What's the relationship between membership and discipleship? (Jackie Bellfield)

Sunday, 28 March, 2010

Jackie BellfieldJackie Bellfield asks what the relationship between membership and discipleship is.

There is a particular time in the year that I dread, a time of sleepless nights and worry - the renewal of my car breakdown cover! As I get older, alongside my car, I worry whether I (or my car) need to be rescued and recovered, just rescued, only recovered, or simply just towed away. Which one do I go for in the plethora of options? Many organisations offer a variety of options in relation to membership. There is the seasonal membership, the family card, occasional usage alongside frequent visitor, to name a few.

As a fresh expression missioner, it is an amazing privilege to work alongside others as we explore fresh and vibrant ways of engaging in ministry, church and worship. Over the past three years, 13 new fresh expressions of church have been formed in the Warrington Circuit, each reaching a wide range of people, encouraging all to grow in discipleship and their awareness of God. Some of these people have previously seen the inherited church as irrelevant to them and others have been hurt by it. But the question remains: do they want to become a member of the Methodist Church? Or of any denominational church?

When I read the Great Commission, I hear the mission and purpose of the church. And that purpose is to spiritually form disciples. In other words, the church is not a club - it is a discipleship-forming community. The task of discipleship formation begins right here. We can no longer expect the culture, the schools or anyone else to do that task for us. It is the purpose of this community of church. How will we, with God's help, be effective in the process of spiritually forming disciples?

A discussion about the relationship between membership and discipleship needs to take place

I do not think that the question can be answered in the length of a short blog. Nor am I suggesting a 'home or away' season ticket, a reward scheme for regular attendance (though that has a certain appeal) or a loyalty card for regular giving - give five weeks and have the sixth free - but perhaps a discussion about the relationship between membership and discipleship needs to take place.

I am not, of course, saying membership is not important and critical in encouraging full participation, stewardship and involvement within our local church communities. But I'm asking: how do we encourage attendees of fresh expressions to be involved in the decision-making processes of the church that affects them? And how do we encourage them to take ownership when, as things stand, they firstly need to become members? Let's start the conversation; it is an exciting place to be.

About the author: 

Rev Jackie Bellfield is a Methodist minister in the Warrington Circuit at Latchford and Bold Street Methodist Churches.


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