. But we will close. I’m going to pray and we’ll continue the conversation in the future.
Father, thank you that we can belong. This is something that, just like believing, it’s a miracle that you perform. Just like becoming, this is a gift of grace. Following Jesus in any sense is a work that you begin, you complete. Yet, you call us into it by the power of the Spirit and we try to live it out in ways through baptism, through belonging in a meaningful way through being members of the body and then through celebrating communion together and the gathering of worship and fellowship. These are part of what helps us to grow, part of what changes our lives and becoming like Christ and help others to do so. Father, we want to follow the leader together. There are questions. Help us to start the conversations and know that there is patience and grace, but also there is a sense of urgency for the joy and for the peace and the safety that comes. But we long to be a community that lives out the Scriptures in such a way that Christ is exalted, the body is built up, that the world is reached, so that you may receive the glory of which you are worthy. In Jesus’ Name, I pray, Amen.