I Am A Church Member (but Thom Rainer doesn’t get it)

I am a church MemberI like Thom Rainer. I have benefited greatly from his books and research. But his most recent book, I Am a Church Memberis severely misguided and misinformed.

I Am a Church Member appears to be intended for “Church Membership” classes in local churches. While I am not a fan of  institutional churches or of the church membership classes that go with them, I do understand that if a group of believers are going to meet in an institutional way, they probably need some sort of membership rolls, and membership classes to go with them. Fine. If that is how you think it is best to follow Jesus, I have absolutely no problem with it.

So what is the problem with Thom Rainer’s book? I Am a Church Member uses guilt and fear to get new church members to do what the church leadership wants.

Let me back up.

By all reports, institutional Christianity is hemorrhaging.  Every year, millions of people abandon the institutional way of doing church, not because they are abandoning God, Jesus, or the Church, but because they find that intimate relationships with others and loving service in the community apart from the systematized and scheduled meetings on Sunday morning is a more natural way of following Jesus and living life as His disciples.

Naturally, this mass exodus from the church has church leaders scared. They need people to fill their pews. Why? So that they can give their tithes, so the church building can be paid for and the pastoral salaries funded, and so that there is a place and people for all the expensive church programs.

But how do you tell church members that to truly follow Jesus, they have to attend church, give their tithes, support the church leadership, and serve in church programs?

Apparently, you get Thom Rainer to write a book about it, and get 23 prominent church leaders and seminary presidents to endorse the book, and then price the book in such a way so that scared church leaders all over the country will buy hundreds of copies of the book so they can hand it out to all the people in their “Church Membership” classes.

A Summary-Review of I Am a Church Member

Here is a basic summary of Thom’s book:

Rainer begins the book pointing out that nine out of ten American churches are declining in attendance (p. 4). His book is the proposed prescription to this problem. (But is it really a problem?)

Beginning with a terrible misunderstanding of Paul’s “Body” imagery in 1 Corinthians 12-14 and how every “member” of the Body needs every other member, Rainer uses six chapters to propose six commitments that every new church member must make to the church they are attending. The six commitments are actually six popular cliches which church leaders around the world love to use in sermons and in publications to guilt church people into being regular church attendees.

The best (read: worst) part about each chapter, is that they conclude with a pledge for the reader to sign and date! I can almost visualize the conclusion of each week in the Membership classes, where the Pastor (or Elder) teaching the class get everybody to stand and say the pledge out loud, and then collects copies of everyone’s pledge to be stored in the person’s “Membership File” so that if they ever get out of hand, the pastor can pull their file and say, “See? You made a commitment. You signed on the dotted line. Are you going to break your word? Are you a liar? You know where liars go, don’t you?”

That may be a bit over the top, but you get the gist…. and if you have ever sat through one of these meetings, you know that this is pretty much how they go… See this satirical video.

The Six Commitment in I Am A Church Member

Here are Rainer’s six recommended commitments (summarized and reworded for this review):

  1. I will devote as much time and energy to my local church as possible, because if I don’t, I am letting Jesus down.
  2. Nobody is perfect. Not even my pastor. So I won’t talk or think negatively about him in any way, or challenge anything he says or does, because doing so would damage the gospel.
  3. Church isn’t about me. Even if I don’t like the music, can’t stand the preaching, there’s nothing for my kids, and I think the church is wasting my time and money, I will still attend faithfully.
  4. No matter what, I will support my pastor and pray for him every single day.
  5. I will bring my entire family to church with me, because the future of my family, the church, and the entire world depend on it.
  6. I love being a member of this church, and I never, ever, want to stop being a member. It’s the best! I promise. It’s a gift from God.

Yes, yes, my summaries are a bit snarky. But if you read Thom’s book, you will see that my summaries are not that far off from what he actually wrote. I am using satire to point out how guilt-laden and performance-driven these commitments are.

Why do I feel so strongly about this? Because I am tired of church leaders with expensive church buildings and bloated church budgets trying to shore up their ineffective church programs by demanding further sacrifice and greater commitments from tired and weary church members. What ever happened to “my yoke is easy and my burden is light”?

