Must someone be a church member before being allowed to serve?
Many churches attempt to adopt an inviting and warm posture by allowing both non-Christians and prospective Christian members to serve publicly in the church. Certainly outreach is a good motive. But is this the whole picture? We believe that public acts of service—like serving in the nursery, teaching children, leading music, teaching adult Sunday school, and leading a small group—should be reserved for members of the church. Why?
- The activities of public ministry, generally speaking, represent the “church.” When a person stands in front of the church playing music, or behind a counter to receive children into the nursery, most people will identify that person with the church. Most people will make assumptions about the church based on any knowledge they have of those individuals.
- Those who represent the “church” represent Christ. That’s why Jesus tells Saul (who had been persecuting Christians) that Saul has been persecuting not the “church” or “Christians” but “me” (Acts 9:4).
- The activities of public ministry, therefore, are a trust, not an entitlement or an outreach device. No one is entitled to public ministry, no matter how long they’ve attended a church. And at no place in the New Testament does God or Jesus use non-Christians to represent him. God graciously calls out to all sinners, yes, but he identifies himself and dwells together with only with those who are repentant (“where two or three are gathered together in my name [identification with Christ], there am I [Christ’s presence],” Matt. 18:20).
- Reserving public ministries for members, therefore, protects the reputation of the church and of Christ. Allowing individuals who have not submitted to the church to be publicly identified with the church is to allow unaccountable people to inform onlookers of what Christ is like. The church has an interest in teaching the world that Christ is gracious and loving, but it also has an interest in teaching the world that he is holy and calls sinners to repentance. Therefore, it should take care to not allow false professors and hypocrites to publicly represent the church and Christ. Also, see 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1!
- It also helps the church’s outreach to non-Christians. It’s the church’s holy distinctness which is compelling to those non-Christians in whom the Spirit of God is moving (e.g., Matt. 5:10-16).
- It teaches non-Christians that God calls all men to repent, and there is an inside and outside of God’s special, salvific love. Again, Christ is gracious and welcoming, but he confronts people with a decision: “Whoever is not with me is against me” (Matt. 12:30).
- It discourages Christian nominalism—Christians who don’t want to be held accountable by Christ’s body. Christians who stubbornly want to serve and yet not be held accountable by the church body will get frustrated and go elsewhere. Yes, other churches might accept them on those terms, but each of us are to be faithful to God for our own turf, not someone else’s.