There are many Christians who attend a local church who do not see church membership as essential, important, or even biblical. They go from church to church to church as they try and find what suits their interests, preferences, and desires because they do not want to make a commitment, and they want to do what works for them. So, what is church membership and what does being a member of a local church have to do with biblical counseling?
Church membership is defined by Jonathan Leeman as “a formal relationship between a local church and a Christian characterized by the church’s affirmation and oversight of a Christian’s discipleship and the Christian’s submission to living out his or her discipleship in the care of the church.”1Jonathan Leeman, https://www.9marks.org/article/journaltwelve-reasons-why-membership-matters/
Church membership matters when it comes to biblical counseling because it is membership that cultivates a culture of care and discipleship in the local church. Church membership affirms an individual’s profession of faith, it provides oversight of a person’s discipleship by the shepherds of the church, and there is a commitment to discipleship and service in the body which are essential to the process of biblical counseling.
Here are some reasons why church membership is essential to biblical counseling. As you think about the metaphors given to us in Scripture about who we are in Christ, you will see that being committed to a local church is essential in biblical counseling.2For more on how these metaphors are essential to church membership, see Mark Dever’s booklet, Why Should I Join a Church?
Members of a Body
First, Christians are described as being members of a body. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul describes how each member of the body is important and essential to the functioning of the body as a whole. Paul writes, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ (1 Cor. 12:12-13). Paul describes how each part of the body is essential to the functioning of the body. And one part of the body cannot say, “I don’t need you” (v. 21). In other words, we need each other in the body of Christ. We need to disciple and care for and love each other in the local church. And each member is essential and important to the body as a whole.
How can Christians grow and become more like Christ if they are not attached to the body? How can the body function properly without being committed to the body? If Biblical counseling is discipleship, and it is, then there is no way for a Christian to be properly discipled and to grow if they are not connected to the body of Christ.
One purpose and goal of biblical counseling is to help a believer be restored to their local church in order for them to be a healthy member. Biblical counseling is designed to help show believers the need and importance of serving in their church and discipling one another.
Members of a Family
Second, Christians are described as being members of a family. Paul describes this in his letters where he says that we are “members of the household of God” (Eph. 2:19), we are of the “household of faith” (Gal. 6:10), and we are in the “household of God” (1 Tim. 3:15). The Scriptures also describe how we have been adopted into God’s family (Gal. 4:1-6; Rom. 8:15).
How are we adopted into God’s family? We are adopted into God’s family by His grace through faith in Jesus Christ. God sent His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to die for sinners, to take upon Himself the wrath of God on the cross for our sins, to redeem us and save us and bring us to the Father (Gal. 3:13; 1 Pet. 2:24). And it is by repentance and faith in Jesus Christ alone that one can be rescued and saved and delivered from sin and enter God’s family by His grace. And when God rescues us and saves us, He adopts us into His family.
Being part of God’s family means that we are in relationship with each other. It means as Jesus said in John 13:35, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one other.” Being a member of God’s family means that we encourage, exhort, rebuke, and admonish one another. Being a member of God’s family means we are going to be fully involved and invested in each other’s lives.
Church membership is essential to biblical counseling because when we disciple each other we need to be committed to each other. Biblical counseling is not a quick fix where we come and get the help we need and then we are on our way. Biblical counseling is effective only when we are committed to each other and the rest of the church. The local church is where we are continually discipling others and being discipled by one another.
Members of a Flock
Third, Christians are described as being members of a flock. Peter exhorts elders in the local church to “Shepherd the flock of God that is among you” and to be “examples to the flock” (1 Pet. 5:2, 3). Church membership is essential because sheep need a shepherd to watch over them and to care for them. Church membership provides the privilege of accountability to leaders in the church. Hebrews 13:17 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.” How can the leaders in the church know whom they are responsible for if one does not become a member of the church? How can the church carry out discipline in the church if there is no accountability to the leaders or the other believers? Biblical counseling is effective when one submits himself or herself to the leadership of the church and to one another in the body of Christ.
Church membership is essential to biblical counseling. If one does not commit to the local church, they are removing themselves from being a member of the body, a member of the family, and a member of the flock. A Christian will not grow and mature and become more like Christ without these God-ordained means of grace.