While there may be some people are leaving institutional Christianity because they are rebelling against God or forsaking Jesus, the vast majority are leaving so that they can better follow Jesus into the world. Isn’t this something to be praised and encouraged?

I am a church member

Look, being a church member has nothing to do with sitting in a pew on Sunday morning, listening to a sermon and praying for your pastor, giving your money to support a local church budget, and making commitments to serve on a church ministry program.

Are we all members of one Body? Yes. Does every member need every other member? Of course.

And that is exactly why so many millions of people are leaving institutional Christianity. It is not because they don’t want to be members of Christ’s church, but because they are members of Christ’s church, the Body, and have found that Jesus wants them to serve the Body and love the world in ways that waste less time and money.

Look, I am not against people attending church. Truly. I am not. I am not against “Church Membership” for people who attend church. The way that system is set up, “Church Membership” is a good idea. What saddens me is that church leaders think that people who “leave their church” are forsaking Jesus, abandoning the church, and living in rebellion against God.

Just once, I would love for a mega-church pastor or a prominent church author to come out and announce a blessing upon all those people who are leaving their church to follow Jesus in tangible and loving ways in the community. Why cannot church leaders see themselves as “sending these people out into the world” rather than see them as “leaving the church”?

So if Thom Rainer ever reads this review, I would invite him to write a follow-up book which church pastors can hand out to people who are leaving their church. It could be titled, I Am a Church Member (…even if I don’t attend church). The book would contain no pledges, no dotted lines upon which to sign, and no guilt trips. Instead, it would contain a commitment on the part of the church leadership to not condemn or criticize those who leave institutional Christianity, but to bless them and thank them for being the church by following Jesus in ways that take great courage and creativity.

I beg Thom Rainer (and all the Seminary Presidents and Mega Church Pastors who endorsed I Am a Church Member) to recognize that many people may be leaving the institutional church, not because they have given up on church, are abandoning Jesus, or are bad church members, but because they are good church members and they want to be the church by following Jesus into their neighborhoods and communities.

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Comments

  1. Rusty says

    I believe the body of believers in Acts devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching, prayer, fellowship and the breaking of bread together. And apparently there was some organization because there were numbers added to the “church”. Jesus never said there was a problem with temples of worship… just how you use them… sorry I am not among those who will be a part of dissensions of Christ’s bride.

    There is an accountability to the calling to follow Jesus…

    • says

      Thank you for trying to refrain from dissension. So if someone attends your church building and they decided to follow Jesus in a way that causes them to stop attending, would you think less of them or try to keep them attending so that they can truly follow Jesus?

  2. Larry Hines says

    Stop kidding yourself Mr Myers. The so called “new way” of doing church is an institution as well. The relationship with Jesus is a step by step, very organized approach to being a better human being. Stop being so rebellious toward everything the, how did you say it, “organized” church is doing. Not all of these “organized” churches are doing church as you have described. Many are changing. Do you not think that Jesus and the 12 disciples were an organized group?
    Your words:
    “Naturally, this mass exodus from the church has church leaders scared. They need people to fill their pews. Why? So that they can give their tithes, so the church building can be paid for and the pastoral salaries funded, and so that there is a place and people for all the expensive church programs”.
    There are new churches popping up everywhere that are no different. They all are begging for money to pay their salaries, programs and utilities. Despite what you say, money is necessary to do any type of ministry. So whether you do it in a mega church or a ghetto in NYC, you need funds to keep the ministry going.
    We should continue with existing facilities and structure, but change from within. That’s our best hope, but do all the things you have said. I agree with you, but I disagree too.

    • says

      Larry,
      You could be right, but I am not aware of any steps that I am following in this “new way” (which isn’t new at all). I don’t collect funds. I don’t have existing facilities or structures. I am not part of a new church building that is popping up somewhere.

      So before you criticize what I am doing, you better take a bit of time to actually learn what I am doing.

