Monday, January 5, 2009

Church Softball and Church Membership, Part 1

Softball was big in churches when I was growing up. In fact, I can recall it be an all encompassing activity that took up a great deal of time with practice and the playing of games. There are some very fond memories I have of playing church softball as a teenager and young adult. However, my church softball career ended rather infamously sometime before I graduated from high school when our team was ejected from the league due to a fight between several of our players and players on another team. This is and was a rather sad story of church-life gone mad!

One thing I distinctly remember about church softball was that many churches had an attendance requirment for playing. Our church had a rule that players must attend worship twice a month in order to play. Being that we were Baptists, that meant attending church two times of the possible 12 times we worshipped each month (i.e. twice on Sundays and once on Wednesdays). In a mere numbers sense, all you had to do was "worship" 17% of the time our church got together and you were fine. (I recall this being a "struggle" for some people though I remember no one ever being kept from playing.)

I recognize that churches did this because they did not want softball to be, merely, a social thing. Perhaps some older members or pastors understood that churches had obligations to direct all people toward the Gospel and spiritual things. As I got older, I used to think, "is our church so bad that we actually have to require people to come in order to get them there!"

Strangely enough, I read an article about a church league in Texas that required each church team to have half its roster made up by unchurched players. Each church member was called to invite an unchurched friend or coworker to be on the team. The mission was to give unchurched players an opportunity to meet Christians and allow them to be a witness. If any of you saw the way most church teams played, I guarantee you that any opporutnity for witness was probably lost!

Why all this talk about church softball? Well, back in the day, there was a level of expectation and requirement placed on players. They understood, if you want to play, then you need to show up at worship X number of times.

What about church members in general? Does Scripture place any type of expectations on those that compose a local congregation? Are church members simply left to themselves with no sense of accountability to the other members? Does it matter if people that constitute the "membership" of a church be expected to participate in the life of the church in a meaningful way?

Consider this passage from Hebrews 3:12-14 --

"Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called 'today,' that none of you may be hardedned by the deceitfulness of sin. For we share in christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end."

and this from Hebrews 10:24-25 --

"...let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near."

Frome these two passages are some action words/phrases to which Christians are to pay heed:

>"Take care, brothers" the sense of guarding one's self and others from an evil, unbelieving

>"exhort one another" the sense of strongly encouraging one another not to be hardened
by sin

>"stir up one another" the sense of how to cause other believers to love and be engaged in
God's good work and regularly worshipping together

The writer of Hebrews is stating that some were already in the habit of neglecting corporate worship. The motivation for Christians to do these things is the reality of "fall[ing] away from the living God" and "the Day (i.e. judgment Day) drawing near."

So here's the question: What does a local congregation do when a "member" habitually neglects corporately worshipping with other believers and being involved in the life of the congregation?


The First Presbyterian Church of Americus said...

Well, well, well. Rodney I didn't know you had softball in you. Perhaps, you can join the Presbyterians this summer in our rec league. What do we do with inactive members? We kick them out. Well, not at first. We're supposed to reach out to them in Christ-like love, inquire if there is a reason for their absence, encourage them to return and explain to them again the responsibilities of membership. If they fail to demonstrate active membership for a year in the eyes of the elders they are put on the inactive roll. If they fail to be active for a second year they are deleted from the roll. It isn't an easy part of ministry, but it is an important part of pastoral care and church discilpine. One time when I came on new as an associate at 2500+ church, I went door to door looking for the inactive members. Arriving at one apartment building, I couldn't get an answer at the door and inquired at the front desk about the tenant. She told me that the woman had died, and the church never knew it. Godspeed in your constitution writing, congregation shepherding, and perhaps you should start up a softball team. We'll play you.

Pastor Brent said...

Hi Rod. If a memeber refuses to gather with the other members, first thing is to kick him/her off the softball team, unless he/she is one of the better players (mostly kidding). Then of course the person should be spoken to in light of the warnings you cited from Hebrews. The author of that book believed in the reality of "falling away" which is a process, that includes more infrequent meetings with the church body. In short, a lack of desire for the distinctly Christian fellowship that is to mark our Sunday gatherings is a sign that points to a fearful end for the one "falling away" since "it is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God" - Hebrews 10:31.