        • says

          The better question is “Where do I not meet?” Here are a few places I have met with other believers last month and have been encouraged by them and have (hopefully) been an encouragement.
          -work
          -my dinner table
          -Sheraton Hotel Lobby
          -local coffee shop
          -neighbor’s horse corral
          -in my backyard
          -local wine bar
          -a friend’s hot tub

  3. PD says

    JB, you have it right. I am dismayed at the raw cynicism expressed in this chain. As an elder of a non-denominational church, I have real life experience about what happens when people walk away from a local gathering of Christ’s church. Jeremy’s line of reasoning is popular because it aligns with society’s growing cynicism with all things institutional. Unfortunately, Jeremy’s reasoning is often employed as an excuse by those who don’t wan to humble themselves and make a commitment. I am skeptical of how many walk away from “institutional” church to find a closer walk with Jesus or to serve more fully AND ACTUALLY DO SO. I have yet to find even one. Jeremy may know “dozens’, but that is a small number compared to the thousands who are being enriched and rescued by the local church. None of us is strong enough to go it alone– without the support of a family of other believers. Why do you think the NT is peppered with all of the “one another” passages? In my experience, those who left our church family have either found another church body (the best result), dropped out entirely, or church-shopped until they found a church with lower expectations for serving, giving, and personal accountability. Our church is not perfect by a long shot, but we are striving to provide a church home for the hurting and the searching. Without this type of ready-to-help family, many would be lost. I am in full agreement with Rainer’s statement: “It’s a lame and invalid excuse to say you will limit your involvement to the universal church.”

    • Sam says

      Here’s one and I know many more in the city where I live. We left the institution, not Jesus or the church. We’re much more involved than we ever were in any institutional church. One need not attend an institutional church to have the support of other believers. As a matter of fact, I remember almost no support from the people who attended the churches we attended. That wasn’t their interest. I’m guessing that you know only the institutional church model from personal experience. Hey, if it works for you, great. But don’t assume it works for all of us who follow Jesus.

    • Jonathon says

      For all practical purposes, I’ve dropped my church membership. I am editing my resignation letter.

      I gave up on the pastor, after giving him a letter outlining what I could do for the church which he has AFAICT, never looked at.

      I gave up on the elder assigned to me, when they were given a copy of the same letter, said “That’s interesting”, and promptly forgot all about it.

      It is easier to pursue something, when one can physically interact with other individuals pursuing the same thing. When the church congregation, either individually, or as a corporate body, acts more like a FaceBook friend, than a physically present flash and blood person, that dimension is lost. Unfortunately, all to often, the church leadership resembles a cross between a FaceBook Friend, and a Nigerian widow tnat wants to give you some money from her deceased husband’s estate.

      • PD says

        Jonathon, as a leader, this touches me directly. I do not know your circumstances, but I know how imperfect leaders and churches are. We mess up. I encourage you to find another church where you have more confidence in the leaders. The church was established by Christ and individual churches were established and nourished by Paul, Timothy, and others. Look at how messed up the church at Corinth was!! Yet, they were encouraged to work things out, not strike out on their own. Churches are the model established for us in scripture. Yes, from time to time there is a need for reform, for new leaders, etc. But trying to go it alone is not a solution. As you correctly point out “it is easier to pursue something when one can physically interact with other individuals pursuing the same thing”. That is part of the wisdom of the church model. I pray you will find a good church community.

        • Jonathon says

          Much as I would like to think otherwise, it is as if the Holy Spirit is guiding me to start a home church.

          ###

          What I see in church leaders is a focus on the Christian book of the month, be it _tBad Girls of the Bible_, or _I am a Church Member_, and completing ignoring _The Book of Concord_, _Institutes of Chistian Religion_, _Glossa Ordinaire_, _The Early Church Fathers (32? volumes)_, and similar foundational books in Christian theology.

          Furthermore, I see a denial of the existence of material such as _God Hates You, Hate Him Back_, and _Judas of Galillea_, with the consequential inbility to address the issues they raise.

    • says

      PD,
      As an elder of your church, if someone came up to you and said that they felt Jesus wanted them to take a break from church attendance for a while, what would you tell them? I am just curious.

      As to your points, obviously there are millions of people who have stopped attending church, and I know dozens who are more involved now with loving others like Jesus than they were when they attended church, but you criticize me for saying I only know dozens? Do you seriously think I should know about the lives of all the millions?

      Let me admit it: There are also dozens of people I know who have stopped attending church and are not making any effort to follow Jesus. But do you want to know why? Because the church previously attended told them that if they wanted to follow Jesus, they had to do it by attending church. So when they stopped attending, they also figured they had to stop following. Thankfully, Jesus is using people like me (and millions of others in the same boat) to show these people who have stopped attending church that there is wonderful way of following Jesus as part of His Body, the church, which does not involve sitting in a pew on Sunday morning and listening to a sermon.

      The primary reason people “fall away” from Jesus when they stop attending church is because most of them have been wrongly taught by church leaders that the two are identical. This book by Rainer is another example of a church leader who seems to be saying something similar.

  4. PD says

    Jeremy,
    I would probably say to take a break if they think they need it. But I would also encourage them not to give up meeting with other Christians who can share life with them, help them grow in the Lord, and prepare them for works of service in His Kingdom. I would tell them to continue in prayer and study and be wary of false teaching. In my mind, that would constitute a “church”. Brick-and-mortar and a denominational name do not make a church. Committed people seeking to do God’s will make a church.
    My only point about the dozens vs. millions was your exaggeration. You have anecdotal evidence (dozens) but are making the assertion that the vast majority of the millions leaving are doing so for the reasons you claim. I wont try to put a number on it, but I know your reasons are more often used as an excuse for something deeper.
    Jeremy, thank you for being there to help others follow Jesus. That is truly what it is all about. We will have to agree to disagree about the value of church participation. I pray your work in the Kingdom will be blessed.
    And thanks for the dialogue, everyone! God bless you all.

    • says

      Thanks, PD. I think that would be a good thing to tell people.

      Just so you know, though, I wasn’t basing my statistic on personal, anecdotal knowledge. I was basing my “millions” statement off a report which I think I read from the Barna group recenlty. Or maybe it was one of those other Christian polling groups. I will try to find it…

      Anyway, they ran a survey and found that most of those who stop attending church still view themselves as followers of Jesus. They read their Bibles, pray, give to charitable organizations, and talk with their friends and neighbors about Jesus. Most of them report a closer intimacy with God and liberty in their walk with Jesus than they claim they felt when “attending” church.

      So I was referring to that report (though I didn’t mention it because I didn’t have it in front of me). My personal experience of knowing a dozen or so matches what I read about in the study.

  5. says

    Hi Jeremy,
    Thanks for your review of “I am a Church Member”. There are church leaders that don’t deserve our support and there are many churches out there that we personally wouldn’t want to attend for good, valid theological reasons; and it would be a real shame if the pastors and Leaders of these churches used Thom Rainer’s book to make the people within these churches feel obliged to continue in them by signing them up as ‘official’ members of these churches.
    I read the book and when I read it I though that Thom made it clear that by member he means as in the body metaphor, and when he refers to church he doesn’t mean a commitment primarily to a local church but to the Body of Christ, that is, all genuine Christ-followers.
    Unfortunately this book could be misused by self-interested pastors and church leaders to promote greater commitment to ‘their” church and “formal membership” within it. That would be tragic and very sad.
    But it could also be used to promote greater commitment towards being a vital and functioning part of the Body of Christ, by joining with others and working together on the task of making disciples.
    I would like to see this book being used in a way that let everyone who is already a Christ-follower know they already are a member, even if your name is not on a church’s membership list. This book is about how to be a better and more effective member or part of the whole. That’s how I plan to use this book.

    • says

      Good points, Steve. I truly do hope that if people use this book, it is used in the way that Thom undoubtedly intended it to be used, rather than to put guilt trips onto people for not being committed enough.

  6. Laura says

    I read this book and what it did for me was make me re-evaluate my commitment to my church and my God. It did this through having me take a tough look at myself and what I think I should be ‘getting out of church’ and what God actually wants for me. If you have made the ‘commitment’ (and no we don’t sign a contract or attendance log or anything crazy like that) to be a church member, certain things SHOULD be expected of you. It’s no different then being a member of any other family. My husband, kids and myself all have roles and responsibilities in our family, it’s no different in being a member of a church family. I didn’t get the guilt trip y’all are talking about, I got a kick in the pants that said ‘Laura, your focus is all wrong, quite being so negative, it’s not about you…’ Do I think that churches are being sidetracked, yes, do I see people leaving because of guilt, yes, but no one ever said believing in God was easy, guilt isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it may just be a way to open our eyes. Did I take everything Mr. Rainer said and the absolute end all? NO, the only book that is that for me is the Bible, but I did take some of the insights to heart and am applying them to my life, my relationship with Christ and my role in my church.

    • says

      boLaura,

      I think my main concern was that Rainer seems to ignore or pass over the importance of being committed to the “Body of Christ” and emphasizes instead the importance of committing to a local “church group.” He seems to imply that if someone is not committed to a local church group, then they are not committed to the universal Body of Christ. This is a false dichotomy, and does not fit with either Scripture or logic.

      I am not opposed to people who want to be committed to a local church group, but I hope that they extend grace toward those who commit themselves to the universal Body of Christ in ways that do not involve the things Rainer seems to think are important for church “members.”

      I too am a church member, just not in the way Rainer defines it.

  7. Joe says

    Is tithing biblical? Is the “church biblical? Should we forsake the assembling of Gods people? And honestly encouraging people to quietly leave a church period is wrong in itself. Just admit it. Our culture doesn’t want to accept what is biblical, tithing especially, and actually we should be meeting daily as in Acts, not twice a week, but let me tell your living in dream world if you think people in the church are somehow serving away after they leave. Talk about twisting words to fit an agenda. This is terrible. Look do what every you want but remember we answer for how we lead and if it doesn’t scare you that your leading people astray, yikes. All your promoting is more you time so you can sleep in or go to the beach. Sad post.

    • says

      Joe,

      Note that I am not encouraging people to leave the church. Instead, I am encouraging people to be the church (rather than just attend a building on Sunday morning).

  8. Sam says

    Obviously I’m living in a dream world. My wife and I and many others we know follow Jesus and serve the Kingdom outside the walls of he institutional church. This is not twisting words to fit an agenda. It is following Jesus into all the world. Neither we nor Jeremy follow Jesus for more you time so we can sleep or go to the beach. You are throwing around accusations when you do not know us, accusations not based on fact.

    Read through Jeremy’s many posts about church, tithing and the other topics you mention, and read his excellent new book “Bodies, Bucks and Bricks” for more information. You may not choose to follow Jesus as we do, but just as we do not condemn you, call you sad and unbiblical, you would do well to treat us with the same love and compassion with which we treat you.

  9. says

    It seems to me that those who express a negative attitude towards attending a “church” base it on emotions and feelings more than scripture. How do you explain the church in Acts? How do you explain Hebrews 10.25 and the exhortation to assemble together? You seem to be critical of “organization” but 1 Corinthians 14.40 admonishes us to do all things “decently and in order”. When you read throughout the Bible, you can’t help but notice that God is a God of order. With all due respect, I don’t see much scriptural basis for your position.

    • says

      Daniel,

      To respond to the questions you have raised, I would need to write a book about these things.

      Oh. Hey! I did! Several, to be exact.

      Of course, much of that information is found here on my blog, and I have a little “search this blog” area on the top of the sidebar.

      • Ira says

        While you are certainly entitled to your opinion, and while it is true that there are some in leadership positions for self-serving purposes I find the secularization of your article very disheartening as it relates to the body of Christ. Sir, we are in a battle with the forces of darkness. Yes,spiritual warfare on every front of Christendom and when these hit pieces come out against the men of God who lead these churches (institutions as you call them), I believe it aids and abets the enemy. We are strongly encouraged in scripture “not tp forsake the assemblng of ourselves as is the manner of some, but to encourage one another. I found nothing in your article that was encouraging, but certainly you used the opportunity to undermine pastors and leaders who toil tirelessly, contending for the faith in a godless generation even while you are resting comfortably at night. This book, in my opinion, is to actually minimize the great apostasy taking place in our churches; especially among those who were never taught the real meaning of being “last instead of first”, to help those who come into the church who may bring with them societal norms of entitlement and “whats in it for me” attitudes and behaviors. Your article and the attitude of those who go along with it is why the church “limps along” as the enemy gains traction and territory. I say God bless Thom Rainer and the list of Pastors who lead Gods people. I personally have been blessed and benefitted from reading this book. a few questions, you might answer for you and then your blog readers, “Would you rather have a functioning or non-functioning member of your church? Unifying or disruptive? Members who pray or not pray for their leaders who watch for their soul? Members who lead families to be healthy or unhealthy church members? I’m curious after reading your “critique” of a great book. This is what Paul was striving for among the churches he planted, visited and later wrote to…UNITY!

        • says

          Ira,
          Secularization? Because I call on people to recognize that there are other ways of being the church than by sitting in a pew on Sunday morning, you accuse me of secularization?

          Ah well, I suppose it might look that way to someone who believe that the way they do “church” on Sunday morning is the way the Bible says it must be done (which it doesn’t). Either way, I am striving toward unity with all my being, and it is books like this one by Thom Rainer which seek to discredit a growing majority of Christians who do not follow Jesus within the four walls of a building.

  10. pms says

    church isn’t A Sunday Morning activity its a lifestyle of being Christ in the world for you are and I am the Church! But no matter where you stand on the Institutional, organized, house , or Hot tub Gathering you cannot deny that Gods word…(which hasn’t been sited here ) Declares that the Gathering of ourselves shouldn’t be forsaken Heb, 10:25 not a guilt trip, control tactic etc. but instruction and exhortation from The Word of God. How you can do that decently an din order (1Cor. 14:40) without some organization & recognized leadership on a regular basis needs to be considered before condemning organized worship and fellowship gatherings. I experience so called institutionalized gatherings ans well as home or free fellowships and they both have there elements of structure organization accountability ETC… AND THE Lord CAN UTILIZE THEM BOTH. i THINK BETTER TIME AND ENERGY CAN BE USED DISCUSSING HOW TO UNIFY THE BODY OF CHRIST TO REACH THE WORLD THAT DOESN’T KNOW HIM. 1JOHN 1:3 AGAPE PMS
    PMS

  11. says

    I work so that I can serve the church. I’ve been bi-vocational pastor of a poor church in a housing community for 14 years. My bible college and seminary education were a luxury for me as I am an engineer by trade – this is my tent-making, I guess. I thought the book was/is a little heavy handed but absolutely on target when addressing the necessity of all members of the local church realizing the importance of their involvement and the investment of their gifts to edify the body. It is not unlike a quote I read in Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, ” “A community which allows unemployed members to exist within it will perish because of them.”

    I don’t agree with anyone all the time, but this little book has it’s merits and it seems to me that you have knocked it down while also advocating the abandon of the very institution through which you and countless others came to saving knowledge of Christ. Perhaps you should read (if you haven’t already) Life Together and then reread Rainer’s book…

    Finally, perhaps it’s not you (maybe it some of your subscribers) – you seem a bit hostile toward church leadership of any kind, and I have to tell you as your Christian brother that it is hurtful and discouraging. There are some of us who work hard to take care of our families while also accepting the responsibility of serving God’s people through the ministry of the Word and in the Sacraments – don’t discount the number of faithful men and women who make this sacrifice – willingly and without thanks.

    Respect,
    just adam

    • Sam says

      I have read Life Together and Rainer’s book. I understand the perspective that the local institution of the church must be preserved. That worked once upon a time, but is working less and less.

      My wife and I were part of the institution for over half a century. We came to understand that the top priority, regardless of what was said and taught, was preserving the institution. When it came down to what churches emphasized and spent their time and money for, it was preserving the institution – the building, the staff and the programs. We have lived in several cities and attended several churches and visited others and never found an exception.

      There will continue to be those who want to attend and support the institution, so there will continue to be a need for buildings, staff and programs for those groups. However, more and more people are choosing to follow Jesus into the world. We know many who do. My wife and I have followed Jesus into the neighborhoods, into the streets, and walk with him there among the people.

      Rainer’s book strikes some of us as a rather obvious and almost desperate effort to preserve the institution, especially the part about signing pledges that many people will not keep. In my book, that absolutely smacks of desperation.

    • says

      Adam,
      Thanks for the comment. Thanks for workign so hard and doing it bi-vocationally. That is a tough challenge.

      I suppose I agree with Rainer that if a person is going to be involved in a local church, they should commit to it, and help out.

      My only issue with Rainer was that he seemed to not recognize that there are ways of being members of the church which do not involve attending a brick building on the corner.

      I do have “Life Together” and will read it. Thanks!

  12. says

    I respect your experience but it is still anecdotal and limited – it is not definitive hence my suggestion that you paint with a narrower brush lest you do the very thing that you are guarding against… You resist those who criticize ‘other ways of following Jesus’ while doing a bit of the same to those who see value in the institution as a spiritual reality even if not an ideal one…

    Churches are made up of people – all of them broken… I imagine that you will encounter the same people in your anti-institution that you would find at church… What’s the point?

    The church, as Bonhoeffer would say, is not my “wish dream” but it is true community entered only through the grace of Christ… I don’t think we disagree here. That being said, however, this community provides the very context for discipleship.

    What do you say?

    Just adam

    • Sam says

      All of our experiences are anecdotal and limited and in that sense not definitive. Those who find value in the institution obviously have the choice to become part of that expression of the faith. Those who find little or no value in the institution however, rather than abandon the faith and Jesus, may make the choice to choose to follow Jesus outside the institution. Whichever path you have chosen is the path you think best, but that does not necessarily make it so for others.

      The church is not limited to those in the institution. If we define the church as those who are part of the body of Christ, obviously there are those both within the institution and outside the institution who are the church, just as there are those both within the institution and outside the institution who are not part of the body of Christ.

      My anecdotal experience and that of many I know leads me to believe that Rainer’s solution to the exodus from the institution will not reverse the trend. In my experience, the institution does not really understand why people are leaving and often does not want to genuinely hear or know.

  13. says

    So then what it boils down to is you’re sticking to your assumption… I pray for you as you journey and pray you find the grace to do the same for me…

    Read Bonhoeffer again even if only devotionally.

    Peace and Blessings.

  14. Chris says

    Jeremy, I just finished reading Ranier’s book last night and found your post online. I wondered if we read the same book. I appreciate your heart for Jesus, but your sarcasm and harsh criticism don’t really build up the body of Christ. That is popular in our culture. I have struggled with that myself often (and still do.) I hope you can write more in the future with grace and truth for all concerned. When you judge people’s motives (you think Ranier was writing this to put people on a guilt trip) I don’t think that is helpful either. I hate it when people judge my motives. I interpret Jesus in Matthew 7 talking about judging as really talking about judging people’s motives (not simply their actions.)
    But as I read the replies above, your heart and tone seemed to soften and grow. Thanks so much for displaying such a humble and contrite spirit. That really encouraged me.
    I believe relationships (friendships, marriage, family, church and more) are defined by common commitments. Sometimes they are thought out and even written down. Sometimes they are not. To have an uncommitted relationship is an oxymoron.
    I am working on what does it mean to be a member (Paul’s word, not mine) in a local body of Christ. I would appreciate your open and honest (but hopefully not brutal) critique:
    Here are the commitments we make as Jesus’ church by the power of God working through us:
    1. I will actively pursue Jesus as a member of His church through worship, prayer, scripture and service. I will strive to glorify Him in all I do.
    2. I will earnestly encourage and love other church members as brothers and sisters in Christ. I will discover and use my gifts to build them up. I will learn to listen to them, walk with them, and care for them by the power of the Holy Spirit.
    3. I will put aside my personal preference for the sake of the Gospel. Gathering with the church is not about me. I will battle again Satan, the world and my flesh to lift up the righteousness of Jesus in my life and others.
    4. I will pray for leaders who rule over me. I realize their job is challenging and I will find ways to make it a joy. I will protect them with my speech and address gossip when I encounter it.
    5. I will disciple my family members and others. I understand that the world is full of broken people who need grace and truth so making disciples of Jesus is my central calling in life.
    6. I will share the love of Jesus with those who don’t know Him. As the Holy Spirit gives me compassion and love for those hurting and lost, I will learn to share the gospel more consistently and effectively.
    Thanks for your consideration.
    May God give you an awesome day!!

    • says

      Chris,
      I do admit my post sounded more sarcastic than I intended it.

      All I was trying to say is that Thom Rainer knows better than to limit the definition of “church member” to someone who regularly attends and is involved at a local church building. Yet this basically what he said in his book.

      The implication, of course, is that if you do not “attend church” (not a biblical concept) in a local church building (not a biblical concept), then you are not a real “church member” and are therefore, not truly following Jesus. Nothing could be further from the truth.

      • Chris says

        Absolutely. I agree it is not about a building, but it is about a committed relationship with people (whether temple courts or house to house) where we live in meaningful relationships guided by the Holy Spirit. They aren’t just some people who wander in and out of each other’s lives, they were “family.” Which is a greater commitment than “going to church.”
        They did have times they met (otherwise how could you neglect the assemblies) and leadership defined (with particular roles like deacons and elders). When you add that up, it begins to look a little institutional (Webster defines as: “a custom, practice, or law that is accepted and used by many people” So my physical family is an institution and we have customs and practices and traditions over many years. We don’t always meet at our house (especially as the kids have grown) but we meet.
        So if we change from “attend church” to “gather as church” would that be more biblically accurate for you?

        • says

          That depends on what you mean by “gather” I suppose. I have talked about this in my book “Skeleton Church.”

          Look, we’re getting off into the weeds here. The only criticism I had of Rainer’s book is that he didn’t recognizes other forms of church than the one that meets in a designated building on Sunday morning with professional clergy up front, etc. He knows other forms exist, but he completely failed to mention them in his book, thereby implying that the form he was describing was the only way to truly be a faithful church member. If he had made some statements in his book such as the one you made in your comment, I would have been fine with the book.

  15. milton cooper says

    Hi Dr. Anderson. I enjoyed reading your take on Thom Rainer’s book “I Am A Church Member”. While I agree with most of what you’ve said there is one point that he put in his book that I wholeheartedly disagree with. On page 73, he states “they are hypocrites, just as you are.” As a Christian, I don’t profess to be a hypocrite. I try to live the best I can as a Christian and not pass judgment on other Christians who may not be walking in the faith. I was taught that a hypocrite is a person who says one thing and does another, such as “do as I say, not as I do!” Example, I can drink alcoholic beverages but I forbid my teenager to do the same. That’s a hypocrite.
    If you are able, please explain what Mr. Rainer meant by that statement that I am a hypocrite(even though I truly believe I am saved by my faith in Christ Jesus, doing His will for my life to the best of my God-given abilities).
    Thanks

    • Marcus & Joyce Horness says

      We were given this book and told that we should join a small group. We read this book and feelings of guilt and fear rose up in us. We went to our new pastor and tried to express our feelings. We were told that the Sunday evening services would be shut down for six weeks, while we met in a small group and studied this series. We and some others who faithfully attend three times on Sunday and wednesday and served other nights of the week. tithe and try to live each day looking for a way to spread the gospel, felt defeated and betrayed. We love the church body. We are not against the institutional church, as you seem to be. We believe that the doors should be open and the building that we and our forefathers sacrificed to build, should be open all week. Our forefathers met in what they called a prayer cottage. Our church body cried on their faces, asking the Lord to bless and help us to build our current building. Our body is about 95 years old. The forefathers sacrificed and even made blocks by hand to build the first building. I believe the example of the first Christians was that they “had” no building to to meet in, so they met in homes…just like our own church body. But the goal was to build a church that would be a beacon for the world, and a holy place where the faithful can go to ease our burdens, get fueled up on God’s word so we can go out into “our mission field.” We are in distress and confused. And we know that this does not come from God. God meets us in this sanctuary. And He goes with us as we live our lives. Just as He gave the Isralites specific instructions about the “tent of meetings, ” and the priests dress…down to the very smallest details, He has given us instructions to not forsake the assembling together in these perilous times.They went to the temple to know the presence of the Glory of God! We have been in every kind of small group you can imagine…and there is nothing like corporate worship. I agree with you that this book is terrible, but it is really distressing to those of us who have remained faithful. Instead of these false man made movements, we would that the church will repent and show the show forth of the ” knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” When the world sees the glory of God, they will flock to the church again. Perhaps studying the great revivals would help all of those sarcastic hearts to look to the Lord once more. Judgement begins in the gates. Thank you-Marcus & Joyce Horness

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